Breathing Light Kyle Ozero

FOR THE SECOND YEAR in a row, a group of Portland punks are spearheading a weekend-long DIY showcase for and by people of color (POC). Intersect Fest offers four full days of activities including an inter-tribal welcoming ceremony, artist displays and tabling at p:ear’s creative space for homeless youth, two nights of live music, a comedy show hosted by hilarious duo Jen Tam and Rinna Rem, and tons more. Open to the general public (with the exception of workshops and “chill out” spaces designated for folks of color), the festival holds true to its name and reflects the intentionality behind its inception.

Mimi Shang, a Portland State engineering student and Intersect organizer, explained that a summer with some extra time led her to take action and reach out to her Facebook community for help in creating the punk POC event they’d always talked about. “In an abrasively white place like the Pacific Northwest, I don’t get many opportunities to walk into a room where I’m not surrounded by white people,” she says. “We learn to live with [microaggressions] and find whatever outlets we can to cope, so an important aspect of intentional spaces to me [is] changing that dynamic.”

Following the anarchist ethos of “no masters, no managers,” a total of about 10 core organizers including Anna Vo, a musician and zinester known for their series Fix My Head, came together to continue and expand on last year’s success. “People who have traditionally felt unsafe in white-dominated spaces are more likely to come because they feel safe, backed, and supported in [an] environment [with] less microagressions, judgments, or racism,” says Vo.

Although Shang and Vo expressed mixed sentiments regarding the departure of last year’s more definitively punk-identified festival, the decision to broaden their approach came from an intention to expand inclusivity. This year also welcomes non-POC attendees for the first time, which Vo says is related in part to p:ear’s location. “Because p:ear is in downtown Portland where there are huge class issues, I didn’t want to make a decision that was excluding houseless white folks,” says Vo, adding that the partitions within the venue made it easy to “create intimate spaces versus spaces for [those intended for] exposure.”

Shang asks white folks who are attending to listen and remember that “Portland has a tight-ass crew of black and brown folks who make cool shit happen, are creative, and have a vibrant scene. I’m so tired of white people complaining about how white Portland is!”

We talked about the shift in POC-centric spaces in recent years, especially in Portland, which Vo attributes to broader narratives in mainstream media. “Identity politics and the dialogue around survivors, trauma, and assault has changed,” says Vo. “It’s way more acceptable in popular culture to talk about subjective individual experiences [which] makes it more acceptable to have [conversations about] intentional spaces.”

Vo advocates reframing how we approach and understand spaces for people of color and the conversations around them. “Portland has a very rich history of communities of color [that] are strong and still exist,” says Vo. “Media and social interactions commonly whitewash and invisibilize these communities by running the narrative that they’re disappearing. There are punks and dancers and artists who are POC and they don’t have to necessarily write or make art about their identity. Don’t fetishize, invisibilize, or tokenize and remember how you talk about neighborhoods and people contributes to how that plays out every day.”