Friday, May 4, 2012

Steampunk POC: Pablo Vasquez aka Mr. Saturday (Black, Panamanian, Afro-Latino)

Pablo Vasquez of San Antonio
It's the first Friday of the month again! This time, we head down south, to Austin, Texas, where we'll find Mr. Saturday, nom-de-plume of Pablo Vasquez, who's also a con committee member for San Antonio's Aetherfest! You can find Pablo performing vaudeville acts with his mime, Sixpence, at various steampunk events.

So when are you Pablo Vazquez and when are you Mr. Saturday?

Well, Mr. Saturday is a fantastically exaggerated version of who I really am, though he's quite the flexible character. In Texas, there are far more people that know me simply as Pablo (even Cedric Whittaker of the Airship Isabella misinterprets my named as "Mr. Saturday Night", which I actually love, haha), but whenever I travel, I always am Mr. Saturday to them unless they're close friends. The lines blur often and I find myself at conventions sometimes never leaving the Mr. Saturday persona. If one were to believe in the Voodoo concept of Cheval, then this could be excused as Baron Samedi himself just "riding" me for the weekend, which fits perfectly in character. So, to answer that, Mr. Saturday is present whenever I want to party and when I'm performing and Pablo regains control when it's time to relax, be intellectual, etc.

Why are you Mr. Saturday? How did you get into steampunk, and as Mr. Saturday?

My friends used to call me "Baron" after Baron Samedi due to my fascination with Voodoo and the fact that I absolutely love top hats and am a decadent sort of fella. However, Mr. Saturday came into being when my co-chairman, performance partner, and close friend Cameron "Sixpence" Hare decided he was going to be a mime. We joked around a bit, remembering a running joke we had of him becoming some insane and hilariously inept super-villain who was being misled into misadventure and crime by the shadowy and lazy con-man known as Mr. Saturday. So, we decided to throw this into our Steampunking, which we had already been doing for 5-6 years due to our fascination with both sci-fi and retro fashions, and voila! Here we are today, entertaining you even when we don't want to! We debut our characters at AetherFest, but properly threw them into the Steampunk spotlight at World's Fair, where I further developed the idea of Mr. Saturday as a revolutionary time-space hopping libertine con-man.

I know you told me this before about your background as Panamanian, at least in bits and pieces, but I don't think we've talked about how this factors into your steampunkery or not. How does it? If at all.

I grew up around occultism, Santeria, socialism (third-generation socialist!), criminality, and so on, which I've all incorporated into Mr. Saturday's persona and background. Panama is a crossroads of the world with so many vibrant cultures and subcultures, so I had exposure early on to what Mr. Saturday would become. When I entered Steampunk, I wasn't sure how I was going to include my multi-ethnic nature into the whole thing, seeing how back then it was still horribly Anglo-Centric, but the more and more Steampunk started to change, the more and more I decided it was time to debut a character that us Afro-Caribbeans could associate with. Mr. Saturday is the result of that, a Steampunk POC character who instead of being a pirate, some imperialist turncoat, or whatever, is a revolutionary criminal dark Robin Hood who is hilariously devious and sometimes bumbling, but gets the job done. If I wasn't Panamanian, I'm not sure I would've had the proper upbringing to bring Mr. Saturday to life.

How do you put together your gear for Mr. Saturday? Where did you buy your accessories from and how do you choose what to use, given your anti-profiteering stance?

It's all thrift store stuff, gifts, salvaged goods/clothes and specially-made items from quality low-cost makers, like my monogoggle and cane, which were made to specification by Katy Amicone, a local maker and friend here in Texas. She uses only recycled materials and is always willing to repair items who have received some wear. Really, I swear, I've never seen anyone else turn such garbage into treasure! So, most of my items fit those categories and I have a huge wardrobe, but no one outfit I assemble together really cost me more than $50-100 likely, usually hovering around $20-30, and mostly wear three-piece suits.

The multi-ethnic background of Mr. Saturday is fascinating. How does being specifically Panamanian affect your performance of steampunk?

