University of Arizona

Episode 5
Everything Goes Back to an Immigrant: Anike Tourse

What is it like to navigate a world where “no papers” means no identity and no public recognition? For immigrants traversing such a world, are human connections even possible when faced with forced family separation and deportation? Anike Tourse’s filmmaking brings audiences into the human dimension of navigating the complexities of US immigration. Through collaboration with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights and other organizations, she makes work that raises awareness about immigrant contributions to society.

Anike Tourse is a writer, director, actor, and producer based in Los Angeles. She has written for One Life To Live and Girlfriends, which are among the first television series to primarily feature a multiracial and socioeconomically diverse cast of characters. She wrote, directed, and starred in the 2023 film America’s Family that sheds light on the tumultuous experience of a family whose teenage child is arrested following a raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.


Amelia (Amy) Kraehe Race/Remix

Chelsea Farrar This is Race Remix, a podcast that pushes forward enriching and challenging conversations about the arts and racial justice. We talk with artists, poets, writers, directors, dancers, designers, performers, and creative practitioners from the Arizona community and beyond. As you listen, be inspired to advocate and activate in your community. Together, we can create a more just joyful and sustainable world.

Welcome to Race/Remix. I’m your host, Chelsea Farrar. Today, I’m so lucky to be joined by one of our Racial Justice Studio fellows, Anna Cooper. She joins me today in welcoming our guest, writer, director, filmmaker and actress and innovator.

Anna Cooper Welcome to the show, Anike. It’s wonderful to have you here in the studio and on campus today to talk about your work and your latest project, America’s Family.

Anike Tourse Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Chelsea Farrar And UK tours is a filmmaker actress. Years of experience in front of and behind the camera. She makes projects that center the voice of underrepresented communities and the experiences they have as they struggle for justice. She’s written for the TV series One Life to Live. Girlfriends, both of which were some of the first to primarily feature ethically and socially economically diverse characters.

Her other projects include America I, too, commissioned by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, or True Law, and her most recent feature length film, America’s Family won the Grand Jury in audience awards at the Dances with Film Festival in 2022. Welcome to Race Remix.

Anike Tourse Thank you.

Anna Cooper We both had the pleasure to screen your newest film, America’s Family, hosting you here on our campus at the University of Arizona in a border state, in a border community where the topics you center in your work are ones that directly impact our campus and community members. It means a great deal. So thank you for being here and talking about your work.

Anike Tourse Yeah, Thank you.

Chelsea Farrar So before we start to talk about your latest work and can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do?

Anike Tourse I am a hybrid artist, a writer, director, actor, producer, as you said. And you know, my first moved to L.A. I was writing in Girlfriends and I was writing on One Life to Live, and then I was also performing in plays and in solo performances. My work is really focused in multicultural multiclass, and right now the focus has really evolved into something that spans partnerships between activists and professional artists and community members.

And you really see that in America’s family. It’s it’s quite an intersection and quite balanced among the three. I would say.

Anna Cooper A central theme of your two recent films is immigration and prioritizing the stories of those it impacts. Why is this such an important topic for you?

Anike Tourse When I first moved to L.A. more than 20 years ago, I thought not that I didn’t have my own immigration story because I think all of us have our own immigration stories. It just wasn’t something that was super prevalent in my life or in my connection and discussions growing up with my family. So, I mean, I personally come back, I come from a mixed a very mixed, diverse background.

But again, I wouldn’t say that immigration was the focus when I first moved to L.A.. I think that everything that happens to people are most things that happen to people professionally kind of starts with something personal. So the first friends that I became connected to was an undocumented family. And I think for people to explain about what being undocumented means is not something that happens right away.

You know, people have to build trust with you in order to talk about anything that’s relevant and important to their lives. But when it did finally come up that the family was undocumented, I think it was because I was talking about the youngest daughter who was very gregarious and outgoing and extroverted and very funny and would come to visit me in my apartment and kind of sing and dance around and, you know, kind of design her own little performance pieces.

And I said, she’s great. She should really be an actress. And their reaction was like, Well, how would that be possible? We don’t know anyone. We don’t have any connections here. And, you know, we’re undocumented. And I was like, What do you mean? I think maybe they said, We don’t have papers. And I said, What do you mean your papers?

