Related Articles: Literary, All

Mango Mic

I arrived in the Bay Area last year on a search for community and inspiration, eager to sample an area known for the strength of communities that had been lacking elsewhere. I discovered a cauldron of artistic activity everywhere I looked, including a new Asian American Open Mic that fit right in with what I was looking for -- an open and inclusive space for emerging Asian American artists to share work.

When the founder of the open mic relinquished her duties to attend graduate school in Ohio, Energies in Residence -- a radical Asian writers' collective that had sprouted from the first National Asian Spoken Word Summit -- adopted it, christening it Mango Mic and finding a permanent home at Pusod, a Filipino center in Berkeley known for its environmental justice work and cultural programming.

Pusod, a Tagalog word meaning both "navel" and "umbilical cord," prides itself on being a lifeline for arts, culture and the environment in the Asian American community, hosting numerous community events in addition to Mango Mic every month.

On any given second Saturday of the month, this intimate space is filled for three hours with aspiring wordsmiths, short story writers, rock bands, comedians, filmmakers, spoken word groups, slam poets and acoustic guitarists, all vying for a friendly audience of their peers that they are unlikely to find anywhere else in the Bay.

Although the vibe of the open mic has remained the same -- friendly and open to all kinds of artists -- Mango Mic changes each month with Pusod's changing exhibits, which have ranged from cutting-edge artwork, to an exhibit featuring the story and drawings of Crizel, a six-year-old Filipino girl who died as a result of toxins left behind by the US military in the Phillipines, to a historical exhibit of racist political cartoons detailing the way white America viewed Filipinos.

Mango Mic has utilized the space to its advantage, using floor mats as seating for the audience and exhibit walls to create an intimate aura for the night, as well as surprising the regulars who come through the door each month with a new and cozy performance space; each month features artists from a different genre including DJs, filmmakers, poets and bands.

But the stars of the night are still the open-micers, who range from high school artists performing hip-hop-influenced spoken word, to an established playwright reading from his work to collaborations between Mango Mic regulars in words and music. Virgin Mango Micers are warmly welcomed and cheered on by the crowd, and artists are regularly chatted up by audience members after the performance and during breaks.

Sometimes, audience members are even talked into sharing onstage by peers when they had only come to observe. That's the spirit of community that Mango Mic and Pusod aim for each month and, judging by the inspiring art contained in those four little walls each month, this community will only continue to grow.

Mango Mic
Every second Saturday, 8 pm - 11 pm
Pusod
1808 Fifth St., Berkeley, 510.883.1808
[email protected]
Donations requested