mike melinoe

Mike Melinoe possesses a sense of deep reflection. His train of thought is fast-paced and ideas connect like a spider web, loosely connected by fine threads but still tying back to a central theme.

During our conversation, that central theme was happiness. Mike’s background -- black, raised by a single mom in Detroit, hungry to get to the top -- doesn’t lend itself to a fairytale definition of happiness. For Mike, happiness is about self-discovery and freedom, moving away from not only from the expectations of others, but also from his own fears.

“Lately I’ve been thinking, what do I really really want? Why do I work? How am I going to get it? Everything after that is all action. All the other shit is just irrelevant.”

Lately I’ve been thinking, what do I really really want? Why do I work? How am I going to get it? Everything after that is all action. All the other shit is just irrelevant.

Before Mike could focus on knowing himself, he had to let go of trying to please others. Growing up, his surroundings led him to live life with a chip on his shoulder, always trying to prove something to someone else. It was draining, and eventually he realized that he needed to tune out the noise and focus on what’s inside.

 nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

“I just took my energy and instead of complaining, I told myself to be more visual and concrete [about understanding myself]. If I had never gotten to that point of understanding who I am and that I'm growing every day, I'd revert back to trying to fuck shit up.”

Of course, finding out what you need to do and actually doing it are separate and different challenges. In the past, Mike intentionally avoided traditional routes like higher education or the military, and he continues to choose the unconventional route today.

Taking the path less traveled usually means relying more on yourself as opposed to other people’s precedents, a lesson Mike is now familiar with. Self-reliance comes with its own unique challenges.

 nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

“[My brother told me,] ‘I always know you gon' figure it out.' And that's the hardest thing right now. Everybody expects me to figure it out when in reality I'm just as human as everybody else. Trying to make everything make sense.”

In Mike’s case, “making everything makes sense” involves a lot of grinding, a lot of meditating, and the occasional sports metaphor.

“In sports, you work hard every day, you figure it out. In the realm of creating, it's not like you just gon' catch a ball and it's going to be thrown to you. What if you never get the ball thrown to you? Now you gotta to learn how to be the person throwing the ball to catch it.”

In the realm of creating, it's not like you just gon' catch a ball and it's going to be thrown to you. What if you never get the ball thrown to you?

The benefit of creating your own opportunities is that you get to dictate what you spend your time and energy on. You can lose so much of yourself – time, motivation, mental bandwidth – by pursuing what others think you "should" do, even if these opportunities don't align with what you want for yourself.

Mike’s in a position where he’s risking security to define not only what happiness looks like for him, but also what kind of artist and man he wants to be.

“I'm not trying to be the artist that's just known for being able to rap well. I want to be a writer, creative, all these different things. That takes time and understanding of yourself.”

I'm not trying to be the artist that's just typically known for being able to rap well. I want to be a writer, creative, all these different things. That takes time and understanding within yourself.

Right now, Mike is working on one of his most ambitious projects yet, “6.” The EP’s title alludes to an old apartment he lived in after his family got evicted and had to split up.

“This project is the next big thing for me. I'm putting everything into it. I'm being vulnerable. I feel like I'm peeling back the layers of what's more important.”

6 is set to drop in the next few months. You can stay up to date on Mike’s progress and support his creative journey on Instagram.

 nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

tk tunchez

This year, Pride Month feels sharp, like a sunbeam that pierces through blinds that were intentionally closed. This month marks the second anniversary of the Pulse shooting, a terrorist attack at a gay Orlando nightclub that took the lives of 49 LGBTQ individuals (mostly of color) and injured 53 others. Pulse serves as a reminder that despite all of the rainbow merchandise and legal progress we’ve made, the LGBTQ community can still be a target for hate.

Though the LGBTQ community has learned to find joy and energy to laugh in the face of fear, maintaining that energy for generations can be taxing. In today’s volatile political environment and 24/7 news cycle, it’s easy to want to shut down. Pride Month gives the LGBTQ community a reason to take a break from resisting and instead ask ourselves, “What do we take pride in?” so that we can assert and celebrate our identities.

This Pride Month, we’re featuring TK Tunchez of Las Ofrendas. TK is an artist, entrepreneur, and community organizer who is creating intentional spaces for QWOC in Austin. Over beer and coffee, she talks about coming out, her relationship with queerness and identity, and living an outlaw’s life.

