Recently I was contacted by the Smithsonian Latino Institute to provide a community response at an event titled Recovering Latinx LGBT History: A Conversation with the Editors of Queer Brown Voices, one of many events around Washington, D.C. throughout Pride Month. This specific event was geared toward unpacking the history of activism among those who live at the intersections of queer and latinx identities. After hearing Sunday’s news about the mass shooting in Orlando, a place I once called home, I wasn’t sure I could go through with my appearance. I was considering canceling at the last minute, withdrawing from the event. Instead I threw out what I was originally planning to say and sat down to think about my greatest takeaway from Queer Brown Voices. In the end, I attended the Smithsonian Latino Institute event, and read the following:
I would first like to take a moment to thank Leti, Salvador and Uriel for this gift. Time after time, whether it’s the Stonewall movie released last summer or more recently the lack of acknowledgement on behalf of the media and several elected officials that the victims of Saturday night’s attack in Orlando stood at the intersections of Latinx and Queer identities. This lack of recognition has fed into a long history of erasure of brown people, and more specifically of queer brown voices. Our history is as long, complex, and ever steep as our road to justice, recognition, and equality. However, if you know where you been it’s easier to know where you’re going.
If I had to pick one word that captures the essence of queer brown voices, one word that embodies the collective history of our broad and diverse community, that personifies our shared struggle for liberation , that is beautifully woven through the pages of Queer Brown Voices, that word would have to be “resistance”. We are a people who have endured: colonization, commodification, condemnation, criminalization, defamation, demonization, deportation, discrimination, victimization, incarceration, extermination, fetishization, exploitation and intimidation. Yet despite everything we been through we’re still fucking here. Turn to your neighbor and say
“I’m still fucking here!”
At first, I didn’t want to come here tonight. For those of you that don’t know me I’m a Puerto Rican trans woman raised in Orlando, FL. A week from this Saturday would have been my ten year high school reunion. Just last week I was chatting with a few of my classmates who had since moved away from Orlando, checking in to see who was planning on attending. Most of us could only go for the weekend so we discussed making the most of it by heading to Pulse after the reunion, since Saturday is Latin night at Pulse and we could see all of our old friends. Colonial High, where I went to school, is known as being “the Spanish school” because it’s located in the heart of el barrio Boricua. We joked that Noche Latina always feels like a high school reunion, because almost everyone there either goes to, graduated from, or dropped out of Colonial.
As I woke up Sunday morning and I reached for my phone and read the text across the screen, asking myself “How did this happen?” I turned on the TV and stood there in horror as I watched a place that had once brought so much joy to me and so many of my friends become a scene of so much devastation. The gut punch amplified as I came to the realization that it was Saturday: Latin Night. I frantically began to text friends and check on Facebook to see who had and hadn’t been accounted for, waiting anxiously for the names to be released. My greatest fears were confirmed when the first 7 names were released. I stood there reading names on the TV. The list read as if it were pulled directly from my graduating class.
As I said, I didn’t want to do this today. I didn’t think I had it in me to talk about this again. The agony is all consuming and resides as a weight on my shoulders and a pulsating pain between my temples. However, the beautiful thing about knowing your history is knowing where you come from. I began to think about the resiliency of our people. I turned to Queer Brown Voices and read of a generation lost to AIDS and the trauma left upon those who had to bury their closest friends. I thought about how healing it must have been to tell their stories and remember their faces, even if it was also painful. And in doing so I found a pathway to healing.
I didn’t want to do this today. But I am an activist, a title I do not take lightly. To be an activist you must act. It is a verb. I made a commitment to myself that I will resist being afraid. I will refuse to act out of fear. I decided I will channel the spirit of my ancestors. My friends who were queening out on the dance floor were celebrating the anniversary in which queer brown voices stood up in solidarity and said “enough!”
The spirit of pride is one of resistance. It is a time when we take to the streets and boldly proclaim to the world, in a collective unified voice, that this is who we are. A time when we add our voices to a legacy of resistance, for pride is much more than the anniversary of one night of upheaval. It is an action, it is a verb, it is the personification of standing firmly in the totality of your realness, when we lean in and stare fear square in the face and proclaim:
“I’m still fucking here!”
This is our history. This is our inheritance, a torch passed down and entrusted to all of us, not just for those who came before us, but for the many who will come after us.
And in the words of Maya Angelou:
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.