IN CONVERSATION: SARAH BURKE & ALYZA ENRIQUEZ, LABOUR OF LOVE
Central image photographed by Brian Pollock: Sarah Burke wears special edition CLAAS; Alyza Enriquez wears TALVI in Glossy Gold.
On a rare cool summer day in New York City, we meet with Sarah Burke, Editor-in-Chief of Them. and Alyza Enriquez, Senior Social Producer at Vice News at the Broome Street MYKITA Shop to chat about their moves to New York City from Honolulu and Miami, crossing paths at Vice, to eventually securing leadership roles at respected media platforms like Vice and Condé Nast. We speak about navigating romantic relationships and work, as well as their recent Glaad and Peabody award winning docu-series “Transnational” about trans rights globally. As storytellers and producers, Sarah and Alyza are leading voices in media reporting on queer stories with care and intentionality.
MYKITA: Tell us where are you from and what brought you both to New York City?
Sarah Burke: I am from Honolulu, Hawaii originally but lived in the Bay Area for a long time before I moved to New York in 2017. I realized shortly after moving here that I just wanted to move to New York but didn’t have a good reason. So, I decided I was going to go to NYU to get my masters. But when I got here, I realized that it wasn’t the right reason. I wanted to be writing, which I wasn’t doing while I was in school. I dropped out and ended up getting a job at Broadly, which was Vice’s women and identity website. From there on I started doing special projects for Vice, and that finally started feeling like the right thing for me. This past October, I started as the editor-in-chief of Condé Nast’s digital queer title, Them.
Alyza Enriquez: I'm originally born in Miami, kind of raised in South Florida. So, it's like the trashier version of Hawaii… but it’s not even comparable. I moved to NY for school in 2011 at Pratt for architecture. After I graduated, I realized that architecture is bad for New York City and there's a lot of profiteering and gentrification involved. I knew a friend who was working at Vice in 2017 and got a temporary job for a week then stayed. I started to work for Vice and moved around to different parts of the company, but the other day I joined Vice News, which is exciting as I haven’t touched that place yet.
Left: Photographed by Brian Pollock for MYKITA JOURNAL. Right: From the couple's personal archive.
In the spirit of Pride, can you tell us a little bit about how you met each other? I assume you first met at Vice?
AE: I love telling this story! I infamously stalked her in in the office for six months. I noticed her because a good friend of mine was sitting right next to her, and I remember coming up to her desk one time and then being like, who is that? And she said that Sarah has been really mean to her, haha. But the reality was that Sarah was just shy. I was handing out pizza one time for a union party and that’s when we officially met. And then I came to a Broadly brainstorm meeting and I had to be sat next to Sarah because it was the only free seat. I’ll never forget that meeting. I pitched something in the meeting and Sarah kept shooting it down. I thought she hated me, and I had no chance. And yeah, the rest is history.
Also, I’m ashamed to admit this but I started a LGBTQIA+ group at Vice, under the guise of community. But really, I wanted an excuse for Sarah and I to be in the same place after work. And it worked!
This is a really cute story. Sarah, was it love at first sight for you?
SB: Unfortunately, I was very distracted by other things and in a different situation. I truly did not notice for the full six months that they were there, but when I finally did, it just clicked. And when we finally got together, I remember sitting down at Alyza’s lunch table and introducing myself and later finding out that they all knew everything about me because Alyza talked only about me for the past six months. People were very excited because Alyza was and is still very popular at Vice.
AE: To be clear, I wasn't actually stalking Sarah. I just had a really big crush, and I was bored at work. I just want to go on record and say that.
There have been a lot of changes since the pandemic with work and your careers individually. What has that been like? Is it strange to not see each other every day?
AE: Honestly, it was cute to work together at Vice because we worked in totally different departments. We would go to work together and then go to different parts of the office. And then we’d get lunch together or go out after.
SB: During the pandemic we started working directly with each other on this big documentary project that we produced together with a team. It was fun but also very intense, as you can imagine.
