Coalition Zine is a contemporary literary magazine and publication for activists created for femme creatives of color. It publishes work of submitted and original fiction, poetry, nonfiction, photography, and video interviews of artists of color. I sat down with the editor-in-chief, Fabiola Ching, and Coalition‘s videographer, Tam-anh Nguyen, to discuss this spectacular collective and project. Fabiola, Tam-anh, and Vriddhi have been abbreviated as F, T, and V respectfully in order to ensure readabiity.
V: So you [Fabiola}, are the editor in chief of Coalition Zine, and you’re the videographer [Tam-anh], a publication dedicated to analytical and literary work by and for women of color. What inspired you to start, and what inspired you to join Coalition?
F: I wanted to open up opportunities for women of color.
T: And the reason that I decided to team up with Fabiola on this project is because seemed like such an extraordinary person to work with. I just really enjoyed the platform. It’s like a one-stop-shop for a bunch of stories, and videos, and artists that I would have never, ever met before. By creating this platform, Fabiola has kinda passed around this soapbox so that it is a relatively large platform for girls to come on and release their work, where it wouldn’t have gained any attention from other publications. I joined because of the idea behind it, and it was such a great team in general.
Yeah, and I like really like Tam-anh because she’s got a very specific viewpoint. She knows exactly how she wants something to look.
She’s got such a great eye for beauty, and she’s just like an amazing person. I don’t know; I couldn’t think of working with anyone else apart from her. She’s such a great videographer, and I’m so excited for the world and everything she does. She’s pretty rad.
T: Right back at you.
V: So how did you two meet each other?
T: Well, my friend who started her own publication in D.C. decided to put together this event with a bunch of femme-identifying artists within the area. Coalition Zine came to D.C., and I was with District D.C. at the time. My friend hosted this panel where we all got together and discussed issues of race and transparency, which is something Fabiola addresses a lot with her Zine as well, another issue with women of color trying to start their own publications and providing input.
F: And my friend introduced me to her [Tam-anh], and I thought she was really, really cool. So we just clicked, and I feel very lucky.
V: So this is for Tam-anh: how did you get into video editing and filmmaking, and what were your challenges as a woman of color?
T: So many [laughing]! Well, I started out in high school. There were a lot of IB programs, and to anyone who’s reading this publication, if you have the chance to do IB classes in your school, get started early. It provided me with a lot of equipment that I could use and gave me references for artists that I could use in my work who I was inspired by. I also started watching films from an early age. I grew up on film, and my parents would watch it every weekend with us. I really started to get into videography after I joined Coalition Zine. Before that, I’d only really looked at theory, and that’s a lot of talking about film and analyzing the process of film, which I think are super important. Coalition Zine really allowed me the opportunity to do more field work that I wouldn’t have thought to do or was confident enough to do until I was surrounded by female artists. It provided me with that confidence, and that’s where I really took off. If it weren’t for Coalition Zine, I don’t think I would have done half the video editing that I’ve gotten done.
V: So did you ever practice on friends or family? How did you develop your skill?
T: Not really. Like, I never practiced. I watched films and, if anything, I was recording ten-second videos on my phone and putting them onto Instagram. Other than that, I really hadn’t processed or done any film editing. It really wasn’t until junior year of college when I started working on it.
V: So what equipment do you use now to film?
T: Really simple! A Canon 6D, which came with a set of lenses, and then a boom mike. Just a tip for any of your readers who are in college or high school, if anyone’s looking to get started, you can always head to the library or the media room in your school and rent out the equipment there. A Canon 6D is pretty expensive, and for anybody just starting out, you can always just use your cell phone or borrow something from school.
V: So Fabiola, to my understanding, you started Coalition when you were only sixteen years old. How did you go about managing and starting up such a large project while you were still in the midst of your youth?
F: I wasn’t really doing anything at that time since I just graduated. I skipped a grade early on, and when I got out, it was never really planned to be like that. It’s coincidental that I graduated and started doing the zine. Being sixteen was really gross and really ugly, and the zine gave me a sort of purpose. I don’t know if people cared about it at that time, but I definitely did. It was more than enough for me. It was just fun and a very passionate project. Up until that point in my life, I didn’t have anything to have anything to be passionate about.
V: Did you ever think that Coalition would be or get as big as it is today?
F: I don’t think I ever pictured it becoming something huge. I know that a lot of people in America and across the world read it, which is very, very fortunate, but I didn’t think that there would be people who wanted talk about it. I didn’t even think that I’d still be doing it! I didn’t think that I would have the money or the mental capacity. I feel really honored that people want to join in on it and want to talk about it and read about it. It’s really cool!
