by Trisha Remetir

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what's a race riot?

Page 4 of the Ailecia Ruscin edition.

Why this exists: I'm flipping through a zine and I read an ad by a white woman calling for submissions from white women and women of color for a compilation she wants to put together about racism. And she's calling it Sister We Are One or something equally homogenizing, something to deflect conflict and differences across race and class and geography [...] And I'm thinking, this call for submissions (I mean, literally) is typical, this is an affirmation of existing and far too dominant white feminist/radical discourse that magisterially invites the person of color to participate, not in dialogue with other people of color, but with white women and men. (Evolution of a Race Riot 4)

Evolution of a Race Riot (1997-1998) was a collaborative zine by Mimi Thi Nguyen that challenged the DIY punk and Riot Grrrl worlds.1 The zine began as a response to an ongoing dialogue about race and gender in an environment that Nguyen witnessed as wholly dominated by white feminist punks. As Nguyen writes in the introduction, "how much of our time and energy has gone toward whites who constantly demand our attention, our validation, our absolution, our presence as political fetish (monster, mammy, 'third world' revolutionary, token), whatever?" (Evolution of a Race Riot 4) By revealing the many names and positions that tokenize people of color in race discussions for white audiences ("a monster, mammy, political fetish"), Nguyen assertively rules this practice out as a unacceptable for the discussion taking place in Evolution of a Race Riot. Instead of replicating the rules for race discussions in previous zines, Nguyen brings punks of color to the forefront as the writers and the audience, allowing for the creation of a space for their individual experiences to be heard and witnessed. In other words, the zine imagines and enacts the possibility for a riot to flourish on the page.

What follows is a brief survey of the transformation of Evolution of a Race Riot: that is, in the spaces it addresses and the spaces it occupies in its written and digitized forms. Originally intended as a collection of writings by people of color protesting the white culture of punkdom, it is now a valuable resource that reveals the intersections of race and the DIY/punk culture scene in the late 90s. Throughout the years, it has even been archived in both physical and digital libraries. This paper will explore two seemingly identical editions of Evolution of a Race Riot as they occupy space in two different libraries: the first, a physical copy attached to the Ailecia Ruscin Collection at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture in Duke University, and the second a digital facsimile made available via the POC (People of Color) Zine Project. These two different spaces react to and change in response to the zines that are being archived.

My exploration builds on D.F. McKenzie's work on the sociology of the text as well as Bonnie Mak's and Whitney Trettien's work in comparing the materiality of an object from print to digitization, and how it affects the text's meaning and circulation. Mak maintains that a single digitization of a text references, operates, and inherently transmits the circumstances of the original edition's production alongside the circumstances of its digitization: in effect, creating a synchronous "space in which multiple traditions visibly intersect" (McKenzie 1516). Trettien's case study of the print-on-demand (POD) versions of John Milton's Areopagitica reveals how remediated products and new readerships may be created from digitizing flawed editions of out-of-print versions.

In both of their archival excavations, Mak and Trettien demonstrate how digitization creates new forms of materiality and opportunities for meaning-making, even when purporting to be a simple transmission of the original text. Zines, on the other hand, exude their own particular kind of materiality: they are produced through cutting and pasting text and pictures onto the page like a collage and then photocopied, collated, folded, and later distributed through informal means (such as through mail, infoshops, music venues, and online distros).2 In order to adapt this archaeology for the zine, I expand Mak's concept of a synchronous space to include not only the space of meaning created by the convergence of content and form now present in the digitized copy--the synchronous space of the text--but also the publication's position as an archived object amongst a multitude of objects within the synchronous space of the library. Zines that become acquired by a university library such as Duke inevitably undergo a change in readership, circulation, and status due to the measures put in place to preserve them. One could say that they sit almost paradoxically as relics, with form and content intended for one type of audience now preserved for future audiences.3 Or, one could argue that they change the space housing those zines. What might then happen to the object in a digitized library? While striving for openness and accessibility on the internet, the POC Zine project uses proprietary software, such as and, to showcase the zines in their collection. Whether the zine goals become compromised as soon as they become digitized is the main concern for this essay. By investigating Evolution of a Race Riot's place in both libraries, we can compare the digital environment's ability to preserve and maybe even create newer spaces for the race riot.

print materiality & digital materiality

Nguyen's zine, like most zines, is a "multiple mutation" project. From the period of 1993-1999, Nguyen culled together excerpts from zines written by punks of color and solicited writings about race and identity through the usual channels of call-outs in other zines. The result is a collection of at least 55 works written by zinesters of color at various times. Speaking to the sheer amount of unique voices included in Evolution of a Race Riot, Nguyen writes:

This project has undergone multiple mutations, and in its final shape here it's become a huge compilation zine written exclusively by people of color in and around punk and grrrl, which is a milestone in itself. And I think it's a good start to do exactly what I wanted it to do: begin dialogues with each other. (Evolution of a Race Riot 4)

Speaking to the multiple temporalities of each individually crafted story, Nguyen highlights the main motivation behind the zine as a way to bring disparate voices from different times and locations, letting the audience make connections and distinctions between each piece.

