By Katelyn Jacobson
Facing a small audience from behind an even smaller folding table, four speakers opened up and bared it all during the last event in a series of talks sponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Queer and Questioning People of Color Workgroup.
Being either a person of color or queer and questioning can be difficult enough, but when both identities are realized in one person, the waters can get even rougher. Last Thursday, Renato Perez, Eden Silva Jequinto, Adrian Flores, and Jolie Harris spoke out about the intricacies of forging trails between these marginalized communities, and illuminated the struggles of juggling racism and homophobia within their own relationships.
Robert Imada, program coordinator for the Asian-American/Pacific Islander Resource Center, helped facilitate the workshop and told City on a Hill Press (CHP) the inspiration behind the event.
“With the series, we wanted to bring an empowering voice, and the facts of truly personal stories are really powerful,” Imada said. “What people go through affects healthy relationships that they have with themselves and people of color, and we wanted to show that.”
Tam Welch, program coordinator of the Lionel Cantú Queer Center, mediated the discussion and came prepared with hard-hitting questions about discrimination in the panelists’ own lives. Emotions ran high during portions of the discussion, and participants ended up revealing intimate aspects of their lives as queer people of color.
Both Perez and Flores talked about the coming-out process as being especially difficult for their families, and about disparagement and abuse from those in their personal circles.
“Right now I’m experiencing homophobia from my own family,” Flores said. “They throw a lot of jokes at me and I laugh because I need to deflect any suspicion, and it really hurts a lot. But I love my family, regardless of all the fucked-up shit they do. I resent them, but I love them.”
The lack of solidarity between minority groups was troubling to the panelists, and in response to Welch’s inquiry about racism in queer communities, Harris remarked on the friction that she has observed between minority groups.
“People who have one marginalized identity will focus on it and say they are so oppressed, that they now have a past and can do whatever they want,” Harris said. “To them that means they can take over a space, and that space belongs to them because they are oppressed and need that space, without any regard to any other marginalized communities. I see that a lot, such as in the Castro district, which was a Chinese community before it became the Castro.”
Jequinto also had thoughts on this predominately gay San Francisco neighborhood, and echoed Harris’ sentiments regarding the relation of racism and homophobia.
“The fact that I don’t see anyone who looks like me [in the Castro] is heavy enough,” Jequinto said. “That’s racism in itself because the real question is who can afford to live in this area, who can afford to run all these businesses, what kind of music are they playing, how do they treat people of color when they enter these spaces?”
Because there may not be a strong queer community in more conservative non-Western societies, for anyone who has a strong background in a different culture or speaks English as a second language, the word “queer” and the idea behind it is foreign. People who are forced to define themselves with unfamiliar terms can often feel alienated from that community, unable to translate essential cultural connotations.
“When I feel something, I feel it in Spanish,” Perez said. “So for me it was really hard to even understand ‘queer,’ and how it feels to be queer. But I identify that way because there are a lot of words for a gay man in Spanish, and all of them are negative.”
Flores explained that for him the most important aspect of the label is sharing aspects of identity with other people, and all the panel members mentioned the positive unity generated by the term “queer person of color.”
“As a queer person of color, I’m not attempting to identify my orientation or the color of my skin, but rather to identify with the collective in recognition of how hetero-patriarchal colonialism attempts to condition our existence,” Flores said.
In the face of intersectional discrimination, the panel also discussed the importance of taking care of oneself, being stable enough to be able to handle difficult situations. Whether it was taking alone time, or calling a friend to talk to when faced with an oppressive situation.
“When you have multiple marginalized identities, you start feeling you’re not important,” Harris said. “You’ve got to take the time to put yourself first and know that it’s not being selfish, but knowing that it makes you strong.”
Despite feelings of discomfort at opening up so much for an audience, participants acknowledged the importance of their work as speakers. Three of them were UCSC alumni, and a desire for repayment was supplemented with their greater duty to the communities that they identified with.
“As queer people of color, we’re starving for recognition, and that’s why I’m here — to feed that yearning and to constantly vocalize,” Jequinto said. “And every day can just really suck, [but] not in a hopeless way. And it can give me more strength, but what has been my experience [with racism and homophobia]? Every fucking day. Every fucking day. It really doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing — it’s every day.”