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Orphan Tongue

Issue 1: Toxic Orphans


Spring 2021

Orphan Tongue was born in the spring of 2021, inside a UC Berkeley student apartment, that rested on top of Telegraph Avenue. Our first issue needed to be bold, loud, and quickly produced---an homage to the style and class of Zine culture. The editor of this issue, Michael Papias, said "I don't need to apologize for my typo's---my focus was the content." Our debut Zine builds the theoretical and philosophical foundation of all future issues of Orphan Tongue: mistakes, colors, and vulnerability.


Following a year of over 4 million world deaths, 4.3 million burned California acres, food lines that reached the edge of city limits, and paper masks that slowly cut into the back of our ears--we needed a first issue that punched into this atmosphere of loss. Michael Papias, a vocal Latina/x/o Orphan, positioned rich colors with moments of sincere pain, regret, and fear. His work reads like excerpts from a journal, offering a painful dissection into a life consumed by a never ending stream of hellish misfortune.


Below is an interview that Orphan Tongue conducted with Michael. We got to ask him questions about his inspiration behind this first issue, who he is, and what he wants his work to do for others.


In addition to this online version, there was a limited 10 print run that was distributed amongst "Friends and Family." The first 5 copies consisted of 1 of 1 covers, paper collages created individually for each recipient. These collages are located on the margins of Michael’s interview.


Issue 1 had a Limited 10 print "Family and Friends" run and now has a permanent installation on our website that can be accessed for free 


Issue Editor:

Michael Papias

Interview with the Editor

Interviewer: Talk to me about issue 1, how would you describe this issue to our readers? 

Michael: If you entered the child welfare system...this issue is for you!

[Michael Laughs]

Seriously tho, this piece was made for my people--and it's because no one talks about us, foster youth, that I included so many different things in it! Honestly, Issue 1 is a mess, but what in my life has ever been easy and clean cut? You know what I mean? I would describe this issue as a rant with no timeline. A personal journal that has been made open to the public. Our readers get to see how a Latina/x/o foster youth was eaten alive this past year.

And that's the thing! No one really gets these feelings more than my people. 2020 was so hard for foster youth and the most triggering feeling for me this past year was feeling a loss of control---its the same thing I felt when I entered the child welfare system in 2009.

This past year I was hella confused all the time. I didn't have parents to take me in during the global lockdown. And I'm already a big germaphobe, so a pandemic with an airborne virus is literally my biggest fear. This issue feels like it was dragged through the mud and the spine is being held together with old dirty scotch tape that's turning yellow.

It's just a lot of vulnerability and our most intimate parts about ourselves aren't ever perfect. They are  the parts that we try to hide from each other.

Making this zine was my first step in a long journey towards personal healing. I put a lot of my pain on these pages and it was a great way to let go of a lot of my fears. It was also really empowering to make new art pieces that explore the power of foster youth! Our community is filled with some of the most powerful activists on the globe. Malcolm X was a foster youth! A lot of his passion for Civil Rights stemmed from his early experiences with the child welfare system and seeing the state disassemble his family.

Just think about it, almost 100 years after Malcolm entered the child welfare system, I would enter the system, and everyday a new child enters the same system. It brings me a fire, it makes me upset---I want our community to know we aren't throwaways, we are leaders, thinkers, and gamechangers!

Interviewer: I am wondering why you chose these Gloria Anzaldua quotes and why you sprinkled them throughout the Zine? 

Michael: Gloria's work brought me a lot of happiness during my undergraduate career---her writing made me feel strong, mentally. Even though I love her writing, I think it's hella important to push back against our heroes and to hold them accountable.

And Gloria's theoretical use of the Orphan is just another example of academia appropriating a lived experience that is far from their reality. They think that Orphans are some fictional 2-D characters that they can use to create some theoretical identity for themselves. In reality, not every Latina/x/o has an orphan tongue--I have an orphan tongue, my community of foster youth have orphan tongues.