Nguyen's phrase "multiple mutations" could also be a nod to the unique tradition of zine production that gives each edition a rogue materiality of all their own. Generally speaking, individual zine editions are oftentimes reprinted from previous copies, not the original, making distortions from copy to copy normal and even expected. For example, a quick look at some of the pages in the Ailecia Ruscin Collection's version of Evolution of a Race Riot housed at the Rubenstein Library at Duke University reveal warped lines and faint traces of words that have been lost from printing to reprinting.

Detail from page 47 of the copy in the Ailecia Ruscin Collection. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. The line "your music" picks up extra ink.

Page 10 from the copy in the Ailecia Ruscin Collection. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. Lines become warped each time it is copied and pasted.

Furthermore, many of the page numbers in the Ailecia Ruscin copy appear to have been written by hand on the original copy and then lopped off in the printing due to marginal limitations of the copy machine's printer.

Page numbers 4, 6, and 12 that appear to be handwritten but also cut off at the time of printing. From the Ailecia Ruscin Collection. Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

Even with only one copy in hand, an archivist can trace a narrative of the text as first being assembled without page numbers, then having them added at a later time, only to be cut off at the time of printing. These blemishes and marks are normal and a recognizable quality of reading a zine, calling to mind Matthew Kirschenbaum's idea of data remanence, a la Foucault.4 Embodied within these so-called imperfections are records of multiple temporalities of production. Each printing gives us a new "mutation" to borrow Nguyen's words. It gives us a new reiteration of the text itself and of its form.

Moving from the copy machine to the digital scanner, these mutations evolve. In 2011 the POC Zine project uploaded a scan of Evolution of a Race Riot to their account on, making it part of their collection of zines by and for zinesters of color. While in some ways the texts share similarities (the page numbers are similarly cut off, showing that the scanned text was at least made from a copy machine with the same 1cm margin limitations as the one used for the Ailecia Ruscin Collection copy), certain differences do arise.

Image from POC Zine Project. The page number on page 12 is cut off.

An initial scan of the cover page spread, for example, reveals the possibility of new remediation to the text. Both cover page spreads have the same section to write an address to the recipient of the zine. This was done so that instead of placing the zine in an envelope (snail mail still being the main method of dispersal from the 80's up to now) the outside spread could serve as the postage mailer, calling to mind the importance of handwriting in the production of the zine. The fact that there is a space preserved for the recipient shows the intimate quality of the zine itself no matter what remediations may have occurred through the copying process.5 While the Ailecia Ruscin edition has no address, the digitization shows that Nguyen has actually crossed out the "send this to" address and put her own instead (Fig 5, 6).

The cover page spread for the copy of Evolution of a Race Riot in the Ailecia Ruscin Collection. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. The "send this to" area is blank.

The cover page spread from the copy in the POC Zine Project. The area appears to be crossed out and Mimi Nguyen's address is written in the space below it instead.

In both of these spreads, the cover page seems to be nearly the same, featuring a naked feminine figure holding a fist up and then down toward their face. Neither has changed except that the editor has remediated the left text to include the editor's address, again in handwriting. Like the additional page numbers, this act of remediation becomes apparent through the handwriting scattered throughout the text, invoking a sense of intimacy between the reader and the text as well as the idea that the zine has been held, edited, and remediated, multiple times.

In other moments of the digitization, such as Bianca's contribution called "el odio", a nonfiction prose piece in which the author writes about the struggle of falling into the stereotype of a Mexicana filled with rage, there are attempts to digitally correct some of the fading lines of the first paragraph so that they're more legible. That the first paragraph in the POC Zine Project's digital copy stands out as the clearest part of the first page suggests a continued tradition of multiple acts of production that are recorded in the synchronous space.

Scan of page 72 of Evolution of a Race Riot in the Ailecia Ruscin Collection copy. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. The first paragraph, even in person, is too faint to be legible.

