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Response to Request for MIXOLOGY Venue Change
Recently, a QWOC+ Boston member, Amelia Chew, posted on the facebook wall for the Mixology event on May 14th alerting the community at large of a serious issue surrounding OM Lounge’s management’s violation of labor laws; per the cited testimony, the owners of OM Lounge are guilty of wage theft against Asian and Latino immigrant workers (as recently as last year!), and so alongside the allegation of the facebook user’s experience advocating for these workers came a request to change the venue for OM Lounge. The latter part of this post details our response to Amee Chew and states the reasons why the organizers for this event have come to our decision to refuse this request.
As the QWOC+ Boston organizers and event admins had received no notice of this disturbing circumstance or venue request change beforehand from Amee (note: Amee also sent an email to the facebook alias simultaneously as she posted on the facebook wall), there was some disappointment expressed internally (and even externally – a few viewers of the event post wrote to QWOC+ asking if we’d know about the labor law violations and if we’d already refused to consider the request to change the events’ venue) at the manner at which this issue was presented – publicly, without first reaching out directly to any of the volunteers/organizers of QWOC+ Boston or waiting for an email response from us before posting publicly on facebook.
The event organizers have considered the allegations in greater detail and put forth a response to the community member’s request to change the venue via the email response below; we are in agreement it seems, from Amy’s follow-up response, that it is in the best interest of our community to always raise our voices concerning cross-issues of social justice, but also, and in acknowledgement of other people’s passions, personal causes, and social justice work, to learn to work together on them as well, presenting a more unified stance and stronger network of advocacy. We are after all, individual people, sisters, brothers, volunteers, and peers, before we are ‘activists’ and/or ‘organizers’.
Incidentally, the organizers of QWOC+ Boston would like to take this opportunity to make clear that if any member of the community is concerned about an event, a social injustice issue, or would like to see ‘more of something’ in Boston via QWOC+ Boston’s programming, we encourage you to reach out to us at email@example.com and show up to any one of our OPEN meetings to talk about your interests and/or how you’d like to contribute to help make Boston a better place for us all.
If you are asking volunteers – individuals with complex lives – to be accountable to the multiple number of communities to which we all belong as triple minorities under QWOC+ Boston’s mantra, then you simply must do the same and acknowledge that you also make up QWOC+ Boston. We have no membership rules or fees, and most of our events are free because we’d like to create and sustain social spaces that are accessible to as many people as possible. An invitation to become a volunteer as part of our social group is a unique “opportunity” to connect with others like yourself, build the interpersonal connections that are necessary to convince others in turn that whatever cause you are passionate about is worth fighting for.
Below is the original post, followed by QWOC+ Boston’s response (and decision); both Amee and a few of her peers in this request have agreed to volunteer at QWOC+ Boston and work with us to advocate for more inclusive social change, and acknowledge our inability to change the venue of the event or cancel it. Please feel free to post your comments and thoughts via this blog. We also strongly encourage community members who are interested in working with us to promote awareness of cross-cultural issues to join us as volunteers and organizers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details about how to get involved!
Monday May 4, 2009
QWOC+ Boston’s Response to Change the Venue of “Mixology” on May 14th
Thank you for your continued support of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) and for bringing this very important issue to our attention. We are very proud of the activist community we serve, and are confident that community members’ voices (like yours) will always help keep us informed about incidents like this. So, even though we operate more distinctly as a social networking group (vs. a publicly accountable 501c), we are always VERY interested and open to feedback from the community members that support QWOC+ Boston.
As we are volunteer-run and do not receive recurring funding, it is both a blessing and a curse that QWOC+ Boston’s sustainability relies on the collaborative efforts and relationships we’ve built between other local social groups, non-profits, promoters, and, more pertinently, venues. The questionable character of the OM Lounge owners, based on the anecdote that you’ve sent, is very upsetting to us. Many of the organizers are of color, from immigrant families, and thus, were personally touched (and infuriated) by this revelation. However, the timing for a more proactive response couldn’t be worse; we already signed the event contract with OM, many print fliers and email announcements have gone out for the event, which is just 10 days away, and we know from direct experience producing events of this kind that we’ll be unable to find an alternate venue – one that is queer-friendly, open to a large group of people of color, willing to give us a space for free – on such short notice. Moreover, MIXOLOGY is our first overtly trans-inclusive event of the year – part of our 2009 initiative to reach out to more trans people in the of color/ally community – and thus, is an extremely important event to us as a group. For these reasons, we cannot acquiesce to any requests to change the venue, nor will we entertain the only other alternative course of action, which would be to cancel the event.
