AMP: Grassroots²

Dee Mandiyan with YKR

What do you do? I am the 2018 Co-Director of YKR, a transformational storytelling performance project for people of South Asian & Indo-Caribbean heritage who experience gender oppression. We aim to surface and explore our silenced narratives–the various aspects of our identities for which systems of oppression leave no room–so that we can build stronger and more compassionate communities. Ultimately, YKR seeks to be a space of healing so that our communities can go out and do further justice work.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? Like most young queer people of color, I grew up without seeing myself in the media. I also grew up without seeing myself in my community. Because it’s taken me nearly 30 years to find a way to talk about my own existence without shame, I’m especially passionate about creating and promoting models of self-declaration. It’s also equally important for me to be building communities of validation around self-narration, places in which we get to be all of our experiences and have all of those experiences regarded as real, important and true.

What moment in your life motivated you to be an organizer/fighter of justice? I’ve been outspoken as long as I’ve been speaking. Growing up in a home that struggled with undoing patriarchy gave me a very acute sense of misogyny at a young age. I grew up as vaguely Hindu in a Catholic neighborhood, so I learned about Christian hegemony just as early. It took me much longer to trust my intuition around racism because it was something that didn’t get validated either at home or in community. I had to break away from my origin family and community to learn about and understand the machine that is white cishet supremacy–and that breaking is traumatic. I don’t want other people like me to have to experience that trauma to be able to move through the world ethically. I want to give people the space and time to learn about this world, the machines at work in it, to learn about ourselves and how we can resist those machines from our places of origin.

How has your work been different over the past year? The past year has actually prompted me to be more compassionate in my work. I have been an agitator for many, many years, and generally work to hold everyone to stringent standards of justice work. In the last year, I’ve been much more forgiving of my queer brown community’s stumbles and individual people’s need to periodically disengage. While we’ve been facing many of these issues for years now, the constant barrage of news is an emotional assault that few of us can escape. It’s become much easier for me to encourage people to care for themselves as I encourage them to dream bigger and to do better, rather than demanding that they do better before they care for themselves.

The ask: We feel the urgency of spaces for brown-skinned women, trans and gender-queer folks to be seen and heard. Our lives depend on it. YKR is currently fundraising for our 2018 production and if 100 people give $45, it will exactly cover the costs of theater space. Or if 50 caring individuals give $20 it will enable us to document our work through photo and video. Or else if community members give $5 they will usher us into our 5th year.