A Conversation with Wendy Valdez

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"A Prayer Called Treatment" is a hefty collection of photos, essays and artwork compiled by artist, performer and illustrator Wendy Valdez over a three year period. The collection of Valdez's work and observations total 42 pages and reflect on years spent houseless in Tokyo and Los Angeles. During this period of time, Valdez began making zines by hand to both express herself and to sell. She recently hosted a table at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair to continue sharing her work with the public. We spoke with her to discuss making zines, embracing our own identies, and struggling as a young artist. You can view and buy her zines here

Bunny Zine: What initially drew you to making zines? 

Wendy Valdez: So we are going to get really personal. It was maybe 2013 and I took a vow of silence for 6 months. I was in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo and was homeless. I met someone online who had made zines and I was, you know, trying to find ways to make money so I could buy groceries, a blanket, art supplies and other essentials. He told me, 'Anyone can make a zine, about anything you want." And I was like, "Okay." I used a hand scanner I had. I would scan surfaces—I would scan walls, concrete, any image I wanted. I would basically write all kinds of crazy things and collate it and bind it myself and sell it in a park in Tokyo. I would sell them for 5 dollars each. People actually started buying my zines and I would sell them actual places while I was homeless and not speaking. This was actually easy; I speak elementary Japanese but it was easier to not speak at all. After that initial 6 months, I was selling the zines at different stores. 

I moved back to Los Angeles and thought 'I kind of want to keep doing this.' I got a table at the L.A. Art Book Fair and it really changed my view. I went to school for performance and fine art and maybe I want to focus on illustration. I didn't realize that I was actually good at it, I was selling more zines. I got more involved in digital art—I learned Photoshop and how to alter images in a digital format. I started making poetry zines and photography zines; ones that had a digital element to them. 

BZ: Can you expand on what you mean by vow of silence?

WV: It has a lot of layers to it. It was an art project that I had made but then turned into an art book of me documenting my six months of homelessness and not being able to speak or to communicate with anyone. To be completely transparent, there was a time in my life when I wasn't really sure where my place was. For first-generation East Asian persons living in California and living in America in general, there is a sense of disconnect. I grew up in a school that was predominantly white, so everyone I hung out with identified as white. I'm clearly not white.

My mom is very white passing. She is Mexican, but she has blonde hair and blue eyes and white skin -- she looks white. She would dissuade me from being dark. She would want me to wear bleaching creams, bleaching masques. She was really into me wearing sunscreen and a hat at all times. It's a complicated way to describe my mother. In ways my dad, who is Filipino, was also encouraging her to make sure I was staying white-skinned. She would talk very negatively about Filipino and Mexican people. I was kind of raised on this foundation that I shouldn't be myself. So into adulthood, I think I was just really confused: I don't know who I am, all my friends are white, I don't have any connection to my culture. 

So I gave up the lease to my apartment, sold all my belongings for a dollar at Echo Park Lake and left for Asia. It was, essentially, me finding my identity. I didn't speak because some of the most common things I hear are, "You sound so white. You sound very educated." Oftentimes, they think it's a compliment too. 

Those six months were preserved as a time for me to acknowledge my own existence and my position in the world. I used all the photos I had taken and what I had written about during the six months to make a zine. 
 

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BZ: How did zine-making specifically help you come to terms with some of these issues you were facing? 

WV: Definitely connecting with others. Most of the time, I don't even sell the zines, I just give them away or sell them really cheap and use that money to make more. A lot of people who were interested in my zines told me, "I've felt this way" or "this is something that I have experienced" or "Please make more, I want to work with you." I think it was mainly connecting with others who have had a similar experience in life. It doesn't have to be a person of color, it could be anyone who is looking for their identity. This is especially important in a world where I think media and social media has skewed the way we are supposed to look and supposed to act. The idea that art is self-expression—I feel that. Every time I make a zine it is totally my notes on my phone, amazing images I've taken over trips I've taken. 

BZ: I'm really interested in the concept of anyone being able to make zines. How do you feel about that democratization of media? 

WV: Anyone can do it. I'm 100 percent for that, zines shouldn't restrict anyone. Zines are about doing things your own way and self-publishing. I think that everyone should be able to do it; anyone who has a story, something they want to express to the world. I think zine culture is stronger than ever. Look at zine fests -- we have a way to share with the public without many capitalistic means. I think that's huge.

It only becomes watered down when companies like Oak or Urban Outfitters make a giant zine -- when it becomes a way to purely make money rather than disseminating information. In the '70s it was this punk, DIY movement. In some ways, zine making has become this cute, kitschy thing, that has become simplified over time. But as long as the punk element is kept in this form of media, it will survive. 
 

All photos taken by Iris Ray.