Emilly Prado wearing an orange sweater in front of a teal wall

 

How can writers better translate their work for varied genres and audiences? How are Black and Brown artists challenging the presumed whiteness of particular cities and spaces? What kind of world would be possible if everyone had the time and resources to pursue creative projects?

In episode 94 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews journalist and educator Emilly Prado about the complicated politics of assimilation, how to shift your voice when writing across genres and formats, the ways Latinx DJs are cultivating new music spaces, and why documenting the vibrant Black and Brown arts and activist scenes in Portland is how Emilly imagines otherwise.

Guest: Emilly Prado

Emilly Prado is an award-winning journalist, writer, and educator living in Portland, Oregon.

Her work as a freelance journalist has appeared in over two dozen publications including NPR, Marie Claire, the Oregonian, Bitch Media, Eater, and the Stranger. Emilly’s work focuses on amplifying the voices and experiences of people from traditionally marginalized communities in music, art, and social justice.

When not writing or hosting an event, she makes zines, takes photos, and DJs as Mami Miami with Noche Libre, the Latinx DJ collective she co-founded in 2017.

We chatted about

  • Emilly’s book Examining Assimilation (01:22)
  • Writing across different genres and formats (04:20)
  • Building the Latinx DJ collective Noche Libre (06:04)
  • Social justice arts and activism spaces in Portland (07:47)
  • Learning from the Independent Publishing Resource Center and Emilly’s chapbook Funeral for Flaca: A Mix Tape Memoir and Essays (09:45)
  • Imagining otherwise (13:03)

Takeaways

Emilly’s book Examining Assimilation

The idea behind Examining Assimilation is trying to define the idea of cultural assimilation primarily, but also focusing on other types of assimilation that there are, such as religious assimilation or sexuality and what we do to mask other parts of our identity. So in order to kind of answer that question, I really had to reverse and think about what is assimilation? Where does the concept come from? And in the case of the United States, since that’s the context of this book, the first half of the book is retracing the US history of immigration and the idea of what the quote unquote “American identity” is.

Shifting your writing voice for different genres

After college I just did an internship at Bitch Media, which is a feminist news outlet based in Portland, which is where I live….Luckily, I had a really amazing editor there who worked with me to help me transition my voice and tone from academic writing into writing for popular culture or your everyday person who’s going to be reading this. I think it’s a really good practice and I’d like to see more of that transfer because a lot of academic journals, for example, have amazing information and wonderful research and data that I can draw upon in my work. But because those are often behind paywalls of different sorts, they’re not accessible. So I would really like to see that crossover happening more frequently. I think my main point of advice would just be to reel it back and simplify language. Don’t be afraid to spell things out. And really be receptive to editors. Those are people who are going to be able to hopefully help you tweak your voice to make your point get across the best way possible.

Noche Libre and making space for marginalized communities

There were three of us [in the collective] in the beginning and as we started doing more events, people were more interested in joining us. Now there are eight DJs and a lot of us don’t have much experience DJing. Some of us have been DJing for, you know, 10 years, but the majority of our collective is made up of pretty new DJs. It’s a space where we can play music that maybe we grew up listening to that we don’t hear in Portland specifically. Especially living in a super white city, it’s really important for us to be able to come together as a collective and not only have each other as support, but bring music to people and especially cater to Black and Brown people so that we can have spaces where we feel safe and we feel seen and we feel like the music is catered to us, as opposed to going into spaces where maybe that’s not usually the case.

Social justice arts and activism in Portland

I feel like right now we’re in a time in Portland where you’re seeing a shift….As much as it’s an easy narrative to be like, “Portland is so white, you know, only white people live here and such.” I think there have been a lot of people coming together to push back against that narrative by not only vocalizing that we’re here, but by starting all these different collectives….It’s just a really exciting time to live here and it’d be very difficult to look around and not see all the art and activism that’s happening. So as far as Portland’s identity, it’s very much intertwined with the identity of Portland now to me to see art and activism intertwined so closely and specifically having those initiatives led by Black and Brown people.

