“Portrait of A Feminista” has been 4 months in the making. It was born out of last November’s #SecretLivesOfFeministas twitter conversation addressing the absence of Latina voices in mainstream feminism and the unique struggles faced by feministas. Read about the twitter movement that led to this series.
Identities are complex. Many of us would not be able to reduce our identities down to one thing. I identify as Latina, queer, femme, and working class. I am also a feminist, a musician an artist, an organizer, a sister, a daughter and an activist. I am a lot of other stuff too.
While all of these labels help to define me, I cannot be reduced to any one of them or even any number of them. I would have difficulty ranking them in order of importance because they all mean something to me. My Latina-ness informs the way that I look at the world, but not w/out also adding a queer filter and a class filter and so on. The ways our multiple identities intersect and inform our experiences can be beautiful and complementary and, at times, sources of great tension.
My identities don’t conflict all of the time, but when they have, I’ve felt misunderstood and isolated. That tension has sometimes caused me to feel like a fraud – as if one of my identities is diluting another one, making me a less authentic version of myself. Identifying as queer has at times complicated my relationship with other Latinos and has caused me to question whether I had to choose one identity over another.
The first time that I remember my queerness and my Latina identity being at odds was in college. As a freshman I joined a Latino student organization and for the next several years spent almost all of my free time with them. Being Latina fills me with a huge sense of orgullo, and getting to express that identity with others who shared it with me meant a lot. While my experience in the organization was mostly good (I gained leadership skills, made some lifelong friends and got to advocate for better conditions for Latino students at my university), there were times where it was frustrating and disappointing. One of the most disappointing moments was when I started dating a woman. We kept our affair secret for awhile, but when we came out, it was met with mixed reviews. Some of my closest friends were understanding and supportive, but outside from them I felt like people were only tolerating us. It felt like I was suddenly perceived as an outsider, and I can only think that was in some part due to the fact that many of my friends were raised in socially conservative Latino homes where religion is very important and where women and men have very specific roles that they must fulfill.
The second time my Latina identity and my queerness were really at odds with each other was many years later. I was dating a Cuban man who I met while I was in Havana. We had a brief but intense relationship and I think we learned a lot from one another. Spending time with him in Cuba helped me to become even more connected to my heritage, and I am grateful for that experience. Like many relationships though, it had a relatively short lifespan. There were some key personality differences, cultural misunderstandings and logistical issues that caused us to go our separate ways. One of those major differences, was that he could not respect my choice to identify as queer. I explained to him my reasons, that for me being outspokenly queer was not only about my sexual preferences but it was political. It was a way to show resistance to a world that dictates what we should wear, how we should act, what we do and who we’re allowed to love or sleep with. While my partner was in many ways an open minded free spirit, he was also a product of his culture which, unfortunately could be homophobic and machismo, so we went our separate ways.
As I reflect on these experiences I am frustrated by the fact that it feels that I am being forced to choose which is more important to me, being Latina and having the benefits of membership in that community, or being queer. That doesn’t seem fair. I don’t want to tidy up the person that I am so that other people aren’t uncomfortable. I don’t want to be assimilated into white heteronormative society any more than I want to assimilate into what others might think is befitting a proper Latina.
Multiple forms of oppression in our society, i.e. racism, heterosexism, classism, etc. Do not exist in silos, nor do they interact independently of one another. They work together to form complex systems of oppression. The way that we fight against those systems shouldn’t be siloed either. I don’t want to pick whether I’m fighting with the queers or the Latino/as. We don’t need to be competing for limited resources. We need to stand in solidarity with one another in the resistance against oppression. I want the queerness that I bring to Latino/a spaces to be seen as a good thing, because it is. My multiple identities have given me the privilege to move in and out of different communities, to see the ways that they compliment each other. They’ve taught me to be more strategic in how I approach my work as an organizer and an activist. They’ve cultivated in me a deeper sense of empathy and compassion that I think I’d have otherwise. So while I’ve certainly experienced the harsher side of living these two identities (being called a wetback and a dyke in the same week for example), I know that my life is richer and more beautiful because of them.
Ondine Quinn is a queer Cuban-American feminist, artist, musician and rabble rouser. Originally from the Midwest of the US, she has made her home in Kentucky for the last eight years where, she has fully embraced the use of the pronoun Y’all. She currently works for an organization that collaborates with communities to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and to empower those affected. In her free time she likes to read, write, make stuff and dream about the revolution. You can check out what she’s up to at her website http://www.ondinequinn.wordpress.com or on twitter @delasondas
Are you a feminista and want to add your portrait? Know a feminista whose story needs to be heard? Contact AnaYelsi at email@example.com.
Don’t forget to use #secretlivesoffeministas when sharing this series on facebook and twitter. Help to keep us connected.
Portrait of A Feminista: Ynanna Djehuty – Browneyedamazon.com
Secret Lives of Feministas – browneyedamazon.com
Latina feministas unite at #SecretLivesofFeministas – feministing.com
The Color of Toxicity – vivalafeminista.com