THE CHIU FAMILY
Photography by Celeste Noche
December 17, 2017
Name: Alex, A’misa and Mazzy Chiu
Pronouns: He/Him, She/Her, “I’m a Mazzy”
Medium of choice:
Alex: I consider myself to be a cartoonist. I tend to draw and paint. I currently have the ambition to paint murals. I also have the ambitions to create stop motion animations.
A’misa: I’m a zinester and illustrator, who makes zines on my personal experiences. I’m most proud of the zine that I did on my abortion experience when I was 21. It took me 10 years to write, it has been a long healing process. I also am a college research librarian and I organize a lot of zine and art fests.
Mazzy: The Mazzy show on Youtube.
Alex: “Basketcase” by Green Day
A’misa: “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees and “Gold Lion” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Mazzy: Johnny Johnny Song
“Art communities in Portland can be overwhelmingly white, your presence and support is everything”
Today we have a very special edition of Portland in Color— our first family feature! Making space for creativity in the home can be both a challenge and a privilege. As daunting as creative careers might be, pursuing them while also providing for a family feels tenfold.
I often think of how my upbringing helped shape the artist I am today. I don't have memories of arts and crafts with my mother because as a single parent in a low income household, she was usually working. But she saved every single piece of art I brought home. Sometimes I would dig through boxes and find drawings I thought I'd thrown away. She told me she didn't get to keep anything from when she was young, so she holds onto everything she can now and I think this is why I'm a photographer. We might not have had a creative home in the traditional sense, but creativity was born from it nonetheless.
I'm so excited for our guests today because not only are they making and organizing art that benefits the community (think: massive murals and zines galore), but they also welcome us to see how creativity flourishes in their home in the shape of the CUTEST cooking show ever. Somehow, I overcame my starstruck wonder to spend a morning with the delightful and hilarious Chius, making popcorn à la The Mazzy Show, drawing three-eyed Mazzys, and eating books.
Seeing families like theirs is a breath of hurricane popcorn air, and the future feels so bright.
Alex: I’m second generation Chinese American. My parents emigrated from Hong Kong to California in the 70’s. I grew up in Irvine. I moved to San Diego in 2003 to study Visual Arts at UCSD and got a degree in Media Studies. I am currently a professional illustrator, arts educator, and stay at home dad here in Portland.
A’misa: I’m a yonsei Nikkei, which means I’m a fourth generation Japanese American. I was born in Oakland, raised in Gardena/Torrance in Los Angeles, CA, within a very large Asian American community. I met Alex while studying art history/architecture in San Diego more than a decade ago. We’ve been partners (in art and in life) for many years. We’ve lived in Portland for 6 years now. I miss the food of LA and my family as the years tick on; I just wish it was more open to weirdo artists in the way that Portland embraces us.
Mazzy: Mazzy is 3, likes slime, persimmons and is way more well known than either of her parents (which they are cool with).
Tell us about one of your favorite Portland memories:
Alex: My friend Wally and I collaborated on a project that involved paper mache monster costumes. The night we finished painting them, we walked over to Domino’s pizza and ordered a pizza in our monster outfits. We also did a little dance in the parking lot. The workers were pretty excited about it.
A’misa: One of the most powerful times I’ve had in Portland was at the APANO Organizing Retreat. It reminded me of church camps that I used to attend as a kid, but instead of a religious focus, it was a 2 day training on how to be better community organizers. It was more than just a learning experience. In sharing our families migration stories, I realized that while my family was being incarcerated in concentration camps by the US government for being of Japanese descent, the Japanese from Japan were occupying many of the Micronesian Islands, such as Palau. These conversations made me realize that my history stems in oppression, both as the oppressed and the oppressor. I wish I had a chance to learn these histories when I was younger, and further encourages me to tell my own kids true history. I also am thankful for being able to help out with Intersect Fest and Tender Table.
Please share a time it was difficult living in Portland:
Alex: Moving to Portland was a big deal for A’misa and I. We were moving into a new city and pretty much started from scratch with only what we could fit into our Toyota hatchback. I worked my ass off for the first two years working odd jobs in retail, coffee, and teaching. At one point, I was the only one making money while Ann was in school for library science. There were a few times when I couldn’t keep up with our bills and our debit card was overdrawn. The feeling was desperate and terrifying. It was difficult to ask my parents for money to keep us in the city. I am extremely thankful for our current situation. Things are easier now.
A’misa: Personally, I struggled a lot in the first 2 years of living here. Many of the people that we initially met through the comics and art world were white, and while everyone was pretty nice and inclusive of us, I still had trouble feeling connected. I never really felt that I could be myself. Sometimes I still have those feelings. Portland can be very unlike how I grew up, and I miss the very connectedness of Asian community: you know where everyone is your auntie and cousin, and the hospitality is so warm. Though, I don’t miss the obligation and shame that also comes with that connectedness either. Alex and I worked a lot of odd jobs in the first few years, and life didn’t seem to slow down, it still hasn’t. I was also in school to become a librarian and faced quite a few microaggressions from professors and classmates. This made me start seeking out other students of color, and other artists of color.
How do you stay inspired in Portland?
Alex: In all honesty, Portland has been a very positive place for my creative growth. Being an artist in Los Angeles was far more difficult for me. Since I moved here, I joined a small drawing group with a group of people that I respect and enjoy very much. I’ve been given opportunities to teach, perform at comics reading events, hang my work on walls, and paint murals. After having a kid, it is more of a challenge to stay motivated to create new work. The main reason that I started The Mazzy Show was to have a creative outlet while also being a parent.
A’misa: I am very thankful for Intersect Fest, Tender Table, Women of Color Zine Collective and the zine and comics community. The creatives of color that work so hard to keep our little artistic communities running have my deepest respect, admiration, and appreciation. I wouldn’t have stayed here as long as I have without this community. Zinesters by far, have my heart, and I will never stop making zines. For me, it is a very pure art form that is highly accessible and affordable to both make and to consume. Also I’m thankful for my POC librarians networks. They keep me fueled up and ready to tackle all of the information and literacy issues this country is facing. Librarians are such bad-asses.
How can Portland support you and/or your community?
Alex: Being a parent has been a very significant life change for me. I feel very disconnected from people. On occasions, A’misa lets me slip out to an art show or go draw with some buddies of mine. Those moments seem more significant to me than they had before. If we do manage to table at an event or perform, please come out and join us. These moments are special to us.
A’misa: Please keep coming out to the zine/art/comics/poetry/performance events. Especially when these art communities in Portland can be overwhelmingly white, your presence and support is everything. It truly is. Buying some zines is always appreciated too!
Keep up with the Chius by following their work on Instagram (Alex, A'misa, Mazzy) and their websites alexdoodles.com and amisachiu.com. See Mazzy in all of her adorable glory on Facebook and Youtube!
Portland in Color is a self-funded project. If you enjoyed this feature, please consider donating to keep the series going.