And then they were trying to explain, and I just couldn’t really wrap my brain around the idea of like, okay, so I don’t get it. Like, you don’t have no identity here. It’s like you don’t exist here. And she said, What’s a little bit more complicated than that? But it got me kind of interested in the subject. And then I just I sort of was getting more integrated in the culture.

And I did notice that there are these two large groups and their lives are overlapping and are connected by virtue of the fact that they both live here, but they’re not recognizing that. And that’s there’s sort of no public recognition of then I thought that was also very odd. But then I got interested in learning more and then I created and I started writing pieces about it.

And as I was doing that, I had to make connections with folks. So I started doing interviews. And then among that in that process, I got connected to Chair the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, and then I had no idea I was going to be building the beginning of a partnership that would span for more than 20 years.

Chelsea Farrar It reminds me of, like the phrase political is personal, that a lot of interests that you had started with those personal connections to people and seeing those people as full people and their full lives and becoming really interested in their full lives. I think that’s really important.

Anike Tourse For me, everything goes back to an immigrant, everything goes back to an immigrant. So when I think about the people that I became close to, the first friends that I had, when I think about the people that have really believed in my work and have financially really supported that work. And when I think about the closest friends that I have now, where, you know, my my friend is from Israel and her husband is born in the U.S., but comes from a Thai African-American family.

Like everything, everything. And then even going back, obviously, to my own I mean, I haven’t talked about it, but my background is in my father’s African-American, my mother’s white and Jewish Ashkenazi. But when you go back to grandparents and great grandparents were looking at Russian polish from the Iberian Peninsula, from Spain, from Cuba. So it gets very, very diverse.

So I guess this is a long way of saying that, like many of everything to immigrants and I think that people really kind of thought about it, they would understand that there are many, many immigrants that are helping facilitate their lives as well.

Chelsea Farrar Yeah. Yeah.

Anna Cooper Can you tell us more about how how does the fight for immigrant rights relate to anti-racism and racial justice?

Anike Tourse I would say that the immigrant rights movement is a multiracial movement. It’s a multiethnic movement. It’s connected by many, many nonprofit organizations and many community organizations that have kind of are the lifeblood of it. And they connect back to the community. Also, deejays, radio deejays have been a big part of that movement as well, helping to organize people.

And I would say things. We have other movements, such as the civil rights movement. That was a big model for the rights movement. And it’s people that are coming from many, many home countries across the world. I think that I would have answered things about racism a little bit differently some years ago, but when I think about it now, I think that many people are feeling very hurt and are struggling financially and with great difficulties and looking for someone to blame.

And it becomes very easy to target people from a different ethnicity and a different background. That has nothing to do with you because you just don’t know who they are. You’re really trying to put things together about why your life is painful and difficult and not working. And if it seems like you’re being exploited and that’s not being recognized and your kind of turn around and exploit others and racism seems a very convenient way to do that.

Anna Cooper So most of our listeners will not have seen the film America’s Family yet. Can you tell us a little bit about the film, what it’s about?

Anike Tourse So America’s family is about a family that has been in the L.A. area for about 25 years or so. And on Thanksgiving Day, they are raided, meaning that the Immigrations Customs Enforcement, ICE comes to the door looking for the oldest son who has a deportation order. And the family is not aware that he has a deportation order and they come looking for him.

But he’s not there. He’s working. And so they make a collateral arrest and they arrest the mother. The part that I play and later are able to find the son at work and and arrest him and the father who has temporary protected status, which is something that was instituted to protect Asians and Central Americans. They had travesties happening in their home countries to allow people to stay and to be able to kind of renew their ability to stay.

And some may recall that Trump had froze those abilities and suddenly people did not have protections anymore. So as a result, the father, in a sort of preemptive way to protect himself, goes in to synagogue. He goes into a synagogue to seek protective sanctuary. And then the two American born kids, one who is a young lawyer, hasn’t been out of law school very long and a teenage sister.

So the movie begins with the family getting separated. And as it ensues, they’re fighting to reconnect and to be reunify. Right.