V: So what was both of your lives like when you started or joined Coalition?
F: I was sixteen. I was severely depressed. I was poor. I was jobless. It was pretty bleak. I had a lot of hope and faith, but it was not a very good time in my life. I don’t remember sixteen as a good memory. I was just trying my hardest to fit in and be as normal as I possibly could, but it wasn’t anything special. Sixteen was a shitty year really!
T: Well I’m a bit older; I was nineteen or twenty when i joined Coalition.
F: You were twenty and I was so shook when you told me!
T: So I was only twenty at the time when I met Fabiola, and my financial situation was different. I was living with my parents and going to college, so I can’t relate to you [Fabiola] on that on being sixteen. For me personally, I was coming to a point in my education where I had really been wondering what I could do. I think a lot of people who go into arts majors don’t really know where they can step off of that, and on top of that, when you’re studying really seminal directors for three or four hours a day, that can really make it intimidating and make you question going into the industry. So that was where I was at the time when I was reading Coalition Zine and not really touching a camera. Meeting female artists really allowed me to hone my skill, but I was not really in a good place mentally when I first joined Coalition in terms of what I wanted to do with my career. Having these female artists that we were not only working with but also publishing, I mean I’ve read that stuff thinking, “Wow. I really want to make a film out of that,” and these are seventeen- and eighteen-year-old girls writing phenomenal stuff. It was way better than half the stuff I saw at the Oscars — except for Moonlight!
V: What were your lives like growing up as creatives of multiple intersecting marginalized identities? Who/what really influenced and shaped you?
F: I am a “one point five” immigrant from Cameroon, and I moved to America when I was ten-ish or eleven. There’s always that struggle of straddling both identities because I was young, but I was also very aware of where I came from and where my parents came from and the difference in cultures. There was also the issue of sexuality and identity that I was struggling with. I don’t remember much before I was ten, but I think ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen really were weird years. I kind of look back on these years with a little bit of darkness, even though they weren’t all dark. Growing up I think I was very in need of finding a place to fit in, in a way, and I could never find that for the longest time. I still haven’t been able to. I don’t think I probably will be able to. I was trying not only to fit in but like myself. I think I wanted more to like myself than to fit in. It’s still a struggle actually, so I don’t think that sh-t ever ends, even after you’re done being a teenager or done with high school. I think wanting to like yourself is always a constant battle.
T: Both of my parents were refugees from Vietnam, and they lived through the war. Growing up I understood that, but I didn’t really look into my culture, not as much I’ve done now. I grew up in the suburbs and went to a Catholic school for nine years of my life. I was a Buddhist going to a Catholic school — an Asian girl in a predominantly white setting. I walked away with a lot of identity issues, and then I was dumped into a predominantly Black and mixed high school for four years of my life, and that was a jump. Now I’m back in this university setting in an industry that is predominantly male and white. I think I’ve always had to maneuver spaces as like the “other”. Like Fabiola said, I don’t think it really ever changes, When I was growing up, it obviously affected my identity issues, but now, I’ve been able to look to other people and other sources that I can watch and read. It’s allowed me to really fix my place and feel a lot better. That goes with all art. Right now I’m doing a double major in film theory and communications.
V: So how did you get started with writing?
F: When I first moved here, for the longest time I didn’t have friends, so I was very preoccupied with books. Growing up in Cameroon as a child, we never really had access to books. When I first came here, I had this English teacher who just gave me books upon books, and I just kind of ate them all up. For a very long time, I was really into books — I still am. I really liked the idea of storytelling and authors creating a whole world that people can just get sucked into and completely forget their own minds. That’s such a powerful thing to be able to do and a powerful thing to give people. I would read these books, like the Babysitters’ Club, which was amazing by the way and I would want to write my own books. That’s how I started wanting to write, and then I got into high school and more into essays and theory. I got into Sontag heavily. I got into Joan Didion. I got into these more elevated “styles of writing”, and that to me seemed like a really great way to tell stories and bring up new ideas and push boundaries. I really believe in writing. I really believe in the act of storytelling and the acts of creating new worlds with words.
I loved taking language out of this political and strict context that we’ve given it and just f-cking with language.
Also, while I was on the internet, I met some really great writers, like Arabelle Sicardi and Durga Chew-Bose and Sarah-Nicole Prickett and Zeba Blay, and they’re all really amazing writers and make me think you can just become a writer. You don’t have to be a woman in her forties.