Incidentally, there are many establishments in the Greater Boston area that are guilty of some social injustice or the other. With the limited resources the QWOC+ Boston core organizers have at our disposal, if we tried to take on every single social issue that affect us as minorities, the hard truth is simply this: we would have no where to go and we’d be playing a passive role in contributing to the social isolation that already exists for queer women of color in the Greater Boston area. Searching for viable spaces to host QWOC+ Boston social events is no easy feat for community members that volunteer their time to organizing for QWOC+ Boston; most venues are not that supportive of small social groups, and require large dollar amounts in down payments and/or costly room reservations for social events; many more are homophobic and recoil at the thought of giving their establishment an unwanted ‘reputation’ by hosting us; and lots more are overtly racist via their strict dress codes and/or conduct (e.g. no hats, no sneakers, no baggy jeans, no hip-hop music etc). The list is endless. However, if through your work, you’ve become well-informed of social-injustice-free venues that are better-suited to host QWOC+ events, we whole-heartedly invite you to join us as part of our organizer committee for 2009 and play a more proactive role in the planning and producing of our events.
We hope that it goes without saying that, in the future, if you have any insights to share with us, we encourage you to reach out to us directly before setting the stage for a public protest. We believe it is in all our interests to engage in dialogue around important issues such as this one and work together with concerned community members to present a more unified stance on oppression and social injustice. In this instance, we realize that you were only trying to make sure that the message reached us as soon as possible so that we could potentially address the situation, and we greatly appreciate your fortitude and initiative. However, I think you would agree that QWOC+ Boston provides a very valuable outlet to many marginalized members of the community via a variety of community-building social events (including QWOC Week in August). So, were our good work to be overlooked and/or painted in a negative light due to lack of communication, possibly preventing future events from being supported/well-attended by any subset of the community, it would do ALL of us a great injustice.
On a final note, we are sensitive to the fact that you worked directly with the immigrant workers that fell victim to this instance of wage theft, and completely understand if you do not wish to support the business of OM Lounge. We’d still like you to consider supporting the idea behind this event by attending, yet abstaining from purchasing any food or drinks; this would be a great way to continue to support QWOC+ Boston but present your disapproval of the management of OM Lounge in a tangible way that hits home i.e. not giving them your money.
If you are dissatisfied with our response to this issue in any way, we are more than happy to have you come to our open meeting on Thursday, May 7th at the Cambridge Women’s Center at 6:30PM, and engage you as a new QWOC+ Boston volunteer so that you can meet the other organizers and schedule a time to discuss possible alternatives were this circumstance to present itself again in the future. Thanks again for your work, your words, and your voice. We hope you continue to support ours as well.
QWOC+ Boston Organizers
Original Email from Amelia Chew
May 1, 2009
For the past few years, I’ve served as staff at the immigrant workers center of the Chinese Progressive Association, a grassroots community organization in Chinatown. The workers center helps immigrant workers learn about their rights and supports them in taking collective action.
I am aware of serious labor violations that the owners of OM Lounge are responsible for. They, Bik Yonjan and Solman Chowdhury, also ran a Malaysian restaurant called Rendang, that shared a kitchen with OM (it was in the same building).
In late 2007, Chinese kitchen workers at Rendang came to our workers center. They reported working 72 hours a week, not receiving minimum wage and overtime pay in violation of labor law, and exploitative conditions including sex discrimination. They also told us that Latino workers worked these same hours but were paid even less, at $1300 per month. Rendang closed last year after issuing the workers bad checks.
While we did help the Chinese workers recover some of their unpaid wages and bounced checks, Yonjan and Chowdhury never took full responsibility for the full wages the workers are owed under the law; they are still owed tens of thousands of dollars. Wage theft is a serious issue for immigrant workers.
In light of this, I was wondering if QWOC would be able to change Mixology to a different venue? I am a queer women of color, and really support and appreciate QWOC’s efforts to build communtiy and create spaces! However, I would not be able to attend this event in good conscience.
I’m glad to provide more information or talk more about the above situation.
Thank you for reading and all that you do,
Follow-Up Response from Amelia Chew
May 4th, 2009
[ ] – info paraphrased for privacy
Thank you for your reply and also taking the time to talk by phone. I really appreciate, and respect, the serious consideration you’ve given to the email I sent, on top of all the event planning and organizing.
It seems that perhaps I caused some offense by posting my message on facebook. I hope you might understand I didn’t mean to attack QWOC+ or dismiss its efforts. My intention was to reach you quickly — and also provide information to more people, whom I believe should know about this situation if they are considering coming to the event. I also did not intend for others to use this info to attack QWOK+ either, but rather, to act in ways promoting social justice. I think QWOC+’s response would do more to paint itself in a positive or negative light than the words I posted — and am glad you have engaged in communication and encouraged collaboration.
Thanks for inviting me and others to the meeting on Thursday. I would indeed like to come — but unfortunately, it’s the same time as a [a prior engagement]. Perhaps I can make future meetings. I do know, though, that [others plan to come Thursday]. Hopefully, there can be a time to discuss how we might be able to stand in solidarity with the workers’ situation — whether as QWOC+ or individuals — even though it’s too late to change the venue at this point?
I have enjoyed coming to other QWOC+ events, like the stress panel and the takeover of Caprice. Thank you again for all that you do.