Anna Cooper So what’s the relationship between the film and Tala? It sounds like you have a long standing collaboration with Tala, so how does that work and what’s the role that Tala played in the filmmaking process?

Anike Tourse Well, I hadn’t made a short film very short called Know Your Rights, like almost like a video kind of industrial video, almost, that shows people in different scenes about what to do If you know, immigration shows up at your door and demands that you show like where you’re from, you know, like what to do if you get pulled over and you know you don’t.

And they’re demanding for papers and what to do if they come to your job and just kind of shows different acting scenarios. And it had this like huge impact and it had many I would say the different news anchors and lifestyle shows and different countries also picked it up and kind of showed it to their constituents because it was like this really instructional yet kind of dramatic piece.

So that happened in 2007. And then they called me and said in this in 2000, right after President Trump was elected and said, hey, there’s a lot of people that are going to be terrorized very quickly and they’re not going to be ready for it. Could you create like a follow up or part to video or film that deals with what to do if you are incarcerated and how to protect yourself so that you’re not going to be deported?

And I said, okay, sure. And so I then went to go and speak to Barkhad Abdi, who is an actor from Somalia, and asked him, But he was living in Minnesota, and then he was in the movie Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for this film. And he was in the process of going through the press and getting a lot of attention for that movie.

I went and spoke with him and he at the time was struggling with his own immigration issues. It was pretty crazy. He was like getting all this attention. I mean, he must have gotten more than 25 awards for this work in the film, which is like unheard of. And he was nominated for an Academy Award. And at the same time, Immigration would not renew his paperwork and then when we went in, he agreed to do it and to act in the film.

And then when we started, production was the day that Trump instituted the Muslim ban. And so he had another project that his agent was like freaking out about because he was like, If he goes out of the country to do it, how is he going to be able to come back, you know? So anyway, you know, I wrote this short film for them called America Two, and we went through the festival circuit, but it also was shown to different communities and kind of used in training and then eventually became distributed by New Day films.

And yeah, so that started that. And then after that and said, okay, we now have two films we’ve done together that have reached more than 11 and a half million people. I think it would be nice to try to do a feature and this feature film that I have been trying to make for many, many years have gone through different producers.

That was about a mixed status family that got split up and their fight to come back and and I said, I’d really like to make this film, you know, are you interested in producing it? And they said, Sure. And it was great because, I mean, it wasn’t quite as simple as sure. And their real care and concern was that it be it just that it’s a show about deportation.

That’s it. Just do a family, do them make sure that the film deals with the partition. And I already had this movie that I had been trying to make for more than 20 years. So that’s how that happened. Yeah.

Chelsea Farrar So I want to talk about a theme of the film that you had touched upon earlier, this idea of connection. There’s this moment in the film where the father, George, who has taken refuge in the synagogue and a rabbi notes his method of prayer as having possible roots in Judaism, suggesting that his grandmother’s family could have been Jewish, fleeing to South America when Jews in the Middle Ages were being in Spain, were being forced to convert to Christianity under what was the decree of expulsion.

So for his story, this part of the of the movie, his story reminds me of the work of an artist, a contemporary artist, Mark Thanjavur, who invites people and these performance workshops that he leads in galleries for people to reflect on and share their migration story or stories. Because we all have one. And that’s what his work really pulls out.

Or like possibly like George or as you’ve mentioned before, that we have multiple we have sometimes these hidden migration stories as part of our family. And that’s this idea, this through-line of connection that I think is a really beautiful part of of, of the film. You know, we’re all connected through these stories of migration. So can you talk a little bit about why you wanted to focus on this idea of connection in the film America’s Family?

Anike Tourse Yes. I think in terms of the act, the character, what he when he goes and seeks sanctuary in a synagogue, he’s not really thinking about there being a community there or any kind of friendship there. He’s just kind of lands himself there. And in his situation, you know, in the movie, he’s really praying behind a screen and privately and is doing something called shackling, where he kind of shifts back and forth.

