reading and writing the poetry and stories of our people and places

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Queer Coming Together

tired from bending over

row after row of the fields

black eagle drops his hoe

finds a cantina

orders a cold one

bartender slides it down

black eagle catches a look

just enough to make him

cough into his hand and smell

he smoothes his feathers back

pats his pompadour

lifts out his collar’s wrinkles

taps his beak

thumbs his cheek


pink triangle has seen it all

in the mirror

next to the register

with her back to him

she quickly smiles wide

looks for leftover lunch

she pulls out her lipstick

pats a quick coat

onto each half of the open pucker

licks her middle finger

slicks down the pelitos

halo-ing her forehead

cups her perfect breasts

pushes them up

undoes one more button

so where you from?

he finally inquires


right here, right here?

yeah, down the street


i’m from here too

Where here?

los filles

they take in the other’s information

as if they didn’t already know

wanna get some dinner?

i’m working

i know

i meant after

it’ll be late

i know

you close by?


and you?

you don’t have to get back to los filles?

ain’t they gonna miss you?

i brought them with me

he pulls out a handkerchief

from his jacket

opens it

the brown-brown dirt

fades into the bartop

she laughs

me permite?


she puts her first finger in the dirt

brings it to her mouth

and opens

he reaches for her wrist

and guides her to him

he pulls her closer

until he feels her hardness

on his leg

just as his hardness is on her leg

she starts to jerk free

he holds her

she looks at him


he reaches

for his car keys

let’s get outta here

i’m already there

I designed and cut this papel picado. This image came to me years ago. I have felt drawn to the UFW eagle since I first saw and learned about it and the United FarmWorkers' union as a kid.

In my early years of coming out, the pink triangle became very popular. I wore a hat with a pink triangle for days at a time. I respect folks' resurrecting the symbol from Nazi hands, but the pink triangle didn't grab me the way the eagle did.

About ten years ago during a workshop where we had to draw a symbol that meant something to us, I drew what had been simmering within: an eagle with a large triangle in its center. When I saw it, I felt comforted like I had found something I had been searching for. I wanted to do something with it. Honestly, I hoped someone else would do something with it since I don't draw or paint. I knew I should throw away this piece of paper along with thousands of other "notes" that I have yet to do anything with. I didn't. I set the image aside.

The UFW's eagle symbolizes raza for so many of us. (I know that UFW members have not been and are not only raza. Also, just like any union, organization, or group, they're not perfect, but I'm not trying to address those issues here.) I wanted to claim the eagle, but I felt I had no right cuz of my queerness. I do not intend to indict the UFW for homophobia. I am trying to point out that the UFW eagle means raza and that attracted me; and some of our raza are homophobic and blame "tradition" or "traditional" aspects, such as the UFW, and that repulsed me.

Earlier this summer, I took a class with Catalina Delgado Trunk, una gran maestra de papel picado. Catalina explained that due to structural reasons, I could not keep the one large triangle. I traded it for six smaller ones. With Catalina's help, I was able to manifest my dream image. Now, it's not the UFW eagle; it's not the Nazi pink triangle. It's something new from the old.

I wanted to write a poem to go with my papel picado. I wanted to write about two forces coming together. As I started writing, I was writing "he" and "she." It didn't feel queer to me. Then I thought, maybe this is a butch-femme dyke couple. But that didn't feel quite right. Then I realized that these characters are a tranny and her man. They go together like peanut butter and chocolate, like eagle and triangle. Now, I want to write about the fruit of the two forces together not the separate forces.

Earlier, I accidentally typed "heart" instead of "triangle." I thought it was a mistake; I don't anymore.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Spanish, Hispanics, Xicanas, Cholas, and Marketing

Yesterday was my third visit to the Traditional Spanish Market, sponsored by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society for 58 years, in Santa Fe. Spanish Market as described to me before my first visit: when the Natives who are usually sitting beneath the portales selling their jewelry and other goods are gone.