That's what I want our readers to get, foster youth have been left out of a lot of academic, social justice, abolition, etc. conversations. All this previous work of appropriation is going to stop, we are going to write our own selves and perspectives into this world. No one is going to stop us and we aren't going to ask anyone for permission anymore.

Interviewer: How did you decide on making collages for the Hope Campaign

Michael: I'm new to this artform, but I think there's a lot of overlap with this art practice and the lived experiences of our identities--of being foster youth. Collage's make something new and powerful by using scraps, tearing apart the ordinary, cutting out what you don't want, etc. You feel me? However you approach it, you got some poetic analogy to our identity.

[Lets out big laugh]

In mass media (movies, books, etc.), I have seen a dominant foster youth image: white male foster youth. And my collection did not accidentally choose to highlight foster youth of color. Like any awareness campaign, this collection is rewriting multiple stories: (1) the presence of foster youth identities in mass media, (2) the dominant white male image, and (3) bringing power to our community members.

I want all foster youth of color to know, you are seen and heard--and we are going to make sure the whole world sees us too. It's time to get up and put in the work, we have to!

Interviewer: That's really interesting and really important to highlight the different identities in the child welfare system.....You also decided to put some of your own poetry in this issue, who's "el jefe" and why did you bring this piece into our first issue?

Michael: I don't know about you, but being stuck inside my apartment for a year, made my head wonder. This past year I unpacked a lot of the experiences I had with my father. I even made an essay film for him, in which I dug through hella archives on Youtube of his old pueblo/town and explored our relationship.

I know some people who spend months thinking about themes, choices, and motifs for their writing---but I was just in my room thinking about my dad's truck and our adventures on the 405 freeway. Gloria Anzaldua wrote a lot on the knowledge of the body and the memories ingrained in our skin. I think my body had let me know it was time to unpack my relationship with my father--which has been a very painful and long process.

I think that's why I included this poem in issue 1. I just want to lead by example and show future students that our hardest and most rewarding work is always our most vulnerable. I think the piece captures a moment when I was happy with my father, when his carefulness and love did show up--and that's how I want to remember him for a bit.

Interviewer: That's really powerful and important, thank you for sharing that. You got to decide the theme for issue 1, where the hell did you get the name "Toxic Orphans?" [Laughs] It's such a bold choice, where did it come from?

[Michael Smiles]

Michael: Look up Malcolm in the Middle Season 2, Episode 14...the episode is called "Evacuation." In the episode, there is a toxic spill in Malcolm's hometown. Long story short, Malcolm's younger brother, Dewey, uses the spill to create a fake story. Dewey tells the town that his parents died in the toxic spill. The entire town calls him the "Toxic Orphan" and showers him with candy, money, and video games.

All of this to say, I loved Malcolm in the Middle growing up---I really felt like my family looked like Malcolm's until 2009. Once I became an Orphan, the show became a reminder of my old life. In December of 2020 I was going through hell, I felt alone, I had just found a bump on my chest, and my graduate school apps were killing me. To destress, I was binging Malcolm in the Middle and saw this episode.

It was the first time I wasn't offended by a show using the word Orphan. My life was crumbling but I couldn't stop smiling. "Toxic Orphan" just stuck with me. I also love Hip-Hop and Rap--I especially love Boom Bap Rap, which is just filled with poetry of grime, filth, and pain. These artists just lean into excess, flash, and create word combinations that are meant to stop you in your tracks. Toxic Orphan should stop and get your attention. I think if I were to create a record label, or some rap persona, I would be proud to be called a Toxic Orphan.

[Michael smiles]

Intervewier: I think that name would be hard, I would buy your album as soon as it drops [Michael Laughs]....This is my last question: why did you choose to make this Zine? Why now? 

Michael: If I had one wish, I wouldn't give up my Orphan identity--I would wish for all of our people to find comfort in their skin. I believe that Orphan Tongue is just the start to something really big coming, a movement of social change led by foster youth. I dont know about you, but I am tired of looking to others for permission. Let's lean into our label and draw power from it!

I am ready to create the world our people need--all I hope for is that ill see our people on the other side. Its going to be something really beautiful and it all starts with finding strength with our orphan tongues. 

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