Nunca Pueden Quitar Esto, No. 1
What more could possibly be said of the now-infamous 45th President of the United States? What could we possibly have from him to be thankful for? When I think about the current state of the nation, I remember the feeling we all had right after the results of the election were announced. I remember wandering the city searching for an answer or reassurance that all this was happening for a reason. Then, as time passed, I and numerous others witnessed the nation’s slow relapse into bigotry and paranoia; and we began to ponder, ¿Qué está pasando aquí?
Leading up to the election, we fought hard — I fought hard — to not only influence others, but to educate them on the values of each candidate and the importance of voting. In one corner: a sure winner, a dedicated, passionate, and inspirational woman, who had been painted by the opposition as a ‘criminal’, as a ‘cheater’, and a ‘murderer’. It appeared to some that she was doomed from the beginning — presumably ‘tainted’ by more than a decade of public spotlight. But to us, she was cooperation; she was opportunity; and she understood. We eventually all sat and watched as she admitted defeat and gave her final concessions, We watched again as her voice shook the air and ricocheted angrily towards that glass ceiling — como pegandole a una piñata con un palo débil. And as much as we all wanted progress, she did not break that glass; that piñata still hangs from a rope tied to the roof. And that piñata is still manipulated by the hands of un Tio Sam. But now we see its cracks; we see that it is slashed to pieces; and we can see the candy spewing from its crevices. That piñata will eventually succumb to the crowd — a crowd con bolsas listas — ready to reach and grab from the air, or to pick modestly from the ground, but always to pass and to share amongst each other the dulces that we were promised when our family came to this land.
“When our family came to this land …” — those words never really sat comfortably with me. In fact I often catch myself wincing at phrases such as, “When they came over the border …” or, “When they came here …” The reason behind my reactions lies in the emotional response felt behind each of those words and the implications of them. These phrases imply that the speaker and the subject had existed in two locations, but also reek of isolationism. Words like “us” and “them” also create this familiar sentiment of non-connection. How can we allow for people to continue to alienate us on our own land? Culturally, Latinos rarely owned land; but as the New and Old World met, our hardships helped grow strong opposition to the state-owned agricultural system employed by the Spanish. Many Mexican revolutionary figures fought and died in insurgencies against issues such as these; and it saddens me that, still to this day, many indigenous people are still exploited, still displaced, and, most horribly, turned away.
Emiliano Zapata is one such leader. Zapata was a revolutionary leader who rose from an agrarian background in Northern Mexico and inspired the indigenous campesinos of Morelos to fight along the Northern border. Zapata experienced first hand the sting of inequity and exploitation. This eventually led to his fight against the agricultural system known as haciendas. In the New World, the Spanish crown first granted haciendas to the Spanish. Paving the way for the exploitation of thousands of indigenous people into forced labor and out of the possibility of any land ownership. His fight eventually led to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which states that all land, water, and mineral rights in Mexico at first belong to the Nation, and are therefore transferable to private citizens of Mexico. This, in turn, establishes private property as a means of keeping Mexican property in the hands of Mexico’s people so that it is subject to public interest. If Zapata spoke any truth by saying, “La tierra es para quien la trabaja,” then it should be known that it was our ancestors who worked the seasonality and bounty of the Americas.
Yet, here we stand in complete awe as tables turn and focus shifts to us. Now we are the accused — the “rapists”, the “criminals”, and the “terrorists”. They ignore our people’s plight, our hard work, our potential, and our dedication to nature and family. They turn their backs, deny entry, and create complications for residency within imaginary lines; and they do so in contempt of scientific knowledge gained through the study of ideal genetics and immunology: the more a population is isolated, the more vulnerable it is to new threats — the more susceptible it is to disease. This plays out no differently in humans.
Yet, it was our parents and grandparents that moved our families from farm to farm — and with children working alongside — earning just a fraction of minimum wage so that they may afford our people’s frutos year-long.
Yet, it was our ancestors who eventually harvested corn and beans from the grasses, bore cocoa and coffee from small beans, and sustained hardship with potatoes and cassava roots pulled from the earth. It was our minds and our perseverance that unlocked tomatoes, chiles, peppers, squash, legumes, and quinoa to feed our children.
Yet, it was we who came here with knowledge of our land but still learned “their” land, it was we who learned “their” language and kept ours in the hopes of preserving our people’s story; and it was we who learned “their” history and culture — all while maintaining our own customs and beliefs.
Unsurprisingly, this issue is further complicated for those who identify as queer Latinx struggling to fit the mold of an Anglo, heteronormative society. Of what do they have to be so afraid? Who truly is at the disadvantage: us or them? Don’t they know that Cesar Chavez said, “La preservación de la propia cultura no requiere desprecio o falta de respeto hacia otras culturas,” or, “The preservation of one’s own culture does not require hate or disrespect for the other culture.” Our queer culture recognizes the perspectives of not just one people — neither just one sexuality nor gender — but all people. How do you teach both heteronormative Anglo and Latino societies that there is importance in variability and diversity?
Growing up queer — growing up queer in a foreign place — we adapt by learning the behaviors and languages unique to each place. In doing so, we not only lose ourselves, but we also evolve to become entirely new beings. Because we are both Latinx and Americans. We are both Spanish- and English-speaking. We navigate and blend within the Queer and the “normative”. We know the codes for understanding the cis and trans world. We may know how to order Starbucks pero nosotros tambien sabemos cómo hacer un Nescafé. We become both, but still, we are also neither.
This sentiment is best described in Gabriel Ojeda-Sague’s “Jazzercise is a Language”, when he describes the pervasive biracial sentiment felt by not only queer communities, but also by first and second generation Latin Americans:
“[…] the pivot of an argument: I am much less latino when I am with latinos and I am much less white when I am with white people: I am much less a man when I am around men and I am much less a woman when I am around women […]”
This sentiment is a contradictory dichotomy of both isolation and belonging within our home society, as well as that of another. Whether it be a separate country, gender, or sexuality, feelings of isolation are often magnified by a painful realization that we’ve ended up here yet again: being not only both, but also neither.
At first, our stark differences from society seem debilitating, especially when immersed in monocultured environments. History has shown us countless times before that survival is often granted by accepting and following diversity; and though demonizing and ostracizing can appear to hinder us temporarily, it will make us stronger in the long run. To live through hardship is to conquer it. We may be diverted from our full-potential for a period of time, like storm clouds diffuse and hide our gaze of the moon. Yet we always recover and with us: a beautiful sunrise breaking through clouds with unmeasurable beauty and differentiation. We too benefit from every hardship endured and nosotros siempre emergemos mas marviosos y fuertes. A newly hatched butterfly, una mariposa maravillosa, must nonetheless struggle with its prison, its cocoon, and practice to gain the strength by using the prison as a tool and assuring flexibility and circulation in its wings.
This is what I see, what the “woke” see, what I hope we all see: that beneath your feet … the ground is moving … it’s shaking — calling you to rise, calling us all to create and to inspire. A Chinese-American feminist, Grace Lee Boggs, once stated, “A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of humankind.” Like Lee Boggs’ time, Queer Latinx people facing adversity from the Trump Regime are living amidst devastation; yet here we boldly resist and create beauty and art that sometimes only we understand. We, as Queer Latinx-Americans, have our own codes, culture, and customs, and so I offer this column to illuminate our beauty, our art, our voices and our fight for equality, representation and, above all else, our dignity.
Por que le corres cobarde trayendo tan buen punal.
My people, my sisters,
mi gente, mi raza —
we are not cowards.
We emulate both beauty and art.
This column is for us and it is for all to see.