Imagining otherwise

The world that I want, at the core, is a world where people feel safe and feel seen, whatever that means to them specifically. So a lot of the work that I do centers around encouragement and encouraging people that their voices matter, their stories matter, their musical tastes matter. They have a right to come together and have joy and have dance parties. So I think ultimately I’d like to see a world where folks are all encouraged and all have resources to do these creative endeavors.

More from Emilly Prado

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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Episode transcript

Cathy Hannabach [00:03]: [upbeat music in background] Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach. [music fadeout]

[00:22] This is episode 94 and my guest today is Emilly Prado.

Emilly Prado is an award-winning journalist, writer, and educator living in Portland, Oregon.

Her work as a freelance journalist has appeared in over two dozen publications including NPR, Marie Claire, the Oregonian, Bitch Media, Eater, and the Stranger. Emilly’s work focuses on amplifying the voices and experiences of people from traditionally marginalized communities in music, art, and social justice.

When not writing or hosting an event, she makes zines, takes photos, and DJs as Mami Miami with Noche Libre, the Latinx DJ collective she co-founded in 2017.

In our interview, Emilly and I chat about the complicated politics of assimilation, how to shift your voice when writing across genres and formats, the ways Latinx DJs are cultivating new music spaces, and why documenting the vibrant Black and Brown arts and activist scenes in Portland is how Emilly imagines otherwise.

[To Emilly] Thanks so much for being with us today. Emilly.

Emilly Prado: Thanks for having me.

Cathy: So you’re the author of an exciting new book called Examining Assimilation. Can you give our listeners a little bit of a sense of what that book covers and what got you interested in the topic?

Emilly [01:33]: Yeah. So I was approached by Enslow publishing. There was a representative who was working with them and they were looking for writers to write a series, a racial literacy series, that they have.

So the series is targeted at grades 7 through 12. So you’re looking at middle school, high school grades. And my part is called Examining Assimilation. The idea behind Examining Assimilation is trying to define the idea of cultural assimilation primarily, but also focusing on other types of assimilation that there are, such as like religious assimilation or sexuality and what we do to mask other parts of our identity.

So in order to kind of answer that question, I really had to reverse and think about what is assimilation? Where does the concept come from? And in the case of the United States, since that’s the context of this book, the first half of the book is retracing the US history of immigration and the idea of what the quote unquote “American identity” is.

Cathy [02:39]: Most of your other work is journalism and I want to talk more about that in a minute, but I’m really curious about this transition or this maybe expansion of your writing form into a long-form book project. How did you draw on your experience as a journalist to approach the way that you wrote this book?

Emilly [02:58]: Well one really small part off the bat that I can think of is having little sub-sections within the book.

I wanted to include a couple of interviews as much as possible just because that’s my background. So for one story I interviewed someone I know who changed their name back to their birth name. She’s Vietnamese and growing up her name was Vy and then when she went to school, as is common practice, she changed her name to Christina. And as an adult, she changed her name back to Vy. So that just small tidbit is an example of where I’m bringing in my journalistic lens.

[03:47] As far as my journalism work goes, I’m primarily focused on covering issues or stories that are experienced by people from marginalized communities, whether that’s race or gender or sexuality. So that also is very apparent in this book. I wanted to make sure that in approaching this, I was considering communities that are often left at the margins and make sure that they were the focal point in this story. Especially when you think about US history and the white washing that often occurs with that, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t contributing to that.

You know, as far as a journalistic lens, that idea with journalism is that you are uplifting all voices and that’s how should it be. So that really influenced the way I wrote the book. And the way I approached it was basically looking at it as a super long article.

Cathy [04:19]: Cool. A lot of both our guests and our listeners are interested in writing in multi-genre or cross-genre formats. Do you have any advice or lessons learned from crossing those kinds of genre or format boundaries?

Emilly [04:37]: Yeah, so my background and introduction to writing has not been traditional.

As an undergraduate, I studied child and family studies, which was within the school of social work. I saw that I was good at academic writing and I’d always been interested in writing from more of like a diary, therapeutic sense.