Funny enough, I recently ran across an online group of Panamanian Steampunks and, to say the least, I was super excited. Steampunk in the land of my birth! However, it all became radically surreal when I realized that I was the only person with a character that was actually Panamanian, as everyone (and I do mean everyone) introduced themselves with their exceedingly British Steampunk names. I have this feeling Mr. Saturday represents more of the Panama I grew up in: mystical, charming, mysterious, dangerous, passionate. I embrace this Panama and my Panamanian identity, but it seems that Steampunk in Panama itself is some sort of Anglo-centric escapism from being Panamanian. With that new way of looking at my Steampunk identity in relation to being Panamanian, I now see that it has a huge influence with how I act, the things I say, the character background (hell, around my neck is a blessed necklace of Shango's protection as I write this, received in Panama), and so much more of my Steampunk. I'm proud of what I am and where I come from and Mr. Saturday doesn't shy away from it either, as much as he tries (and I do) to be a multiversal cosmopolitan man-about-space.

Do you ever wonder if you might be playing into stereotypes with the Mr. Saturday persona?

I avoid them at all costs. If anything, Mr. Saturday is more modeled on a mix of Groucho Marx and Casanova's lovechild raised by Salvador Dali and Penn Teller on a pirate ship on the Caribbean. I mean, if you look at the stories and myths surrounding Baron Samedi, then you have little to no problem understanding Mr. Saturday and how he came to be. Sure, I worry about it at times, but whenever I do analyze it, I'm quite glad I know what I'm doing and am not just a brown man doing brownface for some weird reason. I mean, I've seen ethnic characters that really do fall into stereotype and it bothers me, but I hope I've done a good job of keeping Mr. Saturday free from that ugliness. After all, Mr. Saturday may be some crazy decadent party animal con-man, but he's also an analytical revolutionary.

So tell us about steampunk in Texas.

Steampunk in Texas, compared to what I've seen in other regional forms of Steampunk, is more tight-knit (like a large extended family), less political, more maker-ish, and way more encouraging of varying expressions of Steampunk. I am constantly amazed how many people go to events all over a state as large as Texas, with most Steampunk events (from one-night concerts by Marquis of Vaudeville to three-day conventions like AetherFest) hosting large amounts of representatives from all the varied Steampunk groups around the area. LARPing is also big here, with a plotline established by Airship Isabella, the top resident makers and fantastic community organizers. There are no true rivalries or bad blood amongst the Steampunk notables here, but one thing that has always irked me is how insular the community is. One of the concepts behind AetherFest is to entertain attendees not just with the best Texas has to offer, but also notables from the West and East coast communities. Many people here have never heard of musical acts like Vernian Process, Sunday Driver, Unwoman and so on, with this not just applying to musicians. Can you believe that a vast majority of folks in our community have never heard of Jake von Slatt? Datamancer? Hell, until recently, folks didn't even known about the Red Fork Empire either. So, while our community is beautiful, compassionate and vibrant, I still feel there is a strong need for "regional exchange", so to speak, so that we don't become some high-walled enclave with little knowledge of the rest of Steampunk.

And then tell us about being a steampunk POC in Texas.

Honestly, it's never been a big deal down here. Steampunks down here are respectful, accepting and are always amazed and inspired by unique expressions of Steampunk. The only moments where I've felt strange and have been questioned about being a Steampunk POC has been when I've traveled to other communities or, well, with you oh lovely Jah <3. I mean, don't get me wrong, there are still jackasses everywhere, but here in Texas, it's such a very small few that I've always felt quite safe being a Steampunk POC. I do still get the one guy a year telling me I'm not Steampunk because I'm not British and Wild Western, but hey, those guys are quickly outcast here for not opening their minds and freeing their imaginations (and losing their blatant ignorance). Also, tons more notable Steampunk POC here (shout out to the Celestial Rogues!) seeing how Texas is highly multi-cultural in the big cities, so I've always felt fine and in great company.

Have you had any experiences with racist talk in Steampunk circles that stand out in your mind?

Besides the usual "Hey, Steampunk is only British or originally British" nonsense? Not really, but I do hear it more often from folks outside of Steampunk. My favorite one is "You're an American, why are you dressing this way" or the one I particularly enjoyed, which was "What business does a spic have wearing a top hat?" Steampunk has done a pretty good job of at least not being overtly racist, I'd say, but the key word is overtly.