Separate from Traditional Spanish Market but held on the same day and in the same place is Contemporary Hispanic Market. In August, Natives will reclaim the entire plaza for the 88th Indian Market.

I've gone to Santa Fe for Spanish, Hispanic, and Indian Markets, Fiesta, Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, and when my family and friends have visited. I know there's a San Francisco Street. I hear that the Five & Dime has the best frito pies in Santa Fe. I know Santa Fe even less than I know Albuquerque which means I don't know Santa Fe.

Yesterday, driving toward the plaza, I saw a large Virgen de Guadalupe statue. Of my 10ish visits over two years, I had never noticed her. I wanted to stop and take her foto in front of her church, but I knew we should get to the plaza. Geen had work to do. We drove around looking for parking--free or as close to the plaza as possible. Finally, we paid an industrious boy five bucks to park at a medical office.

We walked to the plaza. I had plenty of cash for snacks or to buy a piece of art just in case I found something I liked and it fit my budget. I would have bet all my money on a Navajo taco or maybe a sopaipilla. And lost.

Ten minutes into the Contemporary Hispanic section, her light brown eyes caught mine. Her black hair and tank top with the white trim matching her frame pulled me in further. The rose tattoo? Fuhgetabouddit! I left Gina and went into the booth. I saw her whole familia hanging on the wall with her. I saw her sister had a tag identifying her, La Guapa.

Nodding to la hermana, I asked their creator Carolyn Flores, "If her name is La Guapa," pointing to my mujer, "what's her name?"

"Mama Chola," me dijo.

Ohhh! I started mentally counting the cash in my wallet. I stepped aside so Geen who was now inside could see her too.

"How much...?" I semi-dared.

Carolyn told me: More than I had in cash. More than I wanted to spend on art or much else. But, damn, that Mama Chola! She looked good!

"Do you have any cards or prints of her?" I asked Carolyn, thinking I could do what I usually did with art pieces I liked.

"No, I haven't made any yet."

Maybe I could be reasonable and save my money and get her or one like her later.

"Do you have others like her?"


"I just got here. I can't buy a painting...now," I turned and pleaded with Geen.

"You can walk around and think about it. Come back later if you want," she suggested.

"Yeah, yeah. Good idea," feeling calmer.

"I'll be back," I told Carolyn as I picked up one of her business cards

I looked at my Mama Chola one more time and left feeling strong and in control. I kept asking myself, What was I thinking? I kept telling myself, You can't afford a painting. I should be buying books. I should be home writing not here shopping. Then I started imagining going back to the booth and her being gone. Could I handle that? How could I?! She's mine.

Geen saw my pain.

"If you can't imagine not having her-"

"Let's go back," I said as I turned around. I wanted to run, but I knew that was too much. Mama Chola wouldn't want me to run after her. Besides, it was too hot.

There she was. And without a SOLD tag on her. I asked Carolyn about la chola.

"I thought a chola should be at Spanish Market."

Truth is, if I were to see Mama Chola in real life, I'd turn the other way. I know she'd see my wannabe self and not "wannabe" nothing to do with me. I'd be lucky to get her friendship out of pity.

Maybe she'd be related to me. If she were, she'd be my sister's teen self and if she were, she'd hit me or want to which feels the same.

Mama Chola could be one of my students--former, current, or future. I wouldn't turn away. And if she turned away, I'd help her look back.

So, I'm glad that I have her the way I do. Holding up the wall. My wall.

Find Mama Chola's familia at http://floresoriginals.blogspot.com/

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Murders Happen Here, There, and Everywhere

Yesterday, I picked up one of the local, free papers and read, "The Politics of Pronouns" subtitled (subheaded?) "News coverage of murders unsettling for some in the transgender community." Teri Benally's murder is tragic and reading about the coverage is unsettling. According to the article, the local daily, The Albuquerque Journal, and two TV stations, KOB and KRQE, screwed up. I write screwed up meaning they weren't thinking or they're not conscious. Bad either way. They used "cross-dresser" or "murdered man dressed as a a woman" to refer to Teri Benally. The article informed me that there had been another murder of a transgendered woman here in Albuquerque in June. Both victims were Navajo.

