A woman of many titles

Jewish, lesbian, activist grandmother travels country for nearly two decades, makes stop in El Paso


Bryan Mena

Amid a passionate 18-year-long journey, veteran activist Xan Joi cruised the streets of El Paso in a box truck covered in striking, colorful murals while visiting fellow activist, Cemelli de Aztlan Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Bryan Mena, Entertainment Editor

Xan Joi, 69, describes herself as a social justice warrior, an anti-war activist, a Jewish woman, a lesbian, a grandmother, a feminist and an author who’s traveled throughout the country in her truck since 2001, racking up over 400,000 miles. 

Amid a passionate 18-year-long journey, veteran activist Joi cruised the streets of El Paso in a box truck covered in striking, colorful murals while visiting fellow activist, Cemelli de Aztlan Tuesday, Nov. 12. 

Originally from a farm in rural New Jersey, Joi moved to California in 1975 when she was a 25-year-old single mother. 

Joi recalls dreaming of California as a little girl. 

“Every day, the sun would set over the cornfield next to my farmhouse and my mother used to always say to me, ‘That’s where California is, where the sun is setting.’” 

In 1975, she moved into a small apartment in Berkley, California with her daughter, where she remained until a passion for activism crept up on her decades later. 

During the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Joi feared that the U.S. would wage war on terrorists in the Middle East, but that same fear also sparked a fire inside her blazes to this day. 

9/11 was when the towers were hit, and I was probably on the road by the 21st. I think it took me about a week,” Joi said. “I was totally committed to anti-war and organizing other women to go out into the street and influence our state (California,) our communities and D.C. to not go to war.” 

Joi has traveled and lived inside her box truck ever since, traveling to places in political turmoil like Charlottesville, Virginia during the 2017 “Unite the Right Rally” and the Standing Rock Indian reservation during the 2016 Dakota access pipeline controversy where she got arrested for protesting. 

She periodically repaints the mural on the back of her Isuzu NPR with what she believes best captures society’s most pressing issue. Her current mural depicts the issue of refugee intolerance and senseless war. 

I’ve been to different places and I change only the back of my truck depending on what’s happening in our country, but the other sides stay the same,” Joi said. “I have an anti-Monsanto mural on the left side which a Berkley artist did for my 60th birthday … I have the ‘end violence against women’ side where I keep adding names of women who’ve gone missing.” 

On U.S. roads, Joi drives her truck as a visible testament to her life’s commitment to activism, but on the ground, she conveys her passion through conversations with people who harbor different beliefs. 

“This one guy I recently talked with got very angry and red in the face. I felt like he was ready to jump over the counter and attack me,” Joi said. “I mean, we were talking about hard things. I was saying one thing, he was saying another. I’ve talked to a lot of men like him and it’s so important for us to talk with each other.” 

Other times, her conversations end in mutual understanding. 

“I recently also talked to another white man who, towards the end of our conversation, said that he had never talked with anybody like me,” Joi said. “Hsaid he was tired of carrying around this hate for people like me and that he was happy I talked with him. 

Joi has had conversations about gender-based violence, war, anti-immigrant sentiments, genocide and environmental issues, among several other topics. 

However, her journey has also exposed her several times to open hostility. 

“I was standing by my truck talking with this woman and then I heard someone yelling,” Joi said. “I look at this guy that was yelling and I’m getting ready to say, ‘We’re having a conversation here.’ Then I see that he’s got a gun and tells me ‘Come disarm me.’”  

The man did not like the mural Joi had painted on her truck, so he intimidated her with his gun. 

You need to disarm yourself, Joi told him. 

She also recalls encountering aggressive drivers on the road who scream profanities at her through their vehicle’s windows. 

Her next stop is Tucson, Arizona where she will promote her book “But What Can I Do?”  

Despite the occasional threats and scuffles, Joi continues to participate in protests and marches across the nation. 

Bryan Mena may be reached at [email protected]