Sixpence the Mime and Mr. Saturday at
Steampunk World's Fair 2011
Following up on what you said about regional exchange, I've seen you at Steampunk World's Fair and SteamCon III, East and West Coast cons respectively, far afield of Texas! How do you think they compare to each other and to the Texan steampunk scene?

Steampunk World's Fair was my performance debut and I never really thought Steampunk events could be so big! The East Coast of Steampunk is very business-oriented, I've noticed, while at the same time having an amazing political element to it. This was new and exciting for me, especially being able to participate in rallies as a Steampunk for causes I supported, which is something that would be impossible in Texas, just because of how much more art-based and less socio-political it is down here. No one in Texas, except a handful including yours truly, even considers the socio-political implications of Steampunk and the like. The West Coast of Steampunk, from what I've garnered, is way more musical and bohemian (or at least they present themselves as such) and decentralized. Everywhere else, including Texas, I see airships, groups, etc, while on the West I see people gathering around musicians and events instead. It's all real fascinating! The WCoS has very gothy/industrial-inspired music attached to it, Texas is all about dream rock lyrics and pirate shanties, and the East Coast is all, to quote a song, "sad songs and waltzes" (shout out to Eli August, however much he hates having people think he's all about broodyness <3), protest music and surrealist cabaret-ish sort of stuff. It's all way too fascinating and broad to capture in just one question. Hell, I should write a book! Know anyone interested in helping me?

Tell us about your *feelings* on steampunk in general. What do you think of the existing / canon literature? The fashions? The communities that have sprung up around them?

This here is quite the difficult question. To be honest, I really haven't read any of the new stuff (except Dearly Departed by Lia Habel, which I quite enjoyed), but I'm a big fan of the classics in the genre (From Verne to Stirling). I don't really discuss the literary side of Steampunk too much, instead preferring to concentrate on the performance, social politics, and aesthetics of it all. I love the fashions in Steampunk, especially when people put great effort into it and especially when it didn't cost them an arm and a leg. Seeing all these unique expressions of Steampunk further shows the emphasis on individual expression that we have in the community, so, it's great stuff! Every once and a while, however, you get that one person dressed like a Nazi or as some horrible ethnic stereotype, but we can let it slide really. If you don't take the effort to tell them why it's wrong (in a friendly and/or brash manner), you further sully the community by allowing offensive nonsense and second-hand oppression exist. I am in love with the DIY aspect of the culture and the communitarian ideals combined with a prizing of individual development that lends it a flair of freedom and support not really seen in other subcultures. We have a long way to go before we can actually be the beautiful full community we all strive for in our utopian actions, but right now, I'd say we're not stagnating anymore and going in the right direction, especially since we've gone past the "source code", so to speak.

What about the aesthetics of steampunk is/are so compelling to you?

I can't really say, but I've always been so aesthetically attracted to anachronistic fashions and I'm a man that loves fancy hats. Mix that with some sci-fi, add in a new and radical attitude instead of the mainstream Victorian nonsense, and I'm ready for this party. I like seeing people that society thinks belong at Eton or at some fancy horse races with the Queen instead drinking and being debauched with me and railing against some thing or another and perhaps on our fifth rendition of "Killer Queen" after far too much absinthe. We grab expectations, we steal away from what has been denied to us historically, and we turn it all on its head and make it ours. Top hats aren't just for genocidal robber-barons anymore!

You were at the Pro-Union Labour Rally during Steampunk World's Fair 2011, which was a steampunk event with a decidedly political bent. How do you think steampunk and politics mesh?

