Disabled And Here: Meet Melissa Chavez!
We're now in the last days of the Kickstarter, which seems like a good time to share our first Disabled And Here interview, featuring Melissa Chavez, whom you've previously seen in our test shoot. Here's hoping we get to do more of these!
Hi Melissa! How would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi! I’m Melissa Chavez. I’ve been involved with so many projects in Portland, Oregon, over the years — from being an organizer for PDX Tech4Good to being the logistics coordinator of open source tech conferences, to being the editor of a small progressive newspaper. I currently do user experience (UX) work for websites and events, and my latest client was the National Lawyers Guild.
How long have you lived in the Pacific Northwest and how is it compared to other places you’ve resided?
I’ve lived in Portland since 2006. It’s definitely one of the whitest places, especially after growing up in Anaheim, CA, near Disneyland. When we moved a city over within Orange County and I went to a different high school than the friends I grew up with, I suddenly went from being just another brown face to being one of only a handful of nonwhite students. That’s the closest to how othered I’ve felt since living here. I’m mixed, and look “vaguely ethnic” so I get asked A LOT what I am. I can’t just exist, because people are constantly trying to figure out my background. I’ve been vegan for more than 17 years now, so Portland is great for that, and a huge reason why I initially moved here. There aren’t a ton of vegans of color, but among those who are, I have made some wonderful friends and absolutely love that community.
What are some misconceptions that people have about invisible disability, either in general or specifically about yours?
Just because I physically look fine, it doesn’t mean that I’m not in pain or not recovering from something. I had Stage IV cancer, and have gone through chemo twice, plus radiation treatments, and have had a lot of surgeries. I had to relearn how to walk. And have had parts of my body removed that will affect my quality of life for the rest of my life. This has taken an emotional toll, as well as physical. And it’s harder to relate to people who can’t comprehend that.
Who are a few disabled BIPOC that more people should follow on social media?
Keah Brown is one of the nicest, hardest-working people I’ve ever met. She’s incredible, started the #DisabledAndCute hashtag, and has a book coming out this year. Emi Koyama is a zine creator who talks about being a disabled sex worker. I’ve gotten to hear her speak a few times and her stories are just incredible. Matt Maxey is known for providing sign language at concerts and sometimes being more charismatic than the other performers onstage. And @DisabledLatinx keeps me up-to-date on all the latest #a11y [online accessibility] news! I wish more people we knew had a Twitter presence, but not every social media platform is accommodating to people with disabilities.
Switching tracks so we can refocus on you as a person overall! What are some non-work things you do?
I volunteer with Books to Prisoners. And I’m going to start volunteering at Providence Portland Medical Center to take care of kids who live onsite because they're too sick to go home.
Volunteering still counts as work, sorry! Unpaid labor doesn’t negate the fact that it’s labor.
Even when I’m hanging out with friends, I’m still doing work! Oh, my hobby is learning Italian by way of Spanish. And technically Korean too, but that one is really hard.
Okay, what about some of your favorite ways to unwind (or relax)?
The way I unwind most often is taking long walks while playing Pokémon Go. While I had cancer and was going through treatment, my oncologist suggested I walk more, and the game had just been released, so I tried it and got a little addicted. I now play it every day. Another way is to drink tea while listening to an audiobook or a podcast. I’ve slowly been going through PodcastsInColor’s amazing directory. I like reading through Samantha Powell’s hot fashion takes or watching Karen Blanchard’s fashion videos too.
What are some ways for people to follow and/or support you?
I’m @capnleela on most social media. Or connect on LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/melissachavez/
Is there anything you’d like to wrap up with?
Support creators who are raising awareness, educating through telling the stories of others, or those who are on the front lines fighting for justice and overcoming oppression.
Thank-you and credits:
Photography by Celeste Noche
Make-up by Bemnia Lathan
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
If you're still in the mood for more reading, we did our own interview with Big Cartel yesterday and you can get even more context for Disabled And Here there!