TheyKhem's Perfect Milwaukee Day
A soft cool autumn breeze comes in through my bedroom window. I inhale deeply before waking up in a 1 bedroom apartment I could… actually afford. My hair is growing out. I have black bangs and the top layers of my hair are a soft and light gingery-blonde. My eyes dark brown as I lay there in my bed blinking. I’m doing the adhd thing where I load for a few moments and take in the morning air.
I’m a 23 year old up and coming laotian trans lesbian artist and performer with a space free to desire, create and breathe.
I lay in bed feeling warm and proud.
I am humbled by the opportunities I have. I am surrounded by community and filled with love. I live with my 20 pound cow cat, Squash. He usually wakes me up by sitting on or near my head. Then. I would have the energy to put in my contacts and figure out a fashionable and cute outfit to go along with my makeup or however I was feeling that day.
This would be a seemingly simple start to my “perfect” day in Milwaukee.
I’m unsure of the direction I wanted to take this prompt in as Milwaukee is far from perfect especially when you’re a young QTPOC becoming adjusted to adulthood and moving through the high-school-like neoliberal cliques and popularity-contest-like power/social structures in MIlwaukee establishments. I could honestly go on and on with my personal thoughts and critiques of how Milwaukee lacks inclusion and love and nurturing for BIPOC creators -- QT BIPOC creators especially.
That’s not what’s being asked of me though!
I’m being asked what MY perfect day in Milwaukee would be like. So, though the things I mention in this piece may not be real (yet) in the settings I mention, I hope to show how much potential Milwaukee has to realistically be for artists and creators of color.
Though Milwaukee isn’t perfect and is known as being extremely segregated, due to the isolated areas of black and brown areas -- there’s still rich culture, ethnic food and realistic representations of our black and brown communities in areas like the North and South side of Milwaukee.
Obviously. There are a lot of issues that aren’t paid attention to that affect the communities in these areas. However, after traveling to different bigger states in the past few years, there are little to no traces of black and brown communities let alone bipoc dominant areas in other states due to the extremes of gentrification.
Examples of cultural representations of POC in Milwaukee. (South Side).
A restaurant I personally really enjoy (and my grandma really likes) is the Laotian restaurant, “Vientiane” on National Ave. They have very affordable and authentic Lao food and the old lady that works there is really sweet to me and tells me I’m pretty. As a visibly queer/trans Lao person, I don’t typically feel super comfortable interacting in traditional settings with other elder Lao folks but, the women that work there are always nice. It’s very simple and homey and also my childhood lao store is right across the street. It’s not called “han lao” anymore and is called “Asian International Market” . I believe that changed years ago for whatever reason. Nonetheless, just a good area to get a feel for the south side and the pockets of latinx and south east communities / culture.
Also, honestly, any authentic south side latinx family owned taco truck is better than whatever weirdo american-”latinx”-colectivo-belair-fusion taco with sriracha aioli white people are trying to sell on the east side for $50 per taco.
OH! Shalom Puerto Rican food also has REALLY GOOD Puerto Rican food. I go there with my friends for brunch sometimes. My perfect day would probably start by having empanadas there.
Then, as far as entertainment and/or things I would do on my perfect day -- I would probably take my girlfriend to a market / event hosted by folks from the Butterfly Collective with all BIPOC vendors. I have this vision where QTPOC artists and creatives would hold a monthly market to sell art and content in a park. The park outside the arboretum would probably be ideal! I love buying local art and jewelry and especially when the profits go towards the Butterfly Collective. The Butterfly Collective is a grassroots trans collective that donates profits towards black and brown trans people in Milwaukee that are in need. They’ve helped me multiple times and my friends and I believe they deserve the absolute world.
On my ideal day in MKE, I would also like to see a space in which my favorite QTPOC artists could perform as well. My favorite local artists that I know of right now are FLOWERS FOREVER, Kobe and Maat Mons! I wish I knew more local black and brown queer, trans, non-men artists. I wish there were more platforms where more black and brown artists could be discovered. A QTPOC centered open mic would also be really cool as well! I feel like Milwaukee music spaces are usually flooded by white audiences who aren’t very respectful and/or white hosts of the venues that don’t demand respect and safety for their performers of color.
Lastly, I wanted to mention that I would end my day at Rochambo Coffee and Tea House. It’s a late night cafe, that closes early now because of covid but, with really yummy and creative coffee drinks and tea sodas. It’s Irish, I’m pretty sure! I think this is a fairly popular place to hang for creatives and artists of all types. Rochambo’s has always been a place of warmth and comfort for me and my friends. As someone who struggled with housing and community when I was 18/19, I also struggled to find local spaces to create and exist in that brought me joy and peace. I have nothing but positive and relaxing evening memories from Rochambo’s. Late night cafes also give me kind of a cool witchy vibe too so, that always inspires me to create in general as well! So, yeah! I would end my day there in my ideal world where it’s open till 12 AM! Having a boozy hot chocolate or chai-chata with my girlfriend and looking cute.
I could go on! Milwaukee is not a perfect place, but it's home. It’s definitely home and it has a very specific sense of home and culture that I haven’t seen or felt replicated in other places. I only hope that Milwaukee can flourish into all the things it has the potential to be for creators and artists and that more BIPOC creatives are listened to in order to make these improvements.