Dolores Tejada interviewed Stacey Park Milbern for the Disability Visibility Project in San Francisco on September 26, 2015.
In this clip, Stacey Park Milbern and Dolores Tejada talk about disability identity, becoming politicized as disabled people, their thoughts on the future of the disability movement, and their friendship.
STACEY: Hi, my name is Stacy Milbern. I’m 28 years old. Today is September 26, 2015. We’re at the San Francisco Public Library. And Dolores is my friend.
DOLORES: Hi, I’m Dolores. I’m 29 years old. Today is September 26, 2015. I’m from Hayward, California. Or we’re in Francisco. Yeah. And my relationship to Stacey is that she is my friend and partner in dismantling the crime of ableism. [laughs] Yeah.
DOLORES: I also feel like so much of disability identity is just shaped around disclosing or like sharing stories of triumph or something and triumph from childhood. But I kind of wanna sway away from that. And I don’t know if it’s because my ID came later in life. And in some ways, I feel like that’s kind of invasive…But I just wanted to ask you to maybe just share an early memory that was shaped by disability still, and if you wanted to share something. Yeah.
STACEY: Cool. So, I mean, there’s a lot of memories that are early. I remember I have a younger brother and sister, and so I would, we would often times do things together. And then I would have to wait for them while they went off and did things. So, those kinda memories. But the clearest memory of disability, of being different, at that time, I was walking, and I walked with a limp. And I fell down a lot, like all the time. But I didn’t have any supports at school other than like the teacher kinda keeping an eye out. And so, one day, I was in the bathroom, and I fell in the bathroom. And I was sitting on the floor, and I was trying to figure out, oh, my gosh. What am I gonna do now? And I think I was in 4th grade and trying to figure out, OK, I have to get myself up here. But physically, I’m not sure how that’s gonna happen. And there’s no one here to help me. And then a bunch of my classmates came in, and there were three girls. And they were laughing and talking, and they were talking about boys and bras and all of these girl things. And I remember just looking through the door and waiting for them to leave so I could continue figuring out how I was gonna get up and just feeling like, oh, my gosh. It’s like they’re from another planet. Or I’m from another planet.
STACEY: We have totally different realities.
DOLORES: Yeah, totally.
DOLORES: Yeah, wow. OK. So, I also wanted to talk about…. So, we’re both women of color and ID as women of color, right? Yeah?
DOLORES: So, how do you think that kind of shaped your experience as a person with a disability? Even being younger to today, how do you think that’s impacted you?
STACEY: So, something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is my father was in the military, and he’s white. And so, when he was overseas, it was really my mom kind of navigating the medical-industrial complex with me. And she was doing it on her own. My grandma was, grandmother was living with us too, but she doesn’t speak English. And yeah. So, my mom was the leader. And just it being really, I don’t know, like everything the doctors wanted to do to me felt so shaped by disability and race. Like it was about being a good Asian girl or being a good white girl. Or that’s how I was interpreting it in how I interacted with doctors. And a lot of the messaging my mom got was, if you don’t do this surgery or if you allow your daughter to stop therapy, then you’re impacting her quality of life later, and you’re not a good mom. And it was so racialized.
STACEY: So, now that I’m older, I’m able to be more mad at the system than necessarily with my mom.
[musical interlude, piano]
DOLORES: So, can we talk a little bit about, you did a lot of youth organizing, and since you said you were politicized, I think pretty young around disability, can you talk a little bit about that and what your experiences were and how that? Yeah.
STACEY: Totally. So, when I went to that first NYLN [National Youth Leadership Network] conference, I was like, holy crap! I’ve been working so hard my whole life to be like everyone else, and I’m still different. And I can’t figure out why. And now it all makes sense. I have a disability! And so, that was that. And then so, when I came back, I found other young people that wanted to do work around it, and we were really passionate. It was our whole life. And at first, it started out more mainstream. And so, we were putting together a nonprofit with a Board and all of that. But then, a lot of the disability rights movement was so racist, and we were mostly young people of color. And so, I myself started to get politicized around identifying as a radical woman of color. And my school library didn’t have any, you know, feminists of color books, but I could get them on interlibrary loan. And so, that’s how I was able to read Audre Lorde and many others, Barbara Smith. So then, from that point, the organizing that we did became a lot more radical, and we changed to be more of a collective where everybody had to make a vote. And we identified as working outside of the nonprofit-industrial complex. And so, we did a lot of our own fundraising and just scrapping things together to make it work. But it’s really hard to do it that way because you’re doing it without any resources. So, we did that for about three years. And then after that, we kinda all went our separate ways.
[musical interlude, piano]
DOLORES: So, how do you envision the future of like, so we’re here. We scheduled this today ‘cause there’s a ADA Festival happening. And we just felt like, oh, let’s take advantage of this. And so, yesterday the speech that we collaborated on and I gave was really about thinking about outside of that and thinking beyond rights. And so, how do you envision the future? What do you see? What do you want from the future?
STACEY: So, I’m super inspired and excited about the work that you do with young people of color with disabilities, and I think that’s our future.
STACEY: And I’m curious to see where people are gonna take us. I think disability history is step one. And as people move into more of their identity, I’m curious where it will go. As a movement, I think it’s gonna be further.
STACEY: What about you?
DOLORES: [big breath] So, one of the things that I wanted to do in the speech yesterday, which I did, was challenge the old-school folks to sit down and take a seat, basically, to the younger folks in the room. And so, I mean, obviously, I wanna respect, respect our elders and respect folks who carry a lot of the history with them. And but I just feel like, yeah, my heart is in youth work, even though I’m out of that youth now. So, I’m trying to figure out where my place is, like what I can do to kind of get out of it. But I just love it….I want us to just start listening to youth and thinking about the ideas that they have and what it looks like for them and just supporting that. And…yeah. I don’t know. Yeah, I think that, yeah.
STACEY: The future.
DOLORES: Yeah. [laughs] Yay.
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Disability Visibility Project. (2020, May 27). DVP Interview: Stacey Park Milbern and Dolores Tejada. Retrieved from: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2020/05/27/dvp-interview-stacey-milbern-and-dolores-tejada/
[Left] Dolores is a fat brown femme with a round face. She smiles without showering teeth. Their black hair is pulled back. [Right] Stacey is a mixed race Korean and white queer person wearing a blue-and white striped tank top and her trach can be seen.
Music “Broken,” by Kevin Brown, November 16, 2019
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project by Alice Wong. Interview recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com