AE: It was really challenging but it was nice to experience that period. I do miss collaborating with Sarah, but I also think that you get to a point in your relationship where there needs to be separation. We’re both growing as people and I think when I came into this relationship, I had all these ideas of what a relationship should be, especially in the context of queerness. Oftentimes the representation in queer media, at least when it comes to people who are assigned female at birth, it’s often like you’re on top of each other and so in love. And lesbians move in like three weeks after they meet each other. I think it’s really nice to realize that you can have a healthy relationship and have separate work lives and still be able to come together and share those things. The pandemic taught me a lot about relationships in general. I think if anything, I definitely want to find ways to collaborate again.
Left: Photographed by Brian Pollock for MYKITA JOURNAL. Right: From the couple's personal archive.
What was the project you both worked on together?
AE: Transnational. It’s a documentary project that we did with Vice News about trans rights globally.
SB: I had been wanting to do a documentary about the epidemic of violence against trans women of colour in the US. During the pandemic, the people at Vice who are passionate about LGBTQIA+ rights started to have conversations with leadership about how to invest more in reporting around LGBTQIA+ rights. There came an opportunity to collaborate with Vice World News, so we started thinking about if we had access to international team, what could we do? And we decided to do this series that looks at trans rights around the world because at least as Americans, we don't really have access often to those stories. I think they go really underreported and you very rarely see them kind of all in one place and in context with each other. We wanted to create a series of where we could also draw connections between the stories that we were seeing from communities around the world. And we ended up securing one season with six episodes in the US, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia and the UK.
SB: We had a lot more places mapped out for the first season, but we were trying to make this series in the middle of the pandemic and a lot of countries literally wouldn’t let us in. Alyza is now working with the rest of the team on season two, so I think there will be a lot more countries represented and from places that are a little further out, hopefully.
AE: If all goes according to plan. And I think the important thing to mention, too, is that specifically when I think about trans representation or media that covers trans issues in other countries, I feel like often when told through a Western lens, the focus is often on poverty and those who are poor. It tends to focus on violence. Something that was really important to us while doing the show, specifically all being from the queer community, was focusing on people's ability to be resilient, to defend themselves, to create in the face of adversity. And I think that's what makes this series so special.
Is there a specific place or episode that really surprised you?
AE: To be honest, I think for me, it was Indonesia episode because I'd never really thought about the connection between queerness and religion. I think in a Western context, it tends to be that the queerness and transness often exist despite religion. And for the Indonesia episode, we went there and our correspondent Rana Thamrin, who previously had been a practicing Muslim and had since detached herself from the religion because she felt like she wasn't accepted, visited a Muslim school for trans women in Indonesia. At the school, they are so devout and read the Quran every single day. But there are many large figures in the Muslim community there who claim that trans women don't deserve to practice this religion and that Allah is actively against trans women. And these women are able to say, "That's not true".
How has working on the show affected you both on a personal level as individuals and as partners?
AE: Yeah. The Two Spirit episode was really impactful. In general, with indigenous culture, I just think there's such a different way of relating to one another, to the world and the literal earth, the trees and nature - and not taking things for granted.
Two Spirit identity can be defined as many different things, but essentially it is something of a combination of masculine and feminine, but also outside of masculine and feminine; both, neither.
Being on the ground with Two Spirit people and hearing them talk about themselves and the ways in which their identity has always included being leaders, being the people that balance out the room, being the negotiators, being the people who bring forth the things that are hard to say and things that are easy to say, just gave me a lot to think about and I'm still very much processing. I cried a lot, and I didn't really understand what it was. After I left, I realized that I had been having all these thoughts about like, what is my purpose in life? What am I doing here? Sometimes, especially during Pride, it feels like all this stuff is just social media fodder or social currency. And I'm like, who am I deep down inside? And to hear people who are so grounded in their identity and see it as a direct tie to the betterment of the world was eye-opening and something that I still carry with me.
