February 01, 2023

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Xemi Manibusan | Image source: Carlos Bernate, ICMTN

Director, actor and writer Xemi Manibusan fights for accurate and respectful Native Two-Spirit representation in the D.C arts scene

Xemiyulu ‘Xemi’ Manibusan is an Indigenous, Two-Spirit theatrical director, actor and author in Washington D.C. redefining what it means to create Native Two-Spirit art. Manibusan says her mission is to heal Indigenous communities through art as a form of love and as a testament to Indigenous resistance and resilience.

Xemi Manibusan curates the annual D.C. Native American Heritage Theatre Festival with Seventh Generation Theatre/Teatro de la Séptima Generación, which presents plays during Native American Heritage Month.

This season, Manibusan will direct a theatrical tragedy titled 1519: The Arrival, centering on queer, transgender, intersex and two-spirit Native and Indigenous peoples. In addition, Manibusan’s one “persxn” play (the x indicates a respect for all genders) about El Salvador history, Native American pride, language revitalization, and two-spirit inclusion titled Siwayul, to be featured at the DC Queer Theatre Festival this October.

Xemi Manibusan explained the meaning and importance behind Siwayul to ICMN. “I am a Siwayul [heart of a woman] from the Nawat people of Kuskatan, known internationally as El Salvador. We have been detribalized, but along with Asociacion Nacional de Indigenas Salvadorenas, we have goals to re-tribalize, beginning with our trans, queer, and intersex community members in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas.”

“The current political climate has created interest in others for my work. People want the Indigenous, transgender, Salvadoran migrant/child of a refugee to tell their story.”

“Being a two-spirit artist means being proud of my ancestors who were leaders, who fought for my rights, and who were stolen; as well as having a social responsibility of making all things accessible to my community, centering the most marginalized, and being a vessel to guide others to healing through the arts.”

Xemi Manibusan told ICMN she was cast in a production in 2015 in which the Native stereotype of redface was used as an artistic tool; that moved her to mobilize with other young queer, transgender and intersex Natives. “As a Two-Spirit, it is my responsibility to speak out against that sort of violence. It’s shocking that redface still occurs in my artistic community considering I consistently speak out against this sort of ethnic cleansing; but in Washington, D.C. — a place that decentralizes Native people daily — I should not be surprised.”

Xemi Manibusan | Image source: Carlos Bernate, ICMTN
Xemi Manibusan | Image source: Carlos Bernate, ICMTN
“They want me to put my name on projects, and co-sign pink-washing, anglo-washing and redface. I am even more inspired now to tell it just as it is, without the fear of backlash. Being true to myself and to my community is most important for me.”
Xemi Manibusan is currently working on a book of poetry titled METZALI, which means Indigenous in Nawat. “I plan to release it before this coming fall. Until the release, I will participate in readings, such as the upcoming OutWrite Festival in D.C.”

Xemi Manibusan says Two-Spirit voices, bodies, ideas and perspectives must be included in order for the arts to not be oppressive. She also wants Indigenous people to be empowered.

“We were the first trans, queer, and intersex people on the American continent… Being two-spirit gives me the courage to fight for this truth. Two-spirits belong here.”

“You are exactly who your ancestors fought for. You are the seventh generation. Tell your story. Tell your grandmother’s story. Create art and heal with your community. Keep passing on those stories. Beware of those who want to use you for optics, or for money, or for social capital. Give only what you are able and willing to give. Your people’s narratives are worthy. You are worthy.”

“I do not do this work so that I will be remembered, I do the work so that my community can have access.”

This article was republished with permission from Indian Country Media Today Network

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MUSKRAT Magazine

MUSKRAT is an on-line Indigenous arts, culture magazine that honours the connection between humans and our traditional ecological knowledge by exhibiting original works and critical commentary. MUSKRAT embraces both rural and urban settings and uses media arts, the Internet, and wireless technology to investigate and disseminate traditional knowledges in ways that inspire their reclamation.

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