(Special thanks again to Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek for taking the time to talk to us!)
Last year we talked to Dawn Xiana Moon about Raks Geeks' then-fundraiser for the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. Recently, however, we had a follow-up conversation with Dawn about various other topics, including Raks Geek's upcoming Seventh Anniversary show on October 11th at the Newport Theater.
You’ve made quite an impact on the local arts community, including several nominations in a recent Chicago Reader poll. How does that feel?
It’s incredible! I was stunned to be nominated in 4 different categories (Best Dancer, Best Singer-Songwriter, Best World Music Act, Best Stage Performer) – it’s also gratifying because the nominations span both of my primary art forms: music and dance. So many people who know me as a dancer won’t realize I’ve been a professional musician for far, far longer than I’ve been a dancer, and many musicians are surprised when they find out I bellydance (and often as a Wookiee!).
Back in August, we spoke about how your benefit for the Young Center reflected your own views about immigration reform. One year later, you’re highlighting them for your seventh-anniversary show. What do you think (if anything) has changed about conversations concerning immigration rights?
One year later, the situation for immigrants in the US has only become more dire. The US now lives with the reality of concentration camps where kids are held without access to basic necessities like toothbrushes. The cruelty is the point: It costs US taxpayers $775 per person per day to keep them in camps. They could afford toothbrushes. But CBP has even refused donations of diapers, toothbrushes, and soap from people in Texas.
I personally have a friend who was literally 5 minutes away from being sent to an immigration detention camp even though he’s a legal immigrant who came to the US as a kid, has US citizen parents, and had his full documentation on his person when he was stopped by ICE, who took him to their offices in handcuffs.
ICE’s computer records were out of date and didn’t include the last few years of his immigration records, and it was the end of the day so they couldn’t get a hold of other agencies to cross-check their records. They asked for his personal effects and planned to jail him until offices opened on Monday. He was lucky and ICE reached someone with updated records at the very last moment, and he was then allowed to leave.
Your show with Raks Geek on October 11th celebrates the troupe’s seventh anniversary. Can you inform those who might not be familiar with Raks Geek about the troupe and its mission?
Raks Geek is a bellydance and fire performance company that I founded in 2012 – our dancers have appeared everywhere from Germany to Argentina, and we’ve been featured on WGN-TV, MSN, UK Channel 4 TV, and more. We’re committed to blending a high degree of artistic and technical mastery with fun, creativity, and our favorite themes from nerd culture.
Raks Geek has a reputation for building an inclusive community both within the troupe and its audience. Can you speak to how the troupe has managed to do that despite various challenges and obstacles?
I’m a Chinese-American woman, an immigrant by way of Singapore, and Raks Geek majority Asian-American and majority LGBTQ+. I and many others in the group think a lot about social justice and inclusion – a few of us regularly speak about these issues at universities and conferences – so we’re constantly talking about ways to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
Part of this starts with who controls the narrative: I firmly believe that it’s vital for underrepresented groups to get to tell our own stories. Representation matters both onstage and off, both in who’s performing in front of the audience and directing things behind the scenes.
Because we ourselves come from marginalized groups, we know how important it is to have spaces that are truly welcoming, spaces where you’re able to belong, where your full humanity is respected and loved. Honestly, because of who we are, building an inclusive community has been easy for us.
All are welcome in our home, and we’d love to have you as part of the family.
Finally, once October 11th has passed, many individuals will want to know how they can make a further impact on their community. Do you have any suggestions on how people can take action to drive inclusion in their community?
First: Listen to the underrepresented people in your community. Listen without making them cater to you. For all its issues, Twitter is actually a great place for listening in on conversations between people in marginalized groups that don’t cater to outsiders. Follow a few dozen POC in different groups, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ folks, whatever group you don’t have such candid, in-person conversations with, and a few that you think you do – your perspective will change.
Then, use your new awareness. Boost voices who have been talking about these issues for years. Don’t take over – share their (credited) work with people who used to not understand, as you once didn’t understand. Help others learn as well.
Racism doesn't change until racially privileged people absorb the enormity and extent of racism and fight it in their own spaces. If you're white, the good news is that because of power dynamics in this country, you have a bigger voice than POC do. Use it.
Studies show that people are far more likely to back down from racist positions if they’re called out by others of their group. Call out your friend's microaggressions and he'll think twice before going further.
(Again, we would like to thank Dawn for taking time out to talk to us. You can learn more about Raks Geek via http://raksgeek.com, and order tickets for their October 11th show at the Newport Theater via http://bit.ly/raks-oct. Please feel free to join the further conversation via our Facebook page or contact us directly via our About page. Again, thanks for reading!)