In 2015, the US witnessed a flourishing $5.4 billion marijuana industry, as people legally bought cannabis for medical and recreational use in several states. Along with this legal economic system, however, is the popular culture that champions the plant while disregarding the heavy racialized history.
Meet Tahnne Udero, the visual artist reclaiming this culture with a zine that brings together photos, illustrations, and stories that commemorate a holistic view of being brown and smoking weed. A marvel of psychedelic desert illustrations, nostalgia-filled stories about the first time lighting up, and Cheech and Chong jokes, High Mija is the DIY outlet that explores what it means to be a Chicana Stoner.
Udero lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she makes noise music, dj sets and zines. A self-identified stoner, the idea for a female stoner outlet came to her after first recognizing the booming female marketing that came with the growing acceptance of marijuana. She tells me, “I’ve seen it recently on [sites like] Elle. They have really bougie stoner articles for the classy stoner, stiletto stoners and how to curb your munchies so you maintain your figure.”
Udero realized there probably wouldn’t be an outlet for women like her unless she made it herself. Inspired by the women she smokes with, who she credits as the ones who really know her intimately, she decided to start High Mija as an outlet that these women could identify with. “I became interested in creating something that not only made us a visible part of stoner culture but showed that we are multifaceted and that it can be more than a two-dimensional thing.” She knew there was more history and ethnic culture tied to the plant and this is precisely what she wanted to highlight.
The name High Mija originated from something she heard every day when she was growing up, remembering the smell of chile cooking when her aunts greeted her with, “Hi, Mija!” as she walked into her kitchen. Now, Udero is a different high mija, but the cultural aspect is still there. The zine is bilingual and includes recipes from her mom’s cookbook, photos of her family and stories from other Chicanas reminiscing on what it was like to grow up a stoner.
Udero’s choice of the word “Chicana” is also intrinsically tied to the reason she makes art. Struggling with mainstream feminism, she was in awe when she learned about Chicana feminism, feeling as though for the first time, someone was explaining herself back to her. Through the sociopolitical movement, art is often used as a way to express gender and racial oppression and honor those who came before you. This does not get lost in the zine, as Udero is vulnerable and raw in what she shares through the medium.
For Udero, zine-making is not just a creative outlet, it’s a way of learning about her community, her family and herself. Dedicated to her late father, the first edition was a grieving process. As she dug through old boxes and scrapbooks, she discovered more about the connection she had with her dad through pot.
Flipping through, one photo in particular stands out and she tells me it’s “the first family photo.” Her mom, pregnant with her, sits next to her dad who is smoking a joint. Behind them, there is a row of marijuana plants. When I asked her why she decided to focus on the family for her first zine and as an ongoing theme, she points again to the culture. “We’ve been smelling it around our parents since we were little. It wasn’t until I was much older that I could smoke in front of my parents but a lot of us are exposed to it at home. It’s a different experience for people of color.”
This experience, however, started long before that family photo was shot. Through her zine and Instagram, Udero continuously reminds her audience of the history of marijuana, posting and writing about the racist laws and systems that were institutionalized in this country even prior to Reagan’s War on Drugs. One recent Instagram photo shows a snippet from a 1913 newspaper article titled, “Evil Mexican Plants that Drive You Insane”, and in another post, she writes about how the word itself (a Mexican folk name for cannabis) was first popularized in the US by the marijuana prohibitionist, William Hearst.
Udero tells me that this racialized component is still present, even with the rise of recreational dispensaries. “People of color are still going to jail for this stuff. Women are getting into dispensary business, but it’s still a white bro thing,” which is why she chooses to center Chicana experiences.
Udero tells me that it’s a privilege to be as open about smoking as she is, especially as a Chicana. Her hope is to carve out space to allow a multidimensional view of stoner culture and marijuana itself. There’s more to come from High Mija in 2016 with anticipated editions of the zine just in time for the first anniversary on April 20th.