After college I just did an internship at Bitch Media, which is a feminist news outlet based in Portland, which is where I live. I was really just approaching it as I am coming in from the outside and I’d like to learn as much as I could. Luckily, I had a really amazing editor there who worked with me to help me transition my voice and tone from academic writing into writing for popular culture or your everyday person who’s going to be reading this.

[05:26] I think it’s a really good practice and I’d like to see more of that transfer because a lot of academic journals, for example, have amazing information and wonderful research and data that I can draw upon in my work. But because those are often behind paywalls of different sorts, they’re not accessible. So I would really like to see that crossover happening more frequently.

I think my main point of advice would just be to reel it back and simplify language. Don’t be afraid to spell things out. And really be receptive to editors. Those are people who are going to be able to hopefully help you tweak your voice to make your point get across the best way possible.

Cathy [06:04]: In addition to being a journalist, I know you also DJ and co-founded the Latinx DJ collective Noche Libre. What made you interested in starting a DJ collective? That sounds really fun by the way.

Emilly [06:17]: Yeah, it is super fun. We actually last night just had our annual dance party, so I am recovering from the fun that that is.

I’d always been interested in music. Actually some of the first things that I wrote about in journalism was music journalism, but I never saw myself as a musician. I have a cousin who approached me one night and said, “I want to do a Latina DJ night.” And I was like, “That’s cool, but I don’t DJ.” She was just super encouraging. One of my brothers had a controller that he was no longer using and I borrowed it. I just started practicing and it kind of evolved from there.

[07:04] There was three of us [in the collective] in the beginning and as we started doing more events, people were more interested in joining us. Now there are eight DJs and a lot of us don’t have much experience DJing. Some of us have been DJing for, you know, 10 years, but the majority of our collective is made up of pretty new DJs. It’s a space where we can play music that maybe we grew up listening to that we don’t hear in Portland specifically. Especially living in a super white city, it’s really important for us to be able to come together as a collective and not only have each other as support, but bring music to people and especially cater to Black and Brown people so that we can have spaces where we feel safe and we feel seen and we feel like the music is catered to us, as opposed to going into spaces where maybe that’s not usually the case.

Cathy [07:47]: A lot of your work engages with Portland and these kinds of thriving artist and activist collectives and spaces in Portland—everything from art and music shows to the local drag ballroom scene. I’d love to talk more about Portland. What gets you excited [about Portland]? What are some of your favorite things about these kinds of social justice-oriented arts and activism spaces in Portland?

Emilly [08:11]: I’ve lived here for 10 years and I find myself, at least in the last few years, I’ve found myself feeling really reinvigorated by living in the city.

For awhile it was really hard for me to find community. I feel like, I dunno, like I could make creative things happen especially. I think that it comes to me partly with just aging, but also just building your network of community and meeting people who are encouraging—like my cousin was to start the collective.

[08:54] I feel like right now we’re in a time in Portland where you’re seeing a shift, you’re seeing a shift like if you just open the alt weeklies of what’s being covered. As much as it’s an easy narrative to be like, “Portland is so white, you know, only white people live here and such.” I think there have been a lot of people coming together to push back against that narrative by not only vocalizing that we’re here, but by starting all these different collectives.

So beyond, Noche Libre, there’s a collective called YGB, which is Young, Gifted, and Black and Brown. There’s different collectives like The Chapters, Dugs. So there’s all these different collectives here that are using often dance and music but other forms as well, like having workshops and such. For me it’s just a really exciting time to live here and it’d be very difficult to look around and not see all the art and activism that’s happening. So as far as Portland’s identity, it’s very much intertwined with the identity of Portland now to me to see art and activism intertwined so closely and specifically having those initiatives led by Black and Brown people.

Cathy [09:42]: I also heard that you just recently finished a chapbook, right?

Emilly: Yes.

Cathy: What was that process like?

Emilly [09:49]: So I just completed a year-long certificate program at the Independent Publishing Resource Center. They’re an amazing organization that’s been around for more than two decades now. I received a scholarship to hone my chops as a writer, which I was really excited about because as I mentioned, my background wasn’t in writing and that’s what I do now primarily for work. It was really amazing to have opportunity to be a part of this year-long program.

