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Danielson’s “Homecoming Queers” details 2000 panel by Raging Exotics: Women of Color Caucus at PSU Women’s Studies Department

Date: June 10, 2012

Recently I came across Marivel T. Danielson’s book, “Homecoming Queers: Desire and Difference in Chicana Latina Cultural Production.” The book draws heavily on the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, who is not just one of my favorite authors, but the single most important influence in my own development as a feminist theorist and writer, so it was naturally very interesting to me.

But what I found most curious about the book was that it refers to the student organization I co-founded while attending Portland State University, Raging Exotics: Women of Color Caucus at PSU Women’s Studies Department. In fact, Danielson concludes the book with a story about a panel Raging Exotics presented at a women’s studies conference at University of Arizona, which was nightmarish. It’s re-traumatizing just to read her description of the incident, but I’m glad that someone put into record what happened, because we were too stressed to write about it ourselves.

Below is an excerpt from “Homecoming Queers” that describes what happened. In the book, she discusses the incident further using concepts she introduces elsewhere, so please take a look at the book if you are interested. (By the way, I believe that the French woman mentioned toward the end was Monique Wittig. Can someone confirm?)

Excerpted from “Homecoming Queers: Desire and Difference in Chicana Latina Cultural Production” by Marivel T. Danielson, p. 184-190

One group of students engaged in such a critical, political, and creative revolution of hegemonic academia emerged from the Women’s Studies Department at Portland State University under the self-proclaimed title “Raging Exotics: Women of Color Caucus.” In the fall of 2000 at the University of Arizona, founding members of Raging Exotics alongside Women’s Studies students from the Tucson campus offered a workshop at this conference proudly entitled “The Future of Women’s Studies Conference.” The panel detailed the student organization’s history, goals, and personal experiences and traumas lived by women of color students within Women’s Studies academic departments as well as the field in general. Although the group offered copies of their work in print, the most vibrant form of theorizing occurred as the panel and audience performed the lived experience of collaboration and confrontation in this “live” venue.


Over the course of their panel, “Raging Exotics” members Monica Steen, Lamya Chidiac, and Emi Koyama, joined by two local University of Arizona Women’s Studies students, would present their own experiences, each reading a prepared statement” about the unique forms of racism and ignorance with which she grapples on a daily basis as a student in the Portland State University’s Women’s Studies Department. In addition to their panel presentations, the students offered copies of their independently published zine. In this publication, the “Raging Exotics” established their goals as well as demands of audiences and readers alike: “The issues we are talking about are still very traumatic for us, so we may get emotional in the course of the presentation. Do not freak out or use our emotions as an excuse to devalue our words. And if you are white, take responsibility for your discomfort upon hearing our very difficult stories. We are not talking about skinheads or KKK; we are talking about perfectly well-intentioned feminists who end up hurting us due to their ignorance and prejudice” (Raging Exotics Zine).

However, before they could begin their presentation, the validity of their experiences and theories would be performed as a profoundly troublesome introduction. That afternoon I entered the tiny, almost empty classroom with an Anglo female friend who insisted on sitting silently in the back row. When I suggested we move closer to the front of the room, she shook her head and pointed to a sign written in large letters on a blackboard at the side of the room: “This is a space for Women of Color to speak and express ourselves. If you are not a Woman of Color please keep your comments brief. If you do not respect this request we will tell you to stop. This workshop is not about you.”