Coming out stories are as unique as the LGBTQ community itself. Contrary to popular belief, being “out” is not simply the opening of a door and the crossing of a threshold. Often, getting to the door or even knowing that the door exists can take years.

 nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

“When I was 17 years old, I had two kids and lived in a homeless shelter,” shares TK. “One of the women who lived in the homeless shelter became my mentor – I call her my queer mom. She was a dyke and a Chicana. She made me realize, ‘Oh shit, there’s a way you can take up this space and speak for yourself and stand in your power.’”

She made me realize, ‘Oh shit, there’s a way you can take up this space and speak for yourself and stand in your power.’”

Even with such an impactful mentor and role model, at the time, TK wasn’t quite able to connect the dots between what she so deeply admired about her mentor (her unapologetic confidence and unabashed queerness) to her own identity and sexuality.

“My first girlfriend was my best friend. We were best friends for years and years and years. We got together, we hooked up. I remember telling her to her face, ‘I don't think I'm gay. I think I just like people,’” TK smiles ruefully, laughing at her past self. “One day she was like, ‘I want to be your girlfriend.’ That's why I came out. At that moment I had to choose a language.”

My first girlfriend was my best friend. We got together, we hooked up. I remember telling her to her face, ‘I don't think I'm gay. I think I just like people.’

Since her first girlfriend, TK has made an effort to consciously explore her queer identity and compares her discoveries about queerness and herself to peeling back the layers of an onion. “In general, society just duplicates what we know versus creating an alternate paradigm for what the possibilities are. [Unlearning that pattern] is hard work. It's hard emotional work to ask, ‘What ways am I perpetuating patriarchy in the relationship that I'm looking for as a queer femme?’”

Growing up in a religious household, TK’s first introduction to the LGBTQ community was hearing hushed whispers about “lesbians” and how two women in her church community were being ostracized for their relationship. She’s come a long way since then and now, after years of exploring her identity and some help from mentors and friends, she knows that, for her, “liking people” has always meant “queer.” TK looks back at the support she received through her journey and makes it a point now to pay it forward.

“I think, especially for younger people, to see queer people of color at the forefront of things is super fucking important.”

As a queer mentor in her own right, TK wants the LGBTQ community (especially people of color) to subvert the status quo.

“My anniversary with my partner is on Loving Day,” TK shares. Loving Day is celebrated on June 12 and commemorates Loving v. Virginia, the US Supreme Court decision that struck down anti-miscegenation laws in 1967. “I think about that a lot because I'm in an interracial relationship right now. I couldn't have married my partner even if we had been hetero 50 years ago. And four years ago I couldn't have married my partner in the state of Texas.”

 nina ho//collective blue 

nina ho//collective blue 

Under TK’s matter-of-fact tone lies a layer of rebellion. “There are so many reasons that our love is not accepted and has been legally outlawed. So I think about June as Pride Month for being a fucking outlaw.”

I think about June as Pride Month for being a fucking outlaw.

Last year, TK started producing Fuego ATX, a monthly dance party and vendor market by and for queer people of color. “[Fuego] is a space where we want folks to come, dance, and see themselves.”

Join us and celebrate being an outlaw with TK and her team at Sahara Lounge on June 28! There’ll be dancing (TK promised us Afrobeat), QPOC vendors, and a special photobooth by the collective blue team.

Keep up with TK on Instagram and come see us next week at Fuego!

marina ong bhargava

In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we wanted to feature a true advocate of the AAPI community: Marina Ong Bhargava, CEO of the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce. We sat down with her at the Asian-American Resource Center to chat about her pursuit of the American dream, issues she wants to tackle, and what drives her work at the Chamber.

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Marina Ong Bhargava, a mother of two daughters and trailblazer of her own “career non-path,”  started her American dream in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Ethnically Malaysian, Marina met her Indian-American ex-husband while he was on a semester study abroad program in Singapore. After her first year of law school (considered undergraduate studies in Singapore), Marina visited him in Indiana for a few months, curious to see where their relationship would go. 

“I flew back home [to Singapore], and the next day he calls and proposes to me – on the phone,” Marina reveals. “I said yes because what are you supposed to do at that point, right? At that moment, the feelings were just so intense.”

Marina dropped out of law school to get married and move to the United States. Moving across hemispheres was a huge adjustment to say the least, and back in the 1980s, there was no Internet to provide a bridge to the culture and family she left behind.

