8 : "that's [not] all s/he wrote..." : NIKO GALVEZ & ANDRE IRV : LONG BEACH, CA

"In this moment, I’m savoring the air right after the rain. I’m big on fresh air and sleep with the windows open. I like the chilling and  the air on my pillow"  - Niko

"The rain has such a calming effect. I love that cleansed smell afterwords. All the bullshit washes away and gives way to new beginnings. And let me tell you something, It’s never ever cheesy to be grateful." - Andre

I first met Niko when I showed up to the community art center near my house in Long Beach. I was eager to help and continue learning about community art building and grant-writing and whatnot. She was eager to put me to work because, as is often the case with non-profits, the support isn't always there. Over a couple months we became friends, gathering in her house to research grants and revise studio guidelines. Niko was also a part of  a collective of art parties we started in Long Beach, along with some other local organizations, that created a space for local artists to experiment with their projects. By the second party, more than half of the artists who shared and guests who showed up were from Niko's community. She is someone who fosters and nurtures creativity in whatever context she can - with a passion and professionalism that is rare. In her undergrad she studied Latin American History and Politics, and she recently received her Masters in Social Justice in Education. When I first asked her to do this project, it was because she squarely fits my definition of a badass and compassionate woman - I mean, she self-identifies frequently as a "Chingona" (Spanish for badass lady). After a week or so, though she asked me if it would be alright if she collaborated with her friend Andre who's currently incarcerated. I had no idea how she was going to pull that off, but I've seen her do the seemingly impossible before, so I trusted her, and highly anticipated the result. . They decided on a format that involves a couple specific "checkin times" and a free write at the end of the day. And the result is a unique and fascinating blending and meeting of two different worlds. 

Since I've yet to meet Andre (though I hope to soon), I asked Niko to write an introduction for him:

The first time I heard Andre’s voice was the day before we started this journaling project so we could discuss our plans for the next two days. We haven’t met in person because he is currently incarcerated by the California Department of Corrections. Andre grew up in Long Beach but that isn't the only thing we have in common that has grounded our strong bind into what looks likea lifetime friendship. We share similar views on the Prison Industrial Complex but from completely different perspectives. And we both want to use art, music and creativity to give back and build our community. And he gets it. He reads a lot, he does the work on himself, holds himself accountable, and he gives back to the community in which he currently finds himself. I think inmates are forced to wear a harsh label that questions their intelligence, their thoughts, their moral compass and their decision-making process. But to leave all of the weight on the person who committed the crime fails all of us a society.  We must explore the historical trajectory of prison development, its links to slavery, its profiting off of the “war on drugs” and the devastating impact incarceration has had on generations of black and brown communities. I look forward to collaborating on more projects with Andre while he completes his sentence and when he returns to our hometown...Long Beach.

So sit back, get some of your favorite tea (Andre recommends peach), and spend some time back and forth in Long Beach and the CDC.


Interview with Niko available next week!