I sat and watched as women entered, filling the room, reading the sign, and reacting with varying degrees of melodrama, outrage, indignation, fear, righteousness, humor, and fierce accord. One older woman appeared disturbed and seemed to scoff at the sign’s request. She strolled calmly into the classroom, claiming a seat in the front row directly across from the panelists, as if initiating a duel. Before the speakers began, the woman rose from her seat and walked to the center of the table where they had placed a stack of their self-created zines. She first read a sign indicating that the publication was free to women of color and five dollars for allies. In a loftily sarcastic voice, the women challenged, “What if you’re 1/16 Cherokee. Does that count?” Clearly upset, one of the panelists managed to state firmly, “I find your statement offensive. I think you should leave.” The woman offered that she was just joking and, if given the benefit of the doubt, could have been lightly directing an anti-essentialist nudge at the workshop organizers’ establishing statement. When she was met with only stunned silence, she turned to face the now nearly full and shocked audience and implored, “Do you think I should leave?” No doubt expecting a warm and supportive match to her own indignation at the situation, she received, instead, only our own awkward silence and stares. Another panelist quietly argued that perhaps she should be allowed to stay, but the stand-off would not so easily be diffused. Finally, incredulous, the woman turned, gathered her things, and exited the room as the rest of us watched speechless. Perhaps none of us had ever observed a scene where an older Anglo professor, with clear institutional knowledge and authority, had been shut down by a young woman of color student. Perhaps we had never seen or experienced a space in which insensitive quips, derogatory joking, and carelessly tossed racist statements were neither tolerated, nor reciprocated. Perhaps we had only dreamed of such spaces where women of color took precedence even in the company of other dominant groups. And we sat speechless now, not realizing these spaces could actually exist, that we would ever be fortunate enough to locate them, to situate our- selves, our bodies, voices, and experiences within such a site.

In this pivotal moment, graduate students, young and largely queer women of color, assembled a space of their own along the lines of similarity as well as shared difference from larger dominant spheres. They defined this sitio with specific boundaries to indicate whose participation was relevant and permissible. The attention to voice, la lengua, was also imperative, as they were clear in their desire to allow the words and experiences of women of color to not only emerge but also to dominate or at least saturate the discursive focus of the workshop. In addition to invoking such voices, the members of “Raging Exotics” attempted to remove any dominant voices deemed distractionary, demeaning, or dismissive. Even seemingly supportive gestures were deconstructed into their most basic dominant parts, as when one white French woman began to cry as she expressed how upset she was that someone would think her oppressive when all she intended to do was help. After continuing to speak between tearful gasps for roughly a five-minute uninterrupted stretch, one panelist responded dryly that this workshop “was not about her [the French woman].” Whether intentional or not, the woman’s emotions shifted the panel’s intended focus from the unique experiences and needs of women of color in academia to the guilt and indignation of Caucasian female scholars. Rather than rush to the side of this woman, the students simply recognized the attempt to shift attention and refocused on their own critical agenda. The attempt, of course, was to cease what Gloria Anzaldúa calls reactive communication, where a struggle takes the form of action/reaction where all critical thought is focused on combating the ideas of others, rather than offering up new and original ideas of one’s own. For the “Raging Exotics,” the goal was to act and speak, rather than respond to the issues and inquiries of another. Yet Pérez deems such a sitio strategic, since even the original thoughts and speech presented in the room that afternoon were responses to actions and words of the now silenced Anglo women. Painful exclusions, bitter dismissals, and tokenized treatment marked most of the experiences shared that day. Though the imposed Anglo silence rule removed these women’s discourse from the hour or so of discussion-following the conflict and indignant ejection of one woman–the sitio was provisional, not permanent or lasting in its ability to silence or remove the structures of power present among feminist scholars.



  1. that must have been intense

    Comment by geeksdoitbetter — July 6, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  2. Hello Emi. I’m Marivel, the author of the above passage. Thanks for engaging with my writing. I am honored to have been able to be present for your and your colleagues’ presentation. As you’ll note from the rest of that section, my experience at the conference outside of that panel was traumatic as well. Your panel and voices gave me sustenance to continue my work in the face of ignorance and ugly politics. That panel, in all its ugliness and pain, is part of our history as queer scholars and people of color. Thanks for being brave and being present at that pivotal moment in *my* history as a grad student and scholar. I hope your well!

    Comment by Marivel Danielson — February 16, 2013 @ 6:02 pm

  3. Hi Marivel! Thank you for your comments. Yes, after finding the above passage I shared it with other members of Raging Exotics, both of whom have said reading it brought back traumatic memories of that conference. Still, we appreciate your work and your writeup of the panel!

    Comment by emigrl — February 16, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

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