And it’s very specific to a Jewish form, a very traditional conservative or orthodox way of praying. It’s not kind of a normal thing that you would see just anybody who’s praying, doing. So when she sees this, the rabbi sees some notes, she’s walking by and sees him doing this. And the fact that he’s doing it in a way to hide it so that nobody can see what he’s doing is just sort of thinks this is interesting and brings it up with him and he does note that his family way, way, way, way back did originally are from Spain and they moved from Spain to El Salvador now.

He talks about his grandmother because this is something his grandmother would do so that he, like his grandmother, would pray in this hidden way, that she would do this chuckling, that she would light the candles really notably kind of like Shabbat candles, even though he doesn’t know there’s about candles, but would light candles in the closet. These are things that people would do if they’re trying to hide their faith but still practice it.

So that’s where the idea comes from. But it’s also the openly say that this might not be that, but it could be that. And it’s just something to possibly think about, meaning that, you know, there’s sort of no way to know exactly as origins, that they’d have to do some research about it. But it’s something to think about.

And then I would think in in terms of connection and also mean those particularly those two actors seem to really have a lot of chemistry and like each other a lot when they performed in the scenes, you know, and I think I was just talking about the role, what I was saying before about my own sense of connection, that sort of everything gets connected back to an immigrant if you go and connect the dots.

So I think that just in terms of my own diversity of experience, I was very interested in interconnectedness. I was also interested in intersectional ality and the idea that everybody is not just sort of one thing, you know, we have many different identities and many ways of presenting ourselves in the world and many ways of seeing the world and connecting to other people.

Anna Cooper The film also touches on anti-blackness in Latin communities. So there’s a son who’s deported to Mexico, and he has to locate his mother’s family, who are people he has no memory of since he was a very young child when he left and went to the U.S. So he’s startled to find out that his grandmother is black. Can you talk about how you wanted to address this topic in this film and maybe why it’s such an important issue for you?

Anike Tourse Yes, I think that it’s not just that his grandmother is black, it’s that it’s his grandma. First he meets his cousin, then his grandmother, then his extended family, then his neighbors. This happens to be black community, Afro Mexican community along the coast in Oaxaca. And he’s definitely startled. Mainly he’s startled because he is the oldest child in the family and they all have the same mother.

But when he comes there with his mom, what is his stepfather? He’s not his father and he’s just a baby. When his mother and his stepfather meet and get married and build a life in the United States. But this is sort of one thing that he starts with. But there are many, many things that he goes through. He could get startled to find, you know, that just the fact that he was deported in the first place, he had no idea there was a deportation order.

There was something that he experienced, like a joyriding thing with the kid. He actually was trying to protect his friend from getting pulled over. So he drives the car and they end up getting to court. The charges are dropped. He thinks it’s over. And he’s a young kid When all that happens, like 13 years old or something. And then to come out, find out later that when that or preceding happens, it triggers immigration court as well.

He knows that he’s undocumented, but he doesn’t know that he is, again, has a deportation order. So then he gets deported and he leaves his family. Then he discovers, okay, there’s a big issue about the fact that he doesn’t have a birth certificate because they can’t locate his birth certificate in Mexico. He’s no longer in the U.S. He suddenly has papers, nowhere and trying to find work.

Then it becomes very difficult then. So he goes back to his hometown, where he has not been since he was a baby, and then come to find his family to try to track down his birth certificate and then discovers everybody is black, which is another shock. And he talks about with his cousin that he had so many difficulties because of just that.

He didn’t necessarily I don’t know, necessarily not understand it, but just having things like being followed around in the store or people being afraid of him or that it’s a little bit different from his siblings because his siblings are much fair skinned. They don’t have those kinds of problems at all. And then to discover that he actually is black, that is Afro Mexican, it’s like, this makes a lot of sense now as to why I’m treated differently and why I’ve had all of these problems.

And it’s very frustrating to him that it’s not conversations that he and his mother have had. So I think that and when he talks about this with his cousin, his cousin is like, I was actually in the U.S. myself. And at one point, you know, I was there and then I get deported back here. And then when I got here, Mexican authorities told me that I didn’t live here, that maybe I am going to be deported from Mexico, even though Mexico is my hometown because he’s dark skinned and many people are not aware or they certainly have been in the last few years, have become more aware.