The very tradition of the zine as a synchronous space containing multiple modes of production completely throws older discussions of whether or not facsimiles produce a "true" document out the window. For zines, the existence of that true, initial document is unnecessary. What matters, then, is what the zine promises: a mutation of the original piece and the production of newer pieces as well.

Page 72 of Evolution of a Race Riot from the the POC Zine Project. The first paragraph is in a visibly different font.

One last comparative example takes this idea into full force, as the POC Zine Project's online edition takes a drastic turn from the print edition. The centerfold spread of the Ailecia Ruskin edition contains an article, entitled "Race and the Race Riot", in its entirety. The article was written by Jason Cherkis and details a few people of color in punk whose voices were silenced for either loving punk or being a person of color in the punk world. The whole article is printed horizontally (Figure 9), making it so that in order to read about Eddie Ayala, the reader has to pick up the zine and hold it up with both hands, as if mimicking the piece's original intended reading method as a newspaper broadsheet.

Pages 47-8 of Evolution of a Race Riot in the Ailecia Ruscin Collection. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. (The KIC Scan machine accidentally picked up my hand.)

In the digital scan, however, the centerpiece is drastically different: the entire center spread on pages 47-48 are rotated and combined. The whole page, as a result, seems smaller — and of course because both pages are on the verso and vertically placed, the idea of engaging the reader in a reading practice like a newspaper is completely erased here:

POC Zine Project scan. Pages 47, 48, and 49 of Evolution of a Race Riot.

The reason for this shift is understandable and occurs frequently in digital remediation. The PDF viewer issuu that hosts Evolution of a Race Riot for public viewing does not have a function for rotating individual pages. To provide the whole centerfold on the verso side is a simple workaround for the limitations of the proprietary software that the POC Zine Project uses. Everything else is the same, even Nguyen's handwritten note that portions of the text were touched up because they didn't scan well is preserved (this is no different than in the Ailecia Ruscin edition). Yet as a result, from page 47 on, the zine assumes different form. Page 49, which should be on a verso side, now appears on the recto side, and now all of the successive pages appear on the opposite side of the spread they originally appear in. Figure 11, which is a spread from the POC Zine Project digitization, shows the page numbers closer to the middle (where previously, in the print editions and in manuscripts in general, the page numbers appear toward the outer part of the leaves).

Pages 54-55 of Evolution of a Race Riot in the POC Zine Project. The page numbers now appear in the middle.

With every spread effectively flipped and one page moved down, not only are the page numbers different, but the reconfigurations of the spreads are different. In the above image, the POC Zine Project shows bamboo stalks framing the middle spine where in the print edition they would actually frame the text within the page, creating more of a unified whole. And on pages 51-52, there is a text call-out for zine submissions for the Sisi ad, but the arrow points paradoxically either to the column on the left or beyond the page. In this case, the digital remediation has actually made some of Nguyen's original arrows and editorial marks that are present in the printed zine ineffectual through the page misnumbering.

Page 52-3 of Evolution of a Race Riot in the POC Zine Project digital copy. The handwritten arrow and "see ad! : )" sign points to the ads on the page before.

While in some ways the digital text of the POC Zine Project has been fixed to correct previous errors, the process of digitization has introduced other errors along the way. The POC Zine Project digital edition is not perfect, and in many ways pushes against traditional conventions of a proper edition (Tanselle). With all of this said, would we really be able to say that the zine that we are viewing in the POC Zine Project project is a flawed, and therefore unusable, copy? Given the fact that imperfections between editions are a large part of the zine's materiality, we must turn to find other ways in which the POC Zine Project enacts the text's call for making new spaces for discussion. For this, we shall turn to a more McKenzie-influenced view of the text, one that "alerts us to the roles of institutions, and their own complex structures, in affecting the forms of social discourse, past and present" (McKenzie 15).


While the POC Zine Project's edition of Evolution of a Race Riot might introduce aberrations to the text, its purpose actually sheds light on another emblem of the zine's materiality — its ability to be easily circulated. Piepmeier has long talked about the discussion of the zine's materiality as made for small circulation, stating that zines "instigate intimate, affectionate connections between their creators and readers, not just communities but what I am calling embodied communities, made possible by the materiality of the zine medium" (Piepmeier 58). It would thus be worthy to analyze how the communities of those zines change as they become institutionalized (by being included in zine libraries) or made available to an expanded audience. How do these communities change when they become archived, either in physical or digitized spaces?