I hadn't heard about either murder before I left for or while I was in Taos. I wanted to know what happened to lead up to the murders and why. I looked in the article for the date of Benally's murder or when it had first appeared in the media and the same for Kelly Watson. I didn't find that information anywhere.

I thought of another murder of a trans woman. Less than six months after moving here, I read about Albuquerque's first murder of 2008. The loss of Patricia Murphy's life was horrible and The Albuquerque Tribune article was not much better. The headline was “First Albuquerque homicide of 2008 marked by gender confusion.” (I don't have a copy of the Trib article. I refer to a letter to the editor that I wrote at the time and some online info that I found.) I didn't understand who was confused. The victim? The murderer? The reporter? Editor?

I did learn many things from that article, including Dana Madsen shot Patricia Murphy and then Madesn called the police and claimed responsibility. I wondererd why the headline wasn't, “Murderer Confesses”? Isn’t one of journalism’s aims to be concise? Or, “Murderer Kills Then Calls Cops”? Some murders remain unsolved for years, but this one was done and over with. Isn’t it news to share and soon when the ones who commit the crimes get caught or, in this case, turn themselves in?

Gender confusion. Who was confused? Who was trying to confuse? Does confusion matter in this case? One human being kills another human being. That’s murder. No confusion, right?

Besides the fact that Madsen took Murphy's life, what disturbed me about this headline and article was the implication that Madsen was justified to kill because of his confusion, gender confusion, his confusion at Murphy's gender. Murphy was known in the local drag community.

The article says that Madsen thought Murphy had a knife so he shot her.

Neither the reporter nor the editor killed. They only wrote the article and / or the headline. I was concerned because I feared that another person might kill or beat up or brutalize another person and blame “gender confusion.” Watson and Benally were killed. We're still dealing with murderer's hatred and media's--at best--ignorance .

Then there are the allegations or facts that Benally and Watson arranged to meet people online. Or were prostitutes. Which reminds me of the women whose bodies were found on the West Mesa. Many of the women were rumored or known to be drug users and/or prostitutes. Almost all of them were Colored--Native, Xicana, and Black.

I remember Gwen Araujo from back home--okay, Newark not SF but close. I helped arrange for her mother to speak to high school students at two different schools two different years. I can see Araujo's beautifully made up face from newspapers large and small. I remember Brandon Teena. I saw "Boys Don't Cry" and I cried. I remember Matthew Shepard. I atill read about productions of The Laramie Project happening all over this country. There was a production during one of Araujo's defendants' trials. And I remember FC Martinez. I heard her mother speak on Native America Calling a few weeks ago. I was going to the post office. I didn't hear the entire interview. That was the first media attention that I'm conscious of. I know that I must have heard of her death from the media--probably the gay media--because I don't know anyone who knew her.

I remember other women known or thought to be prostitutes who have been killed. Remember those women in Chechnya. From Arizona Daily Star, March 1, 2009

“The bullnecked president of Chechnya emerged from afternoon prayers at the mosque and with chilling composure explained why seven young women who had been shot in the head deserved to die.

Ramzan Kadyran said the women, whose bodies were found dumped by the roadside, had ‘loose morals’ and were rightfully shot by male relatives in honor killings…

Kadyrov describes women as the property of their husbands and says their main role is to bear children. He encourages men to take more than one wife, even though polygamy is illegal in Russia. Women and girls are now required to wear head scarves in all schools, universities, and government offices…

He said the women were planning to go abroad to work as prostitutes, but their relatives found out about it and killed them.”

Trans. Prostitute. Colored. Queer. Woman. I could go on, but I'll stop for now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I lost my voice.

