mo Santiago from their collection, "you are not a saint."

mo Santiago (she/they), also known as mo Tuesday (we’ll get to that later), is many things but above all, they’re fearless. 

Born and raised in Chicago, Santiago attended Chicago Public Schools where they found their love for spoken word poetry and later, photography. Their passion is creating community through art, which coexists through their full-time job as a teaching artist. 

Teaching the Power of Words

Santiago teaches spoken word to grades sixth, seventh and eighth at two different schools. This is their third year teaching, and their favorite part of their job is getting to watch their students grow during the awkward years of middle school. 

“I meet them in sixth grade and get to know them all the way through eighth,” Santiago said. “I tell my students, ‘You don’t have to like poetry, and you don’t have to become a poet.’ They just have to say, ‘OK, I tried this, and this is how it made me feel,’ it’s a really powerful thing.” 

Mutual respect is huge for Santiago. When they were in school, they felt like a lot of teachers didn’t respect them or their fellow students, and they wanted to change that when they entered their role. 

They meet their students where they’re at, and they discuss passion and values, and sometimes even spend the class period talking about their lives, unknowingly unveiling the raw material that is often needed for spoken word. 

“All the things I get to do today started with art, and I am very grateful that art saved my life, especially teaching my students,” they said. “It is one of the top reasons I am alive today, just from creating that community with them and sharing my love of poetry, I am just so grateful.” 

When Santiago isn’t teaching, they’re writing, curating and hosting photoshoots for their portfolio and future exhibits—all with intimacy and human connection in mind. 

“I think intimacy is a really beautiful thing,” they said. “It can be undervalued in passing moments, like photography sessions. It is all about taking a moment to relax and giving people space to feel comfortable. I think it’s really just a lost art, we forget to provide people with the space they need.” 

Santiago starts each photoshoot with a mediation session to unwind and encourage participants to relax. They want to know what makes them tick, so if it is a couple’s shoot, Santiago is asking questions about how they met. For solo shoots it’s similar, they want participants to present as their full authentic selves, however that may appear. 

All of Santiago’s practices are rooted in intimacy, they want to break through any barrier that separates them until it’s just Santiago and their subject laughing, talking and feeling a type of human connection that is often missed. 

Tuesdays with mo

Often Fridays are the most longed-for day of the week, it’s the eve of the weekend and in America’s five-day, 40-hour work week, it brings a tiny sense of relief. That isn’t the case for Santiago, they’re all about Tuesdays. 

Everything important in their life has happened on a Tuesday, which inspired them to make their social media handle “motuesday.” 

First, it began with gymnastics on Tuesdays in elementary school, and then it was dance, then chorus and even a stint with volleyball, which Santiago said didn’t stick for long. 

Almost to the middle of the week, Tuesdays represent key days in Santiago’s youth where they felt the most, and as they got older it became a day they looked forward to in hopes that they would again have that brush with a feeling so overwhelming it was contained to one day. 

“All of it always happened on Tuesdays,” they said. The good, bad, the in-between—it was their own little game, what any given Tuesday could possibly hold or maybe, it would just be another day. 

Casting Their Spell

Like any classic witch, Santiago discovered Sabrina the Teenage Witch in their youth. Watching reruns of Sabrina juggling the mortal world and the other realm intrigued Santiago, but beyond that, it was the feminism that witchcraft embodies that kept them watching and then later, enjoying the spookier reboot, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

It’s hard to think of the Salem Witch trials (and all of the other mobs that targeted women) and not consider the role of sexism. 

“She’s a witch! She’s a witch!” Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam Jr. said about Dorothy Good. Dorothy was the youngest person to be arrested for witchcraft at only four years old. The mass hysteria that developed from any young woman who didn’t fully fit the mold of a puritan lifestyle was rooted in sexism. 

As Santiago explained, we are often afraid of women and the power they wield, so we make up falsehoods when we feel the fear of their success. Whether those hung in Salem and other witch trials were truly witches, no one is sure, but what we do know is that we were afraid of their power, their authenticity and confidence. 

Because of all their interest in witchcraft, Santiago sees themself as a spiritual person. From tarot cards, crystals and love of Halloween, witchiness is their forte.  Having a coven, a community of femmes to support you—that’s feminism, but it all started in witchcraft. Santiago has even based their closet around Sabrina Spellman and is always prepared with a turtleneck and mini skirt.

Ghoul Gang

Last year Santiago was walking down the street in their favorite purple denim skirt when they were viciously street harassed. Men started walking by them and crowding around. Santiago usually puts on a “resting bitch face,” but this time felt different. Men were surrounding them but somehow, they became the villain because they wouldn’t give the men attention. 

“I went home and had a big cry, and I called a friend and then went on the Internet,” Santiago said. “I talked about what happened and immediately a bunch of my friends said we should start a girl gang.” 

Santiago wanted to be more inclusive, so instead of a girl gang, they altered it a bit—Ghoul Gang. 

“I consider all my friend’s badass ghouls,” they said, discussing that “ghouls” are often something we fear. “Being harassed and cat-called on the street isn’t talked about enough. It’s something I know I have brushed off in conversation but then I would go home and think about how much it bothered me.” 

And so, Ghoul Gang was born. Ghoul Gang has a website and Instagram account where fellow Ghouls can submit their personal stories about street harassment; it’s all about creating an intimate space where street harassment is less normalized. 

Once a month there are “Creature Features,” where the Instagram account is dedicated to one artist talking about their experiences with street harassment. Santiago’s dream is that Ghoul Gang gets so big they have armbands, shirts and jackets. 

“If you are being harassed in another city, I want Ghoul Gang to be so big that you would recognize another member and see they’re a part of the community and just feel safer because we are all connected, that’s the ultimate goal,” they said. 

Ghoul Gang is always accepting submissions for work and all information can be found here. To keep up with Santiago, check out their website and visit them at the Martin Marketplace on October 17. 

 

Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is the sexual health and reproductive justice fellow for Rebellious Magazine and a freelance journalist based in Chicago covering gender and social justice issues. Follow her on Twitter @samstroozas.