I write, lead, contextualize, reframe, illuminate, love, listen, act, cook, dance, heal, fail, connect, and move. I do all of these things because they keep me alive, present, and connected to our collective struggle for justice. As a queer femme desi survivor, I am happiest when this struggle for justice is coupled with a celebration of marginalized folks’ work, beauty, and resistance. And when both of these bleed in and out of my personal and professional lives. I am and forever will be a student of my family history, of my Malyalee and Eastern European Jewish roots. My current projects include: facilitating community engagement between individuals and the organizations fighting for justice in their communities, strengthening AFO’s content, marketing strategies, and ability to generate revenue so that we can pay our writers, artists, and activists; organizing a radical reading/writing group in Portland; writing about my mixed kid diaspora experience(s); and healing.
AFO: What do you believe our role as artists/writers/QTPOC /people is in supporting communities that aren't our own?
Tara Miller: To listen. Listening as different from hearing. To act when called to act. Called meaning when invited by a friend or group to speak on an injustice that affects primarily a group you do not identify with, joining them in speaking. Called also meaning when witnessing homophobia, for example, in your community or family; or antiblackness in your community or family--challenging it. Immediately. And without hesitation. To hold space. Holding a big, ballooning, powerful space that allows for difference in experiences, that acknowledges varied types and intensities of oppression, that creates moments in homes, conversations, over meals which allow that sharing of experience and injustice, free from worry of defensiveness or offense. One of the most powerful things we can offer to each other, especially as people of color, QTPOC, is the deep understanding of what oppression feels like, that thing that brings you to the pit of your stomach, that you can’t put into words, that releases in it’s own way when you can talk about it with someone who knows that feeling, even if they don’t know exactly that experience. We need to be humble with each other in regards to that knowledge.
AFO: What is something you love about yourself?
TM: My fierceness and sensitivity. That one requires and is born from the other. I have seen both as faults and I love being on the journey of embracing these as essential, empowering, and beautiful aspects of my Self.
AFO: Where might we find you on a Saturday night?
TM: Dancing with lots of queers and people of color. Especially if it’s the monthly Tropitaal, a Desi Latinx Soundclash hosted by DJ Anjali and the Kid or a number of the other parties in Portland created for and by queers and people of color. Some weeks at home with my partner and/or our plants, a cup of tea, my current read, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, or anything by Bhanu Kapil, and my latest weird playlist. Recently, watching Jessica Jones, Bob’s Burgers, or really bad gay films.
AFO: What are some things that make your blood boil?
TM: All the moments in which we well-meaning liberals who believe we understand racism, anti-blackness, sexual violence, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, shake heads at number 45, and perpetuate all of it in our daily lives. I think especially about adults not challenging these injustices when they witness them in their workplaces. And about those who interact with children and aren’t naming and talking through these injustices daily. When people think “what can I do? What am I doing?” I want the first, immediate response to be “how am I challenging this shit in my daily life? What unconscious bias might I have had today? What did I do that was racist? How did I perpetuate transphobia? When did I condone rape culture?” If we’re not all asking ourselves those questions, we’re a big part of the problem. I think that even when we recognize that we’re perpetuating violence, we excuse it by comparing ourselves to someone who did it worse. Maybe you didn’t interrupt an anti-black comment made by a friend or coworker and you recognize you didn’t, but you justify it by telling yourself: “at least I’m not the person who said it.” This attitude towards our personal responsibility to challenge systemic violence is going to keep us right where we are in society.
AFO: Tell us about one of your friends!
TM: My ammamma (grandmother), Maya Jayapal. I feel so lucky and grateful to have had the opportunity to become closer to my ammamma in my adult life. As I learn more and more from and about her, I realize how much left there is to learn and that I probably will never know. I’ve learned about her deep and complex relationships with her parents and daughters, about her reverence for and disappointment with aspects of her country, about how incredibly hard she has worked to accomplish what she knows she can, what she believes is right, and what so many people and things have suggested she wouldn’t be able to. I am most in awe of her fiercely sharp mind and the capacity of her heart. I will never forget the moment when my partner and I were driving up to Seattle, with ammamma on speaker phone. In between stories about our lives and hers, something prompted ammamma to say to my partner, “You’re my granddaughter too.” I recently had the opportunity to see Denice Frohman perform spoken word. I related to so much of her queer POC experience, but the piece about her grandmother spoke to me the deepest.
AFO: Do you have any irrational fears?
TM: I’m afraid of whales. Really really afraid. IRL, in movies, or as a picture on a wall. My partner and I were recently in the Seattle airport where there is a big stuffed, smiling whale outside one of the vendor shops. I ended up taking a picture with it (sometimes I get the idea that I should or can conquer this fear). My heart was beating fast long after the picture had been taken and we’d walked away from it.
AFO: What’s your favorite accessory?
TM: Big ass earrings from the motherland (~my mother’s land~)