When I got to San Juan, a good friend cooked delicious meals and showed me around Old San Juan and gave me new perspective on the city I'd always tried to avoid (because of tourists and the neo-colonial aesthetic). I also got a tour of Rio Piedras and visited a really inspiring coop called, La Chiwinha.
Back in August I got to know Santurce (a gentrifying neighborhood in San Juan) a bit better and I got to hang out with some folks who were all about food and environmental justice, anti-authoritarianism, and economic justice and sovereignty. I also visited Mayaguez and couchsurfed with an agroecologist who had a business helping coffee growers in Central and South America improve the quality of their coffee and business and sell internationally.
This time I visited Mayaguez in a different capacity. I was there as a presenter and panelist at an LGBT colloquium/conference that's been happening for 5 years at the university. I had no idea how life changing and affirming this gathering would be for me. That second day while sitting on the race, racialization, and queer sexualities panel with the awesome and aspiring Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (poet,author,educator,activist), out gay boxer Oscar "Fenomeno" Cruz, and activist and journalist Dania Lebron- I began to see that this trip had greater significance than I could have ever imagined. Here I was in Puerto Rico with Afro-Boricuas talking about our experiences with blackness and its intersection with our queerness. This doesn't happen a lot folks. There is much silence about racism and anti-blackness and colorism on the island though it is entrenched in every day interactions and in the makeup of certain areas of the island. Loiza is where a lot of black boricuas live on the island and it is one of the most impoverished towns.
|Race, Racialization and Queer Sexualities Panelists|
|Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro y yo|
During the coloquio there were plays and music performances, films, workshops on queer writing, presentations on transwomen in latin america, a panel on sexuality and polyamory and many, many more. Our "Austin contingent" presented on different projects and activism they've been a part of for reproductive justice here in Texas. They gave a much broader definition of reproductive justice (yes, more than abortions) and talked about the importance of expanding it from the white, hetero-, cis-female, middle class narrative and centering experiences of transmen and women, folks with disabilities, and queer and POC communities. You can check out some of the presentation here.
What was so moving and powerful was the committment that each of the presenters,panelists, and attendees had to the LGBTQI/queer movement and to the expansion of our organizing and activism beyond just the right to marry. The folks at UPR were really committed to using their positionality in the university and/or as artists and activists to further the movement and be involved with intersecting movements happening not just on the island but internationally.
I met Rashidi Williams from Nigeria who is doing incredible work within the LGBT movement there with the organization Queer Alliance Nigeria which also partners with the Queer African Youth Network, the first lesbian‐led LGBTQ regional organization in West Africa, with the aim to become the hub for LGBTQ youth activists and youth-led movement building. It was humbling to share dialog with him about how to incite people to join the movement and organize across issues. I can't wait to learn and share more with him. Building internationally is necessary for the revolution we seek to create.
And speaking of resistance and revolution- (when am I ever not?) I've decided to make my presentation on Putting Down the Master's Tools into a zine, so be looking out for that in the next few weeks. Prezi just isn't my thing but an e-zine I can do. Sharing about the origins of my activism, my coming into my various identities, and the ways that I've chosen to walk this path as an artivist and a visionary organizer felt so fulfilling and healing during my talk. To see people truly moved after sharing my sometimes painful stories and the work I've been honored to be a part of makes me feel that I must continue with this work. Even when I want to walk away because I feel that it's not financially sustaining me. Even when I feel wounded, misunderstood or alone. It's not really completely my decision to make. This work is bigger than me. That's what I continue to find out as I present, do workshops, or go on tours. And traveling and meeting so many beautiful spirits helps me to see that I'm not alone after all. And I know my place now- my place is showing our people a sense of their power by helping our communities reclaim their suppressed histories and knowledge. My place is helping our people find ways to heal, envision, and create our own autonomy and, if not a world free of oppression and marginalization based on our identities, at least communities that are free.
I hope that you'll find ways to heal yourself, your family, your communities. Remember that liberation starts with something as seemingly small as feeding yourself healthy food and taking care of your mind, body and spirit. If we aren't whole, neither are our communities.
Healing and Solidarity,