But for a long time people didn’t know about my people being in Mexico at all, even Mexicans, or thinking that the community was very small and kind of insignificant. So that’s another thing is that I wanted to really put the focus on diversity and anti-blackness in a much broader scope and a much more diverse scope, and not just kind of in an American framework.

Chelsea Farrar So I think you talked about this a little bit, the representation of immigrants in Hollywood and mainstay Stream Media is most often not positive. It’s stereotypical or often like one dimensional, right? People in their immigration status are not treated as full peoples, real people oftentimes just as objects. So, you know, for example, political objects in ways that are really cruel and inhumane.

For instance, when they’re tricked on the planes and flown to other cities to score political points in really cruel and inhumane ways. So can you tell us your thoughts on the role of film? Like what do you think is the role in film and working to combat these stereotypes and addressing the real racism that many in the film industry still experience?

Anike Tourse Yeah, I think that the image of being an immigrant in America, or rather in the United States, North America is just like this really simple, superficial, not real way. So for example, you might have an episode, a show like Law and Order, and they go and they they find they knock on the door and they’re looking for whatever they’re looking for.

And an immigrant woman opens the door and says, I don’t know who that is, and says, I think you’re scared. You need to tell us what’s happening. And then the person confesses, okay, I’m going to tell you everything. But here’s the thing. I, I was abused and I’m afraid and they say, okay, we’re going to find you a USB visa.

And then magically, by the end of the episode, the visa comes and the person gets to stay and all works and it only could work so easily, then we wouldn’t have a problem. But these images are getting and these stories are getting continuously perpetuate related. So people are walking around with massive misinformation and then that leads back to even deeper stories of like, okay, so let me get this straight.

I’m going through hell to pay my bills to work. And I also had to deal with abuse. But this person just gets to show up here and gets the legal resources and now they get to stay. And what about me? You know, for movies, I just think that the greatest part about film or any kind of artistic experience is that you get to just have the experience.

So when you watch a movie, you’re just relating to the story. If it’s being done correctly and you’re having an emotional experience and you’re relating to the characters and you’re not really thinking about where they’re from or just thinking about, Wow, this is a family that’s really going through it. And I have a family that’s really gone through it and people just identify it in that way, and then that allows information to come in and to learn things kind of through the back door without it’s intense.

You need to believe this and you need to understand this. And these people are struggling and you should feel bad and you need to change your life. None of that is happening. You’re just saying, watch the movie. You know, I think that those movies have made a big impact, if only by the fact that you learn audiences learn a lot more about who these people are or individuals are. I think it’s great.

Chelsea Farrar Yeah. If you go through life and you never have had the opportunity to have a conversation with someone who has had to go through the immigration process, you would be left to think that it’s very simple and that all you have to do is X-Y-Z.

Anike Tourse The complex of immigration. You know, people. I think the most important thing for me is that the idea that nobody is really trying to leave their home for the most part, upwards of 90%, no one wants to leave. People leave because they are really forced to leave for a variety of different reasons. And people’s families are not happy for them when they leave either.

They don’t want them to leave. So the idea that somebody just going and they just follow the rules, they wouldn’t have a problem is just kind of ridiculous and superficial, as you said.

Chelsea Farrar Yeah, Yeah.

Anna Cooper I’ve read that you predominantly cast immigrants or those with a personal experience of the immigration system in the film. Can you talk about why that’s important to you and kind of what it was like?

Anike Tourse Yes, I would say it’s important to me because for me, authenticity is really going to be the most interesting. It’s going to be the most entertaining, and it’s going to work the best. Whenever I’ve tried to fake it in any capacity, it just doesn’t work as well. I have definitely cast very diverse folks and people that have deep relationships to the subject matter, and some of that was intentional and some of that was not specifically in terms of the immigration piece.

The cousin and the grandmother are from these places, Chicago, very close to the neighboring town of Barcaldine, which is where we shot in both chocolate and Chicago and the woman who plays the grandmother plays my mother in the film. She is I mean, she has done one other movie, maybe two other films. She’s someone who runs like a bed and breakfast type of place or really a hostel in the community where we shot her son, who plays the cousin.