T: I would not call myself a writer in the way that Fabiola is, but for filmmaking in general, you should and have to take up this practice of script-writing. Like Fabiola said about storytelling, for the longest time I wanted to go into journalism. It was really more of “reporting style” of writing, and documentaries and filmmaking are also “reporting style”. Storytelling is so important, through every medium: poetry, autobiographies, movies, etc.
F: Could I ask you [Tam-anh] how and why did you get into filmmaking? I just want to know!
T: Every weekend when I’d watch movies with my family, my parents would let me pick, and that really got me into film criticism and the process behind why people make films and how they implement change or affect the viewers.
V: So Fabiola, do you think your writing has changed a lot since the beginning of your adolescence?
F: Yeah! I was really into YA, or Young Adult, fiction, which I still heavily am. I think everybody starts with YA fiction, and I really wanted to what those writers were doing with Young Adult fiction. Now I think more in terms of poetry and essays — mostly fiction and poetry really. So I don’t know. I don’t think I really write exactly like I wrote back when I was eleven/twelve/thirteen. I do hope it hasn’t changed that much because I have some old stuff I wrote a really long time ago, and I love how absolutely absurd they are. The absurdity is amazing to me, so I would like to retain that. I think like in terms of essays, I do not write with my ass anymore. I used to write with no facts to follow my work and it was like a f-cking Tumblr post really! I really hate reading my old essays because a lot of it was just driven by anger and not really taking the time to absorb or learn about things. I didn’t get to process my feelings. I think in that sense, it’s definitely changed. I now take time before I construct something in that sense.
V: How do you two recommend that young creatives of color get exposure and their work out there?
F: A lot of things! Pitch, pitch, pitch! You need to check a lot of websites for opportunities and read what all the women are reading. Break out of your comfort zone a little bit, and you’ll see where your work fits in or where you want to be published. That’s my advice to younger girls on getting your work seen, and also
I feel like if you’re a woman of color, you don’t have to write about your traumas in order to be a “real writer”.
That’s what I was first bombarded with. When I would pitch, they would want me to write about certain things, and it was like “I don’t want to write about how sh-tty it is to be a Black lesbian all the f-cking time”, you know? That’s like my number one advice; you don’t have to write about your f-cking traumas all the time. You want to write about science? Do that. If you want to write about film, do that. You don’t have to talk about “identity”. It’s all gonna be a part of who you are and a part of your work, but you don’t have to constantly subject yourself to this type of suffering all the time. You don’t owe that. People say as writers you have to “educate people” about stuff. I mean, you could, but you don’t have to if you don’t f-cking want to. You don’t have to teach white people how to act around you. You don’t have to constantly talk about stuff that people can figure out themselves. That information has been there for a long time, so you don’t have to be that person if you don’t want to. In Coalition, when we started paying writers, I really wanted girls who were not in their twenties to pitch because I think as a young girl you’ve constantly been given this idea of how you’re supposed to write when you’re a teenager, and it’s like no! You can write how the f-ck you want to, and I want to make sure that you know that you can write this type of work if you want to.You just need to have people who are willing to pay attention to you and who are willing to help you. When it comes to sh-t like editing, a lot of girls who are younger don’t know anything about that, so it’s really important to give out those resources to young girls and let them have the experience before they turn twenty-one.
T: Just adding off of that, not even young girls, but a lot of older girls, like myself, don’t even have half of the resources that Fabiola has. Coalition has always just been about giving girls baby steps and teaching skills in filmmaking that they wouldn’t have any other way, or would be super hard.
F: It’s just so important that we provide young girls with resources, especially if you’re young and you’re poor and don’t have direct access to this type of knowledge. I would like some day to be able to help girls learn about certain skills and software that they can use for their art. It’s just so important.
V: Is there anything that you’d like to look back on and tell a sixteen-year-old version of yourselves?
T: Just to not let myself be my biggest roadblock. I wish I started sooner. I wish I started at sixteen or even earlier than that. I really stunted my own growth by not seeing a space for myself and accepting that. Stop comparing yourself to these huge film directors because your work isn’t like theirs, and
you can often do the work even better
. It’s a very different perspective.
F: A couple of things. First of all, why are you always talking to these guys? You’re totally gay. Stop trying to talk to these boys. You don’t like them, and they don’t like you. Stop making a fool of yourself. Also,
give yourself time and space to be ugly
and to be embarrassing and to be embarrassed and to be ashamed. Give yourself space and time to grow at your own pace, and let yourself be ugly. Let yourself be who you are on that day. Stop trying so hard to be someone else. When you wake up in the morning and are a particular person on that day, let yourself be that person. Remember that there’s so much more after this. You’re not going to die. It’s not the f-cking end, and keep reading those books dude! They will save you!