Image courtesy of Riding Up Front. Illustration for "Why Riding Up Front" by Paula Vrinceanu.
Riding Up Front (RUF), based in Long Beach, was officially launched Tuesday, and is currently an online collection of nine stories, illustrated by artists from around the world.
The RUF art-blog’s mission is to raise awareness of legal immigrants, refugees and Americans “in the face of infringements and restrictions on our freedom,” as stated on the site, by gathering stories from Uber, Lyft and taxi passengers and drivers.
“Riding Up Front was originally a personal blog of its founder that evolved into a community-driven creative project as a response to world events and the subsequent dehumanization of immigrants and refugees,” Dr. Anais Rameau, RUF board chair, said in a statement.
Rameau, born in France and of both Iranian and French descent, stated that she supports raising awareness of immigrant rights in the US and elsewhere.
Illustration of RUF for "Muhammad: NY, NY" by Alexandra Burda.
The project’s goal is to create a community through nonfictional prose, to humanize the stories of legal immigrants in and outside of America by relaying these passenger-driver interactions, a sometimes surprising, yet abundant source for meaningful encounters.
The founder, a Long Beach local and Singapore native Wei-En Tan, started her personal blog last year in November (that would become RUF). As someone who constantly travels for work, she came to appreciate the conversations she could have with the drivers of rideshare vehicles and taxis.
“There was a period of my life when I was younger where I did not put enough value into relationships as I should have,” Tan told the Post. “I have since come to realize how important and enriching even day-to-day relationships can be, even one with your barista, for example, and in my case, the people who were driving me to places I needed to be at.”
When the first travel ban took place in January, it affected her, as well as Rameau, quite deeply. Thus igniting the spark to create RUF.
“In her [Rameau’s] case, she still has some family in Iran, and the ban meant that they were not allowed to visit, even with valid visas,” Tan said. “We realized that many of the stories I had on my blog were from immigrants, and we found common themes of hard work, resilience and generosity in their stories.”
Currently on the site are illustrations by nine artists from six different countries, each paired with a story. Each one describes a connection made between a passenger and a driver, where more often than not, a lesson is learned or a perspective is changed, broadened or abandoned.
One such story, which takes place in Long Beach, involves an encounter with a driver named Salma, who works full time at a salon. The conversation pivots to permanent makeup, such as tattooed eyeliner, where the passenger learns to look past her initial judgements.
Illustration of RUF "Salma: Long Beach" by Paula Vrinceanu.
“Permanent make up had given someone–this old lady I had never met—dignity and a form of independence,” writes the author. “It was neither ugly nor horrific, and I should never have judged. And Salma helped me to see that.”
Several of the stories are from contributors, which are either written by them, or written following an interview. Looking forward, readers can expect a free-verse vignette called “Music for Lyft,” as well as a “Lyft Love Story,” which is currently being illustrated. Tan said the style will change depending on the contributor.
RUF is also hoping to obtain their first story from a driver, and are starting to do more outreach.
Ruminating on the advent of self-driving cars, Tan also considered that the sometimes intimate and confessional space a long drive with another person can foster, might soon be a thing of the past. RUF, as much as it is about humanizing immigrants, is also about recording an oral history to be made available to others in the future.
“We are hoping that the blog will humanize immigrants, and to show through words and art that immigrants are people too, and should not be demonized as the ‘other,’ and that diverse cultures can be extremely enriching,” said Tan.