“There was no WhatsApp or Skype where I could talk to my parents. It was very difficult,” admits Marina. “I spent that whole first year thinking, ‘What have I done? I ruined my life.’ I would call my parents and I'd be crying and they'd be crying.”

  nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

I spent that whole first year thinking, ‘What have I done? I ruined my life.’ I would call my parents and I’d be crying and they’d be crying.

After a year, Marina re-enrolled in college at Northwestern University to study Economics, and this decision helped her rediscover the sense of purpose she had in Singapore. For her, learning and hard work were two things that gave her a sense of stability. Fast forward a few years, a degree, moving to California, a job in real estate, and two daughters, she found herself taking on yet another role: stay-at-home mom.

“That [decision] was a big surprise for me because I did well in school and I thought I was going to have a career,” explains Marina. “But my daughters became a priority.”

After a divorce and a move to Dallas, Marina’s career non-path fatefully led her to start her journey as an advocate for the Asian-American community.

  nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

“I was looking for a job, and the Dallas Asian Chamber had a position open [with] flex time. That was the reason I took that job, so [that] I could pick my daughters up from school,” admits Marina.

Up until restarting her career at the Dallas Asian Chamber, Marina did not have many reasons to explore her identity as an Asian-American. Because “Asian-American” is such an umbrella term, identities and experiences vary across individuals, and, like a lot of people in the community, Marina’s relationship with her identity is fluid.

“[Asian-American] is just a convenient identity that is hoisted on us,” Marina asserts. “But I actually like it. It forces us to think outside our own specific experience. The practice of having to be inclusive of all the other Asian groups is good practice for being a good citizen in this country.”

[Asian-American] is just a convenient identity that is hoisted on us. But I actually like it. It forces us to think outside our own specific experience.

Though Marina relishes in the inclusivity of the label, as CEO of the GAACC, she recognizes that catering to a group spanning from refugees to millionaires requires a lot of thought and intention. This challenge is amplified by the fact that Asian-Americans are usually left out of discussions around racism, institutional obstacles, and need due to the hyper-inclusive label of “Asian.”

“Right now, the perspective is that there isn’t much need in the Asian community,” claims Marina, referring to the lack of funding for Asian-American advocacy groups.

“[In conversations] about racism or institutional obstacles we get left out. We don’t even count,” shares Marina. Ultimately, she believes that one of the key components in addressing the needs within the Asian-American community is disaggregating data by ethnicity.

“That needs to change, but it takes a lot of voices,” Marina states. “Because so many of us are new to the United States, we're still learning from the African-American community and from the Hispanic and Latino communities about civil rights movements.”

Despite the challenging nature of advocacy, Marina feels grateful for the opportunity and environment in which she gets to pursue her work. “To be honest, we’re so lucky in Austin. The City of Austin funds all the minority chambers. It is the only city in the entire U.S. that does that.”

The City of Austin funds all the minority chambers. It is the only city in the entire U.S. that does that.
  nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

Though she took a few detours to get from law student to immigrant to mother to CEO, as a proud self-proclaimed risk-taker, Marina believes it was all worth it.

“There was always a part of me that wanted to serve the community,” Marina shares. “There's a Japanese concept called ‘ikigai.’ It's about how to live a satisfying life. It talks about what you're good at but also what you get paid for. There are different elements and if you have it all then it makes for contentment.”

Through all of the major life changes, Marina’s love of learning and her compassion carried her through. Hearing about the unexpected turns and the moments when she thought she had made all the wrong decisions all while witnessing her content smile eased our own fears of the unknown. Marina’s non-path shows us that we don’t have to follow a traditional path to a dream career or even know exactly what that dream career is right this second. After decades of risk-taking, unplanned decisions, and belief in a higher purpose, Marina feels content in the fact that she has found a purpose that allows her to serve others, fuels her drive to keep learning, and also allows her to get paid for her work. Ikigai.

As a mother of two young women, Marina offers advice to those who are still working to find their purpose, “This is for any young person: don't take things too seriously.”

“Have confidence to try new things,” advises Marina. “It’s okay to fail. ‘Failure’ is a really loaded word. It all depends on how you define it.”

This is for any young person: don’t take things too seriously.

Whether you’re interested in learn more about Asian cultures or are looking to start a business as an Asian-American in Austin, check out the available resources at the Asian-American Resource Center (AARC) and the Greater Asian American Chamber of Commerce (GAACC).

Happy Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, y’all.

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