2021 Claremont Zinefest explores the boundaries of art and activism

A hand holds a phone displaying the colorful Claremont Zinefest Instagram page in front of purple flowers.
The 2021 Claremont Zinefest was transferred from in-person to an Instagram page. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

CW: Mentions of anti-Asian violence

Every spring since 2013, Claremont students and community members gathered around tables filled with paper booklets and submerged themselves in the words and work of zine and comics creators. The long layout of the Claremont Packing House was ideal for the event, creating an alley of art on all sides, with sun streaming in from the building’s high windows. 

The COVID-19 pandemic halted plans for the 2020 Claremont Zinefest, but organizers of this year’s event are intent on reviving the fest — even if attendees won’t be bustling about the Packing House.

The 2021 Claremont Zinefest is an event run by students in the class Zines in the Asian Diaspora, taught by Pitzer College professor Todd Honma. This year, the Zinefest won’t be stopped by a pandemic or remote classes, but the customary tables and leaflets will be replaced by a colorful Instagram feed. 

Zines — pronounced like the end of the word “magazine” — are self-published booklets traditionally defined by easy creation and distribution. Though they have roots in 1930s sci-fi fandoms, their influence extends far beyond that. Margaret Kraus SC ’22, a Zinefest organizer and student in Honma’s class, reflected on the medium’s ability to engage difficult topics with complexity and authenticity. 

“In a zine, you get to play with the boundaries of art and the boundaries of academia and the boundaries of written words and combine it all together,” Kraus said. 

“Zines as a medium are inherently political,” Honma said via email. “The history of zines includes self-published works by marginalized communities — communities of color, queer communities — that operate outside the mainstream publishing industry, as a way to empower communities and create a collective identity through ideas circulated through print.”

That aspect of activism and resistance is especially important for this year’s Zinefest, which specifically highlights the voices of queer and trans Asian and Pacific Islander zinesters. Shoop Rozario SC ’21, a Zinefest organizer and featured zinester, said this decision was made in response to the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and the mass shooting in Atlanta in March.

“We wanted this space to be in response to what’s been happening, and we wanted to create a space that was healing and a way for us to connect with each other,” Rozario said. 

Additionally, the event will double as a fundraiser for the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance and Red Canary Song. Kraus said this decision was a way of “making sure we were doing our part in this fight for justice.” 

“We didn’t want to just be doing performative work or calling upon zinesters to submit their work so that we could have a spectacle for others. We wanted to uphold our end of the bargain,” Kraus said. “We wanted to give back to fundraising organizations that were grassroots places where we knew that the money would be going directly to a cause.” 

To put together the Zinefest, students in Honma’s class divided into three different groups: curators who researched and contacted zinesters to feature, creators of promotional materials and administrators of the Instagram page where the Zinefest will take place. 

From April 19 to 25, the platforms of 14 different zinesters will be highlighted on the Instagram account, with around two zinesters being featured per day. These include not only fellow 5C students and recent graduates but also creators outside of the Claremont community whose work the curators saw online, on TikTok or even featured in Honma’s class. 

The content of the featured zines varies from disability to communities in diaspora and is conveyed through a wide range of mediums, including poetry and digital art. Rozario’s work is based on personal experiences in community organizing at United Cambodian Community of Long Beach

“My zine is about conversation with some community leaders in Long Beach, the community care work that they do and also the importance of community experiences and knowledge — its role in individual and collective healing,” Rozario said, reflecting that a zine was the best medium through which to convey this content. “I’m not sure how else I would have had those conversations facilitated outside of a zine.” 

Ultimately, the variation in content speaks to the freedom provided by zines as a medium. The featured zines are not constrained by theme; instead, they communicate what resonates with their creators personally. And, in this way, they are sure to find an audience.

“Whatever your visual method of communication is, it’s valid … anything that’s coming from you is going to be meaningful, and it’s going to reach people,” Kraus said.

The online nature of the Zinefest presents challenges, especially because traditional zinefests are grounded in interpersonal interactions between zinesters and those who buy from them. 

“Being able to pick up, read, and feel the hand-made materials, those aspects are lost when things are moved to a virtual environment,” Honma said via email. 

While this year’s event will be asynchronous, Instagram ensures that participating in the Zinefest is not a passive process. 

“You have to [direct message the zinesters] to purchase things,” Rozario said, suggesting that even online, connection and conversations with the featured creators remain an important aspect. “People are open to snail mail and sending their zines and other things in that sort of way, so it’s not just virtual, one-time interaction.”

Kraus feels it is important for 5C students to engage with the event. 

“The Zinefest kind of presents … a radical digression from the ways that we are taught to value thoughts and the types of voices that get privileged in classroom settings,” Kraus said. “We have these really amazing creators who are doing this really important work that at least I, personally, wasn’t aware of before reading them.”

For Rozario and the organizing team, the 2021 Claremont Zinefest is a product of love, learning and hard work — an effort in community building and outreach, which has been fulfilling for the organizers involved. 

“I think it’s always fun planning something like this because it’s really nice to see people be so willing to be a part of something … creating community spaces is always just very heartwarming,” Rozario said. 

To learn more about the Zinefest and this year’s creators, visit their Facebook and Instagram

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