He is a surfing instructor and a fisherman, and he has like he’s kind of a businessman in this very, very small town. He has a bar that he owns with his wife. I had a casting director in Mexico who focuses on what they call natural casting. There she went door to door in both chocolate and sugar wood looking for people and went to there was happened to be a party that was happening in the town and she was like, great.

Went to the town and was like asking around, saying, Hey, are you interested in this? And most people were like, Yeah, zero interest in this. But this guy was a businessman actually. So he was like, okay, how much is this pay, really? That was what he really cared about. And then we sat down and then we had the conversation and then she set up an audition and then he does this like, stunning, amazing job.

And then he also, like, he did talk about his, you know, sort of experiences and asking them a little bit about it. And he had a very similar story to the character.

Anna Cooper And what are some other ways that filmmakers can be collaborators in anti-racism?

Anike Tourse I still think that everything becomes very personal. So to me, I feel like the most important thing for artists to do is to do things that reflect their experience and their artistic voice and their connection. I will say I have a friend, a colleague who did a documentary with Black Lives Matter and with a very interesting piece about the parents and the families who’ve lost their kids that have been killed by the police.

And it’s incredibly moving. But to him, and he’s uncovering a lot of the racist stuff that has happened in a lot of the anti-black practices that were happening both in these police network networks of enforcement. What was happening to these communities in terms of opportunity and exploitation they experience all of that is in the movie. But for him, the fundamental piece is wanting to show that you’re not alone.

These people are not alone. I mean, to get you have your child be killed by the police. I mean, I am sure if any of us for us to think about that, it’s really the kind of pain that you have to go through losing a child, number one, losing a child to murder number two and then losing a child by the people that you’re being told are there to protect you.

You’ve got to feel really, really, really in the level of grief and isolation and pain that you’re experiencing has got to be not even expressive. All right. And so what he’s done is by creating this film is to show that there are there is a community of people that are there to support each other and help each other to get through it, to get through it, to be able to do things like forgive other people, to forgive what’s happened to them, and to be able to move forward and move on and to kind of remake their lives in spite of such grief.

So even though what he’s doing is really, again, showing how so many racist practices have really hurt communities and anti-black practices have hurt these communities and hurt these families, what his real ultimate goal was to show, again what you’ve asked about connection. And I think that that to me is what is most important that people really kind of listen to their own truth and are able to show that on screen or show that in their performance work.

I do think specifically, obviously the other thing that this filmmaker did was the proceeds of the movie. There is a percentage that are going to different causes. There’s a lot of people out here that are doing good work and there are ways to support activist. And yeah, I also think that representation is a really big deal because when people are see people that look like themselves, that means something that’s empowering to people.

And I think that there’s a big issue in Hollywood about sort of like who gets to play what, right? So that you have the idea of a white person playing a black person, you know, a fair skinned black person or what have you, or just people playing different ethnicities has become much more of a hot topic because it doesn’t go the other way.

You don’t get to have people of color playing white people. That’s not happening. There’s not the opportunities are so limited. So giving diverse actors opportunities and giving diverse artists opportunities to showcase their work I think goes a long way. And I think just in terms of filmmakers really showcasing that, yeah.

Chelsea Farrar Race/Remix and the Racial Justice Studio is interested in the ways that the the arts really intersect with abolitionism and anti-racist practices and this idea of, you know, imagining new ways of being and new ways of living and working with each other is definitely a topic that we like to talk with a lot of our guests about, because I think that we get stuck in this this idea of like, well, that’s just the way it’s always been, or I just need to like, go along to get along, right?

This kind of mentality that we get stuck in and refuse to try to imagine other ways, like, what else is there? What else could there be? Or if I’m just going along and I’m comfortable, who else is suffering as one of our past guest, Dr. Benjamin asks us to reflect on. So I’d like to have you close this out with one of the things, one of the people or artists or books or films that have inspired you and help you to reimagine a better and more just world.

