(Special thanks to Dawn Xiana Moon for her time and her insights)
With Americans increasingly divided over immigration policies, those with direct impact - children and families - are often ignored. Raks Inferno is holding an August 2nd fundraiser at Uptown Underground to benefit the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. Recently, I had the chance to speak to Raks Inferno director Dawn Xiana Moon about their upcoming event, and how immigration issues and policy have a personal relevance for her.
Please tell us about your upcoming benefit performance “Raks Inferno: Immigrant Protest Edition” on August 2nd at Uptown Underground.
On the one hand, the Raks Inferno is an incredible, delightful spectacle filled with world-class performers doing things that shouldn’t be physically possible, and on the other, we’re making serious art with social commentary, building community, and increasing Asian-American and LGBTQ+ representation.
For the Immigration Protest Edition show, we’ll also be auctioning off show tickets, artwork, dance classes, and other goodies from fellow artists throughout the Chicago area. Proceeds from both tickets and the art auction will go to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
Raks Inferno is a project of Raks Geek, a bellydance and fire performance company that’s most known for nerd themes – a bellydancing Wookiee, a firespinning Wonder Woman, a sword-wielding Sephiroth.
With Raks Inferno, we take the geek theme away and allow our performers – who have taught and performed everywhere from Germany to Morocco at the top events in their disciplines – to create pieces around a wider variety of subjects. Our group is majority Asian-American and majority LGBTQ+, so social justice issues are incredibly personal for us.
Can you tell us more about the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, and why you are helping them?
The Young Center champions the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children, making sure that they’re safe no matter where they land. We wanted to support an organization that directly addresses the human issues happening at the border, but also one that was local to Chicago.
You’ve engaged people around civil rights issues (with an Inauguration Day performance for the ACLU) and Puerto Rican relief after Hurricane Maria (through a benefit album). How does the issue of immigrant rights resonate with you?
I am an immigrant. People don’t realize that becoming a US citizen is an incredibly difficult and expensive process – we’re talking thousands of dollars in fees, years of waiting, and the necessity of hiring a lawyer. It took around 10 years for my family from beginning to end, and that’s about as fast as the process gets.
I was lucky – in my case, even though I was coming from Asia, I had parents who were educated, native speakers of English. But it could so easily have gone differently, as it does for many who emigrated as kids, through no fault of their own. We have thousands of people in the country right now who were brought to the US as children, who are American-raised and college-educated but can’t get legal work – for those people, there is no waiting line, no path to citizenship. It simply doesn’t exist.
In the case of the family separation and detention issue, many of those coming are literally fleeing for their lives. You’re not allowed to apply for refugee status until you’re on US soil, so they’re selling everything they have, running to the US, and hoping that we’ll let them in because the alternative in many cases is death. This is a human rights issue, and we have a moral responsibility to help.
This may seem like an obvious question – why should this matter?
We like to think of evil as a cartoon: We think evil looks like Hitler or a serial killer. We think we’re good people, and we’re nothing like them. But the truth is, evil is banal. Most often, evil is people with privilege looking the other way, people deciding not to make a fuss, to stay silent.
Some believe that art should drive social change, and others believe that art should only be commentary, or even merely “entertainment”. Where do you stand on this?
I grew up on stories where heroes fought for what was right, even at great cost. Sam and Frodo went to Mordor. Leia led the Resistance. Sheridan and Delenn fought the Shadows.
Even just “entertainment” teaches us what matters, who we should emulate, and what we should expect the world to look like. Is that world one where the heroes treat everyone around them as disposable? Or is that world one where the heroes are willing to sacrifice themselves to save another, even if there’s no glory and no one will know?
The question isn’t are we making art or entertainment: The question is what kind of world is our art creating?
Many were able to attend the “Families Belong Together” march on June 30th, but many others were unable to participate. What actions can people take in order to protest and stop what’s happening along our border?
If you can, educate the people around you and fight lies and misinformation: Help people understand that immigration isn’t just a matter of “waiting in line” or doing the “legal” thing (and note that applying for refugee status is legal!). At worst, entering the US without permission is a civil infraction along the lines of getting a speeding ticket. We don’t separate families or jail them indefinitely for speeding tickets.
Call and write your representatives. I know it feels like we have to call them every day at this point but call anyway.
Spread the word, and join us for Raks Inferno: Immigration Protest Edition – we’ll remind ourselves that we have strength as a community and raise money for an organization working on the front lines.
We can fight. Together.
Please feel free to join the conversation via the comments section below or our Facebook page.
And thanks for reading!