This is actually a tough question to generalize since zine collections vary widely in terms of audience, intention, and goals. There are zine libraries that are tied to universities such as the collections at Duke and Barnard, with varying procedures for viewing and checking out their items. There are zine libraries tied to nonprofits, such as the Denver Zine Library in Colorado, or the Rock Paper Scissors Collective in California, to name only a few.6 Furthermore, archiving zines usually stem from zinemakers who actively participate in the local DIY scene, thus blurring the usual distinctions between "archivist" and "creator." In fact the strong connection between zine communities and library archives help to shape the experience of the library by making it more open and challenging the existing structures of the library. This is also true in the case of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women and Culture at Duke University, where visitors must first register as a researcher on the Duke website. Though not required to be part of any institution, it is much easier for those who are affiliated with Duke or neighboring institutions to enroll, delineating through its ease of process the library's implicated audience: the researcher. From there the visitor searches the Rubenstein library's catalogue where zines are searchable by their specific titles and—with their permission—by the zine author's name ("David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library").

The process of acquiring, cataloging, and allowing zines open for view at a research while respecting its original audience is a delicate process which weighs heavily on any good librarian's mind. Speaking directly about their zine collection, Kelly Wooten has written extensively about how to steward the zine collection at the Duke Library so that the writers and creators of the zine collections do not simply become consumed for an academic audience (Wooten). In a post on the Rubenstein library website, Wooten states that the Sallie Bingham Center's catalog purposely obscures some bibliographic information about the zines in their collection because of the myriad complications related to permission, copyright, and privacy, particularly since a number of their zines deal with deeply personal stories. If creators of zines ever want their name or zine removed from their collection, the Sallie Bingham Center respects their request. Additionally, the Sallie Bingham Center (as well as many other zine libraries) chooses not digitize their zines for those same reasons, as well as the fact that digitizing their zines would have some readers "miss out on the physical experience, an aspect that is even more important as the medium of communication has shifted to the electronic" (Wooten).

That being said, there are physical limitations to any object on view at the Rubenstein Library, where all archived zines go to be read. The process of requesting the containing box of Evolution of a Race Riot and viewing it at their own space severely limits a reader's physical interaction with a text. Various rules are in place to keep zines from becoming disorganized. For example, one cannot take more than one zine out of a box at a time. All zines are to be read with its spine on the table (thus taking the fun out of holding up the LA Weekly spread on page 47-8), and only within the space of the Rubenstein library. You cannot borrow the zine or take it home with you; all interactions must take place in a sterile, quiet space ("Using the Reading Room").

The POC Zine Project, on the other hand, approaches Evolution of a Race Riot from a different perspective. As an open blog that regularly shares resources, digital scans of zines, and spotlights for other zine makers of color, the POC Zine Project is virtually available to anyone who looks for it. Both the digital edition and the blog itself are hosted on proprietary content ( and, respectively), but for very specific reasons. is a very popular website that allows viewers online to host PDFs for free, and is a blogging tool that has found a following among zinesters of the digital age for its ability to easily share art, text, and videos (Figure 13).

Screenshot of the website, April 2016.

The banner at the very top of the POC Zine Project very clearly states the goals of the organization: "MAKING ZINES BY PEOPLE OF COLOR EASY TO FIND, DISTRIBUTE, AND SHARE. ACTIVISM AND COMMUNITY THROUGH MATERIALITY" ( This is a space committed to the POC zine's materiality, its community, and through them, the possibility for positive change. If anything, it seems to be in tune to zine culture's irreverent pirating of the means of production to produce something more meaningful, and more physical. Returning to the POC Zine Project's digital space as creating Piepmeier's vision of embodied communities, we can see that the POC Zine Project expands the idea of human interaction through materiality within the digital space.

what are you?

One last example I would like to linger on is the way in which the POC Zine Project's particular digitization uncovered new meanings within the original space of the zine. This can be found on pages 58-9 of the POC Zine Project copy of Evolution of a Race Riot, which contains another ill-matched spread. The written selection is Bianca Ortiz's zine Hey Mexican!, in which the author talks about her mixed-race identity as half white and half Mexican. In the print edition, the first page of the piece appears like this:

Pages 58-9 of Evolution of a Race Riot, in the Ailecia Ruscin Collection. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. Ortiz's writing is continued on the next spread.

And yet in the digitized copy, the spread's reconfiguration creates a new meaning, with the words "what / are /you?" popping out of the page in heavily outlined font, a grabbing unifier of the text.

Pages 58-9 of Evolution of a Race Riot from the POC Zine Project. The spread is still different from the print version, but more unity from the call-out words leaps out of the uniform text.