Anike Tourse I think I was in college. I was reading about Sojourner Truth as an activist, women’s rights activist, abolitionist, and I thought, my God, this woman is incredible. Why didn’t we learn about her in my junior year American history class? Like really contributed to what it meant to be. You know what it means to be an American. And I’m like, That’s weird.

So I developed a performance piece, a solo show. I read all this stuff about her, and because I was in college, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I really know that that’s like an easy thing to do. And I just was like, I think this is would be really important to teach people about this and maybe I could put together this one woman show and I could convince people to hire me to present it in the schools, and then I would give me enough money to help me pay my tuition.

So I did this, but I got really lucky. And then I got some inroads. I got some support from then at the time, the National Conference of Christians and Jews. What it was called, and then it changed to the National Conference of Community and Justice. And I don’t think it exists anymore, this organization. But they helped get me into the schools and I did a bunch of research and I had a connection with the Harvard Houghton Library and was able to find a little book that was written by Oliver Gilbert from the women’s rights movement, interviewing Sojourner Truth, who didn’t read or write herself.

And I created this performance piece. And to date, I mean, this is like three years of performing the solo show, and it’s thousands and thousands and thousands of people that have seen it from all over the world. And that was sort of my introduction to intersectionality and to my introduction to real independence and the strength of being a woman who was poor and no education and not attractive by American standards and was a slave, and also had to make a mental shift to just walk away.

But she did. She walked away in the middle of broad daylight and found people to help her. And then she was, you know, not without much pain within her own family and the separation from her own children. So I think that that’s been a very big core piece. And I should say that, again, that Sojourner didn’t read or write.

So everything that’s been written about her has been written by other people, which is something that I tried to impart to students about why it’s so critical to write your own stuff and to actually have an education, because then other people can say whatever they want. But I tried to find things that were sort of repeated in different texts.

So that’s been a really big impact on my life. And it was also it makes me think about Alice Walker, who wrote a book called Everything We Love Can Be Saved, and I actually have not read this book, but I read this particular article that she wrote many, many years ago about Zora Neale Hurston being kind of her muse or the artist that really affected her writing.

And Zora Neale Hurston has affected so many of our many people writing. And I was thinking about how Zora Neale Hurston actually does something similar to what I do, or if I would make such a comparison to such a great artist. But she, you know, their eyes were watching God, which is a book that’s written in the voice of the people that are in community.

And it’s a narrative work, but it’s based on real people, It’s inspired by real people. It’s got a donkey drama theme, as my film work does and performance work does. And Dallas Walker had made a decision that she, you know, Zora Neale Hurston inspired now is read and all of it’s part of required reading in American English lit classes.

And yet she died penniless and in an unmarked grave. And Alice Walker made the decision to go and pay for and place a grave at her gravesite. So that’s been something that really affected me. And the idea that artists affecting other artists and artists work.

Chelsea Farrar Affecting their art is fantastic. Okay. Thank you again.

Anike Tourse Thank you.

Anna Cooper Thanks for joining us.

Chelsea Farrar Thank you for joining the conversation on Race Remix today. The podcast is the creation of Racial Justice Studio in Tucson, Arizona. Land of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Pascua Yaqui. This episode would not have been possible without the efforts of our team of students, staff and faculty fellows, me, Chelsea Farrar, Amy Kraehe, gloria wilson, Isaac Schutz, Deana Scott and Jenny Stern.

This program is brought to you by Arizona Arts at the University of Arizona with generous support from John and Sandy Flint. If you enjoyed this episode, please invite your friends, family, students and colleagues to listen. Interested in joining our community or listening to more episodes, please visit and sign up to receive an email about upcoming news and events. You can also learn more about all of our guests in the show notes.



  • Anna Cooper
  • Chelsea Farrar

Executive Productions

  • Chelsea Farrar
  • Amelia (Amy) Kraehe
  • gloria j. wilson

Executive Edit, Direction

  • Sama Alshaibi

Audio Design

Marketing Production

  • Deanna Scott

Theme Music

Cover Art, Logo Design

  • Deborah Ruiz

Website Design

  • Cynthia “Cy” Barlow

Visual Design

  • Jona Bustamante


  • Amelia (Amy) Kraehe

Production Coordination

  • Jenny Stern