Pablo Vasquez speaking at SPWF
pro-union labour rally
They could mesh quite well, but people seem to think that Steampunk is not political. EVERYTHING is political, dear friends. The politics of everyday life is way more important than the political games of the elite bourgeoisie and for many of us, Steampunk is indeed everyday life. With the aforementioned attitudes and ideals that we have present in our community, not to mention how it allows us to focus social inequities through awesome retro-futurist fiction, Steampunk, I would say, is one of the more political "geek" subcultures out there. I never shy away from sharing my politics and views in any situation and Steampunk is no exception, so every time I see that there's a rally of some kind for an issue I support, I'm quick to jump in and bring my soapbox with me! I wrote a manifesto for Tor.Com titled "Steampunk: An Ethical Spectacle exclaiming that "there is no room for racism, sexism, elitism and various other cruel prejudices out there" within our community and we must do our best to prevent such "counter-revolutionary" efforts, so to speak. In fact, "Steampunk: An Ethical Spectacle" does a good job, in my opinion, on summing up my political passion with Steampunk, albeit with a high amount of emotion and rhetoric, with a heavy Brechtian flair.


Many of you spend way too much money on things you can make yourselves or buy from quality vendors within the community. Seriously, stop this, and learn the value of thrift stores and maker friends. Also, like I said early, think about how your Steampunk affects the world and stop pretending that Steampunk isn't a socio-political art movement. We don't want to viewed as racist, imperialist neo-jackasses now, do we?

Let's pick up on the materialism aspect of steampunk. Could you extrapolate on the ethics of making gear / buying within the community?

Steampunk, to my dismay, seems to be becoming more and more about stuff and having it. Look, I support supporting the arts and I'm all for looking dashing and fancy, but do you really need to wear goggles on your hat that do nothing while also wearing goggles around your neck? Also, the prices at which I've seen some items being sold to the general public are absolutely absurd and it makes me wonder whether or not some of our vendors are in this for the right reasons and not just for a quick buck off some poor sap. Staying within the community is good and I advocate trading and sharing and aiding others in the creation of their goodies, which, thankfully, are virtues that are still somewhat present in Steampunk and, perhaps this is going to sound strange to you Capitalist types, but I'd prefer if everyone made their own treasures at the lowest costs possible with the full help and support of the community as opposed to buying it. Vendors, yeah, I understand you need to make a living, but do you really need to sell that 3 inch gear for $50 to some teenage kid wanting to make a cool necklace for his girlfriend? I've seen it happen and it honestly disgusts me. I support barter, trade and mutual aid systems for settings like this and I hope they're used more often. Also, support of our vendors does indeed, theoretically, support the community and help in its development, as opposed to buying the Steampunk Party City kits and otherwise. I'm not advocating some mythical Steampunk purity, but we'll get nowhere if we don't help each other and start acting more like a family and less like snake oil salesmen.


Community. People always tend to feel so loved at Steampunk events, especially down here in Texas. It's like we're all family, even if we haven't met, and my gods, y'all have enough imaginative power to fuel all of the Green Lantern rings. Never give in to the Dull, my friends, and be awesome. Also, honestly, I've never seen so many good looking people in one community. Prove me wrong!

What do you think steampunk has to offer POC?

You know, I'm not quite sure. My automatic response is "a pretty filter with which to critique history and society and make it ours like it never was", but something seems quite off about that thought and statement. This is definitely a matter for reflection, but let me definitely say one thing: I wish more POC were involved and that I could gather them together in a symposium to discuss why we're in this ridiculous mess in the first place. We can't all like pocket watches, Oscar Wilde, and the Paris Commune, can we?

What would you say to POC newbies looking to do steampunk?

Do it, be proud, and don't let Whitey keep you down. Be original, be brave, and go out there and kick some retrofuturist ass. Also, buy me a drink, it opens doors (or so I say).

Mr. Saturday will be making appearance all over this month! Starting with Aetherfest, we'll also be seeing him (unless his time-space hopping machine is broken) at Watch City Festival in Waltham, MA, and Steampunk World's Fair in Piscataway, NJ. Keep an eye out for him, and don't hesitate to say hello!


  1. "Also, like I said early, think about how your Steampunk affects the world and stop pretending that Steampunk isn't a socio-political art movement. We don't want to viewed as racist, imperialist neo-jackasses now, do we?"

    The entire interview was awesome, but man- I want to take that tiny little nugget and get it printed onto cards I can hand out at conventions. Well said.


  2. Great interview. I definitely took away a couple of things from it, like how steampunk differs across the U.S. (if you do write a book Pablo, I'll read it).

    ~Mina Mori

  3. Excellent interview!The expression of the Loa / Orisa by Mr. Saturday is brilliant!