Part of the program, in addition to learning how to write fiction and nonfiction, is bookmaking. So for the last four months I’ve been learning how to do everything from different types of binding to laying out text in [Adobe] InDesign, learning Adobe Illustrator, Risograph, letterpress. Any sort of craft related to bookmaking, I was able to take workshops and learn how to do that.

[10:38  So at the culmination of this program, I presented a chapbook. It’s a series of 12 personal essays that go chronologically. It’s called Fineral for Flaca: A Mix Tape Memoir and Essays, which is kind of a mouthful, but essentially it means that each of the 12 essays that I wrote is titled with a song title to add additional context. It also ties into me being a DJ and how music is intertwined in my life in so many different ways.

It was a really hard and vulnerable and amazing process to be able to put out some of the pieces that I started a couple of years ago, in the last four years maybe, and finally just write them out, polish them up and put them in a collection that not only is all of my work, but it’s physically made by me, which has been a really cool experience.

Cathy [11:28]: That must give a really different perspective on writing, right? To be on the production end of things.

Emilly [11:35]: Yeah, definitely. I mean I had no idea even just how long layout took. It was like three days of just like [inaudible]. Yeah, I have so much more respect for, I mean not that I didn’t, but I have a personal understanding of what that process is like a little bit. The people who make books are making magic happen and the fact that you don’t really notice it, I think, is a really good indicator of how solid that work can be.

Cathy [12:03]: What projects are you working on right now?

Emilly [12:05]: I’m currently working on a short reporting project for Travel Oregon. So I’ll be doing some small town roundups for the fall with one of my main collaborators, her name is Celeste Noche and she’s a really amazing Filipino photographer from the Bay Area who’s also lived here for about 5 years. In addition to collaborating on different reporting projects, we actually also have a project called Portland in Color.

Portland in Color is a database as well as a website where you can read about different creatives of color in Portland. So there’s a feature side where I’m doing the interviewing and Celeste is doing the the photographing. That’s available on portlandincolor.com so people can check that out. We’re on a hiatus right now as we prepare for some more events that we’ll be doing in the upcoming year. But that’s another project that’s always kind of on the back burner doing amazing things.

Cathy [13:00]: Very cool. So this brings me to my absolute favorite question that I get to talk to folks about, which is that big why behind all of this kind of work that you do and that’s that better world that you’re working towards when you collaborate with folks, when you put together projects like this. So I’ll ask you this giant question, but I think it’s a good question. What kind of world do you want?

Emilly [13:22]: Yeah, this is a big question. The world that I want, I guess, at the core is a world where people feel safe and feel seen, whatever that means to them specifically. So a lot of the work that I do centers around encouragement and encouraging people that their voices matter, their stories matter, their musical tastes matter. They have a right to come together and have joy and have dance parties.

So I think ultimately I’d like to see a world where folks are all encouraged and all have resources to do these creative endeavors. I’m living a very privileged life being able to have writing and DJing and all these creative endeavors be my main source of work. And that’s not the case for a lot of people. So in my ideal world, that would be an option that’s available to anyone who wanted to engage in that kind of work.

I think on the opposite end, too, I would like to see a world where we value all types of work. Work that’s often invisibilized, people who work with children, people who work in housekeeping, all these sorts of labors that aren’t respected. I would like to see a world where everything was respected and valued and seen as being important and a part of a kind of collective that we all need to do to have this ideal world.

Cathy [14:38]: I think that sounds pretty awesome.

Emilly [14:40]: Yeah. So I guess in the work I’m doing, I’m trying to create that even if it’s not on a worldwide level. If I can create that even for one person, that’s why I do all that I do.

Cathy: Well, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing all of the ways that you imagine and create otherwise.

Emilly: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really looking forward to checking out more of the other podcast episodes as well, and I appreciate you reaching out to me.

Cathy [15:10]: [upbeat music in background] Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire and this episode was created by Christopher Persaud and myself, Cathy Hannabach.

You can check out the show notes for this episode on our website at ideasonfire.net where you can also read about our fabulous guest as well as find links to the people and projects we discuss on the show. [music fadeout]