I was in Taos for a week for the Summer Writers' Conference and all was fine. I spent most days alone in my room trying to write. I really did write some. I edited old pieces and typed up new pieces. I thought about reading my "I Do Not Speak For the Voiceless" poem when I was scheduled to read on Tuesday at lunch. I started forming ideas about next steps with different poems and stories.

Tuesday afternoon (or, "Tue-oo-oo-oos-day Af-f-f-f-ternoo-oo-oo-oon" like the Moody Blues sing), my workshop instructor took us to the plaza. She told us that this is where they--Spaniards--hung four Pueblo men for their part in the Pueblo Revolt. She pointed out the larger than life statue of Padre Martinez. She gave us a writing assignment and we scattered. I found a bench, sat down, and wrote.

3:12 pm at Taos Plaza (I always start my journal entries with the time and place if it is not home.)

Line: "Something happened here..."

This is where some of the Pueblo revolters were hanged. In the plaza. P-l-a-z-a. Spanish word. What can I say that has not been said?...

There's a statue of Padre Martinez here too. I just read his plaque. I didn't know he supported New Mexico being annexed by the U.S. His name headed the petition saying so.

Behind his statue are "Taos Summer of Love" banners attached to lamp posts.

(This woman came and sat down on the bench with me. She asked, Are you a part of a writing group? I said yes. She said, Oh, I was wondering why people were writing. Then her cell phone rang. She answered. Nada. Nother call. She answered and talked. Then she called someone. Finally, she got up and walked away.)

4 men were hung here
12 women were killed here

This line, "Something happened here," reminds me of R.

I feel short of breath.

After that woman, one of the two maintenance workers I noticed when I first arrived talks to me. This is what I later wrote.


my white teacher brings

our mostly white class

to taos plaza

i see the two brown maintenance men

the two white maintenance trucks

taos 1934

painted on cab doors

summer of love anniversary

has brought mostly white

love children of all ages

in their rainbow tie dyes

but these raza

they water flowers

and pull weeds

bend over

in the unshaded parts

of the plaza

in this 7,000 foot high

global warming heat

i can’t help but watch mi gente

while i stare at padre martínez

remember los pueblos for their revolution

write una poema

de mi barrio

mil millas de aquí

the one closer to me asks,

are you with a class?

yes. are you from here?

yes, my family’s been here since…are you Spanish?


(i quickly add)


When I tell Gina, I say, I knew he meant raza. We laugh at me and my brown Spanish ass. Right at the point of my life when I'm getting in touch with my Afro Mex roots, I answer yes to being Spanish. Twenty-five years ago I went to that village in Spain smaller than Taos. Arellano. A plane, a train, a bus, and a cab ride away. And 500 years. And I still feel every inch and second of the distance.

The conference was good. I've been writing about my homeland, San Francisco's Mission District, for years, but I felt I needed something...extra...a kick in the pants...so I signed up for a workshop focused on place. The workshop instructor was better than I expected. I like how she respected her adopted land and the people there and some of their history. She sounded more like a resident-owner than a possessor.

When I was set to leave eight days later, my throat felt sore. Yesterday, I got an email that a woman in Santa Fe might interview me on the radio. She asked if Tuesday or Wednesday was better. I said Tuesday--the sooner the better. I drank tea and sucked on lozenges and zinc tablets. This morning, I wasn't 100%, but I thought, I can do this. Walking to the front door, my cell phone vibrated off the table. I picked it up. It was her. She told me that she had other guests if I wasn't feeling well. I took the out.

Now, I've started this. Why? So many reasons. For today, just because I want to have a conversation without my throat hurting. Also, I hope that this thing will serve as an electronic journal, help me with my writing, let me try ideas out, keep in touch with folks, and, mostly, connect with others about people and places.

Please share your thoughts, comments, or suggestions about anything I've written or your own places or people. Let's see where this goes. Let's see where we go. I'm more scratchy than voiceless. Y tu?

Time to put more hot water for tea on.

(This foto was taken at Arroyo Seco near Taos.)