SB: I am always coming to these stories as an ally to the trans community, and I think if anything, it just really helped me evolve my practice of allyship in the sense of what does that look like when you are leading a team of journalists? Like, how do you structure the workflow and the conversations in a way that really centres the trans experience and make sure that you are having the trans correspondents and members of the team really lead and feel like they can be heard and have their input be prioritized. So, for me, it was just an exciting opportunity to get better at doing that. But personally, I don't think my personal identity evolved from the series. Like, beyond those learnings.
How did it feel to release Transnational out into the world and how did people respond?
AE: It was a slow burn.
SB: We weren't sure if people were going to like it. But over time it's picked up. And we recently won a Peabody Award and Glaad Award. So, it felt good to receive that recognition because we put so much intentionality into the work. In the end, what really matters to me is making sure that trans people watch it.
AE: Yeah. I can't even say it better myself. We never went in with the idea that it was going to be a major YouTube hit, especially because it's a show that is so intentional and at times can be slow paced because we really prioritized being intimate with our sources and taking our time to tell the stories. Even before the Peabody, it was beautiful getting positive messages with people saying, “oh my God, this series is so amazing”, “It means so much to me”, “I cried when I watched this episode”. Someone messaged me today and said, “I used the show to come out to parents” and I thought that was so crazy. That is the real impact of making and creating. It's a nice reminder that this kind of thing still matters in a world that prioritizes high view count and fast consumption.
Work mode: Alyza Enriquez in a film still from the documentary series "Transnational".
You’ve both become public figures in your own right, especially working in Media. If you were to imagine your iconic eyewear piece, what would it be?
AE: I love that question. Andy Warhol always comes to mind for iconography. But it’s funny because I've been trying to figure that out. My eye doctor recently told me that I’m basically blind so I’ve been trying to figure out what my frames should be, because I tend to get very obsessed with aesthetics. I want to make sure that I'm being perceived in the way that I want to be perceived. Also, Le Corbusier! His approach to building is all about efficiency and utilitarianism, and I feel like his glasses conveyed that.
SB: Got to shout out gay icon Elton John. I aspire to that level of flamboyance. What do you feel about gender in relationship to glasses? Do you feel like there are certain things that feel affirming for you?
AE: Yeah, I think that for me, more and more I've been trying to let go of this idea that certain frames are gendered, but I do have a hard time with cat-eye glasses.
SB: I have a very specific relationship to glasses because I used to wear glasses all the time growing up, and then I got Lasik. I can’t believe I wore these but in middle school I had the ugliest glasses in my life. It was this silver wire frame from Guess that had jewels on the side. And I also never owned sunglasses because I can’t see without prescription frames.
Best and most fun queer bar in NYC?
We’re less devoted to specific bars than we are to certain parties like Body Hack, Papi Juice, and Bubble T, and Gush.
Your best date in New York?
Our best NY date might have been when we packed a picnic and took the train up to the Bronx Botanical Gardens to see the Yayoi Kusama installation. We probably spent like two hours in the rare flowers exhibit.
Your favourite museum and why?
AE: I would have to be between MoMAPS1 and the Museum of Moving Image.
SB: I feel like it’s so dependent on the show for me, but I will say I feel like I frequent PS1 and the New Museum the most. And Pioneer Works, if you’ll count that. We also love the Noguchi in Queens — which is another great NY date!
Your favourite restaurant and why?
This is a very difficult question, but we are obsessed with Lil Deb’s Oasis in Hudson and try to eat there whenever we’re upstate. The food is so queer and campy and completely unexpected every time.
Your favourite NY park?
Riis Beach. Hands down!
Your favourite NY neighbourhood and why?
AE: Bed-Stuy til I die! I’ve lived there for over a decade.
SB: Agree! Although I’m much newer.
Lastly, why did you choose the MYKITA frames you did?
SB: Purple is my favourite colour, so the purple tinted lenses were a natural choice. Also, these gold frames make me feel like I’m about to get on a boat, which is always the vibe I’m aiming for.
AE: I always have a really hard time finding sunglasses, but I put these on, and they just made sense. They’re timeless.