Identity is more than a list of categories that name our sexuality, gender, HIV status, nation, age, ethnicity, ability, class, language, citizenship status, and religion. Even if we expand the list to include all the other significant features of ourselves, what do these attributes actually explain about our lives? What aspects of identity exceed the categories we have created to define our places in the world? How do memories of desire and violence mark us in ways that are similar and different from the ways we have been marked by color and gender? How do street corners and kitchen tables, friends and lovers, lullabies and taunts, private violations and public betrayals leave traces on our lives? How do the many moments of our daily existence determine how we view ourselves and the world around us? – Juana María Rodríguez, Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces
Even before reading Rodríguez’s part on Afro-Latin@s in this chapter, this paragraph hit straight home for me. Rodríguez urges us, the reader, to critically think and analyze things, ideas, concepts, in ways that we may or may not have considered before. She really expects a whole lot from her reader, which is refreshing because I certainly do not just want to be talked to. Identity is constructed, deconstructed, reconstructed, recycled and upcyclyed; I’m just glad that I am reading someone who not only realizes, but understands that this is the case.
Identity is a very tricky subject to talk about. What counts as a part of your identity? For me, dominicana, nuyoquina, Afro-Latina, woman, U.S. American (because saying that the nationality of a U.S. born citizen is American makes no historical sense. Before the United States hijacked the term “american,” it meant a citizen of the Americas, aka the New World. In fact, Simon Bolivar (aka the George Washington of Latin America – dude was responsible for the independence of 5 Latin American countries in the 1820’s – Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivía, Peru, Ecuador) in many of his documents, including his famous Letter from Jamaica, speaks of the unification of Americans, and he was not referring to the unification of U.S. Americans, rather to the Americans that formed a part of the Americas. Unfortunately, there is no word in the English language for a person from the United States except for American. Some people like to use the word USer (person from the US; also, user =D. Rodríguez would love this). However, in Spanish, there is such a word, estadounidense. Yes, a mini rant, but I would argue, useful food for thought.) are all things that pop into my head. These things are not separate entities, but different aspects of my being that work together and complicate and restructure each other everyday. I am Latina, but I am also a black woman, who was born to Dominican parents in the Bronx who is now at an elite private liberal arts institution. These are all parts of me, all aspects of me that I must learn to navigate and understand in order to understand my identity.
Rodríguez’s section of Afro-Latinidad emphasized something crucial: “‘Queer’ is not simply an umbrella term that encompasses lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, two-spirited people and transsexuals; it is a challenge to constructions of heteronormativity.” (24) By defining queerness and queer identity in such a way, I find another name for what I am in the mainstream Latin@ canon: queer. I am the missing, the silenced, the ignored and rejected, and that’s fine. I don’t need to be fully accepted or understood, I don’t even need to be liked, I just need to be respected. I just need it to be known that I am, and that’s it, the end. And while Rodríguez advocates for her reader to think outside of theories and paradigms, she acknowledges that even her own work is being hindered by theories and paradigms. She too is queer, not only within the mainstream Latin@ culture which she problematizes, but also within academia.
Academia works to be Rodríguez’s biggest silencer; while she yearns for freedom to do and say as she pleases, she knows she cannot and that there is a limit. The realization of such a thing makes the cage that surrounds her more visible and apparent to the reader. However, Rodríguez, like many other bodies, exercises agency within her entrapment and, in her case, produces radical and revolutionary academic work. The production of her work = queerness. My interpretation of her work = queerness. In fact, within Divas, Atrevidas y Entretenidas, Rodríguez makes all the more apparent that anything against the Self is queer. The Latin@ is queer next to Anglo-American, the latina is queer next to the latino, homosexuality is queer next to heterosexuality, etc. This is the most important thing to take with you from Rodríguez. Her examples of activism, law and cyberspace are vehicles through which she could further her initial, most basic and most necessary conclusion: queerness does not only address gay/lesbian/trans/anything not straight bodies, but also all of the silenced bodies that do not form a part of the dominant culture. When you think about it this way, a large majority of us are queer. Who would have known?