But between each word of the big question comes the author's personal history floating in small font between those lines:

But I am this person I am la campesina de la tierra. This is the me who knows that to care for only yrself is a waste, who believes in the spirit and soul, who respects the deities of the Sun, Moon, Earth, Water, Plants and Creatures. This is the me who can talk to the dead in dreams and always remembers the Sun is in the sky. Inside of me I know there is a garden, a desert, an ocean. (58)

Against her constant battle of being labeled as a "gringa, wetback, mestiza," Ortiz reminds herself what she really is: a peasant of the earth, one who "remembers the Sun in the sky" (Evolution of a Race Riot 58). This turn to the earth as a land still untouched by "the land of strangers and stupid bullshit" known as America is where Ortiz's allegiances lie. Though she will always be interrogated about her race, for two pages Ortiz is allowed to complicate the duality that inevitably lies behind the question, "What are you?" (which in actuality is, are you American or something else?), to a multiplicity of identities beyond racial constructs.

As we have now seen, Evolution of a Race Riot is a slippery creature, one that actively works against modern book conventions and welcomes mutations of the text. Intended for a smaller circulation, zines are changed by their location and means of transmission. However, they also actively challenge and redefine the spaces they occupy. Though this archaeology is only a brief look at Evolution of a Race Riot's interaction with two distinct places, it is refreshing to know that the zine exists dynamically in many other places within a library and without.

Lastly, in this essay, I've taken McKenzie's theories of new bibliography to heart, insofar as considering "the human motives and interactions which texts involve at every stage of their production, transmission, and consumption" (McKenzie 15). In the evolution of Ortiz' piece, we stumble upon a human motivation that was hidden—albeit always present—within the text. This is only one of the dozens of unique narratives in Evolution of a Race Riot that carries the hopes, dreams, and motivations of people of color in the punk scene. To conclude this comparative archeology, I will end with what I think epitomizes Evolution of a Race Riot as a zine that reconfigures the conventions of race discussions in books and on the internet. In Nguyen's own words:

this is about finding the language & vocabulary to describe the condition of belonging to these multiple, provisional & sometimes contradictory social spaces, communities, & identifications — racial, ethnic, cultural, musical, religious, lingual, political, sexual, etc. — and how we negotiate the gaps, friction, etc. this is about wanting to create new spaces. (Evolution of a Race Riot 82)


[1] A note on the publishing date: first published in 1997, at least two versions of the zine exist. The editions I will be comparing are both from 1998.

[2] For more information about the materiality of zines, see Alison Piepmeier's book Girl Zines: making media and doing feminism. Thanks also to Jenna Friedman, who pointed out that online distros were also prevalent in the 90's.

[3]Though physical archival spaces are not my main focus here, I intend to expand this section in future iterations of this essay.

[4] According to Kirschenbaum, "Data remanence is also a function of the physical properties of storage media and the difficulty of reversing or obscuring what are tangible interventions in a physical medium" (Kirschenbaum 60).

[5]As Marissa Falco says in Red-Hooded Sweatshirt #3, "There is just something sacred about these written words, about the honesty of penmanship and the care in addressing someone something to be sent to another person. If someone has sent you something, some words on paper, a declaration of any kind, do think of it as something special." Reproduced on the Barnard Zine Library Website.

[6] For more information about the Duke library website, please click here. For Barnard's zine library, please click here. You can find the Denver Zine Library and the Rock Paper Scissors Collective. Barnard also has a growing list of zine libraries here.

Works Cited

"David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library." Blog post. 23 Mar. 2016.

"Digital Publishing Platform for Magazines, Catalogs, and More - Issuu." Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

"Evolution of a Race Riot #1." PDF viewer. Issuu. N.p., 2011. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

"Using the Reading Room." Text. N.p., 25 July 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Boston: The MIT Press, 2007. Print.

McKenzie, D. F. Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Print.

Nguyen, Mimi Thi, ed. Evolution of a Race Riot. Ailecia Ruscin Zine Collection. Vol. 1. Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, Duke University, 1994. Print.

Piepmeier, Alison. Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. New York: NYU Press, 2009. Print.

"POC ZINE PROJECT." Blog/Tumblr. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Trettien, Whitney Anne. "A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: The Case of English Reprints John Milton Areopagitica." Digital Humanities Quarterly 7.1 (2013): n. pg. Print.

Wooten, Kelly. Why We're Not Digitizing Zines. Blog. Digital Collections Blog. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.