Printer Friendly

Del otro la'o: Boricuir Praxis from Mayaguez An Interview with Lissette Rolon Collazo and Beatriz Llenin Figueroa.


The biennial conference on queer sexualities ?Del otro la'o?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer, celebrated at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPRM), has been at the cutting edge of queer intellectuality, activism and creative work in Puerto Rico since 2006. As an interdisciplinary and international endeavor that has convened thousands of scholars, researchers, educators, students, activists, policymakers, public officials, artists, community organizers and non-profit organizations from Puerto Rico and abroad for over a decade, the Coloquio ?Del otro la'o? has become a benchmark for contemporary debates on queer sexualities, politics and praxis in the region. The Coloquio's Proceedings (Actas), published regularly after each of the first six colloquia, stand as testimony of the conference's scope, impact and contributions to queer Puerto Rican studies and lives in the first decades of the twenty-first century, as well as of the importance of pluralizing the voices and transforming the spaces that nurture Boricuir praxis, thinking and activism.

The Coloquio ?Del otro la'o? arose from the suggestion of an undergraduate student to Lissette Rolon Collazo in 2005, then chair of the Department of Humanities at UPRM, and was inspired by a workshop on "coming-out strategies" organized for the V Coloquio nacional sobre las mujeres (V National Colloquium on Women), which is held biennially in different university campuses across the Puerto Rican archipelago. The first Coloquio ?Del otro la'o? took place in 2006, with the subtitle "Perspectivas sobre sexualidades diversas" (Perspectives on Diverse Sexualities).1 Thereafter, every two years, a collaborative team of a dozen or more academics and activists have organized all aspects of the events, from the call for proposals to its coordination at UPRM.2

Over the years, the Coloquio has set the standard in the University both for its consistently large attendance and for its committed and active inclusion of academic and extra-academic communities from Puerto Rico and abroad. As Beatriz Llenin Figueroa notes below: "By uniting diverse thinkers, writers, artists, activists, community leaders, students, professors, staff, curious visitors and bystanders, among others, for an intense period of collective reflection and transformative dialogue in a unique and safe space and time, the Coloquio has become a micro-laboratory for the experimental practice of a free, plural and open society that a participatory democracy promises."

In this interview with Rolon Collazo and Llenin Figueroa--two of the founders and driving forces behind this radical and resolute exercise in queer praxis--we invite readers to partake in a dialogue about the vision, history, accomplishments, challenges and future of the Coloquio ?Del otro la'o? as a space for scholarly, cultural and political collaborations and transformations. We also explore current issues on the queer Puerto Rican agenda--and the meaning of the term "boricuir"--with two intellectuals at the forefront of queer thinking/action in the western coast of Puerto Rico's main island. The interview was conducted as a written interchange over several months in 2017 during the UPR student strike and before and after Hurricane Maria, before the seventh Coloquio held in March 2018. Even though the exchanges between the authors and the narrators were conducted in both English and Spanish, for the sake of readability, Spanish segments have been rendered into English in the final version of the text.

Christopher Powers (CP): In the 2005-2006 academic year, when the first Coloquio ?Del otro la'o? was planned at UPRM, the institutional culture at the University and the national debates regarding "diverse sexualities" in Puerto Rico were not what they are today. How would you describe the institutional, cultural and political climate that gave rise to the first Coloquio? What were the silences, struggles and commitments that fueled this pioneer endeavor in western Puerto Rico?

Lissette Rolon Collazo (LRC): Silence, the closet and ignorance are the words that best encapsulate the cultural climate in Puerto Rico, especially in Mayaguez, before the Coloquio in 2006. Despite the fact that an official policy of the Board of Trustees of the University of Puerto Rico adopted in February 2005 represented a certain gain at an institutional level for all UPR campuses, it was not at all radical and, from today's perspective, constituted an equivocal victory insofar as it was limited to the addition of "sexual preference" to the UPR's antidiscrimination policy. (3) In daily life, in everyday practices and attitudes, it was, for all intents and purposes, a dead letter at UPRM. To talk about, debate or visualize queer issues on campus seemed impossible at the time. Nevertheless, at the collective level, public debate about the human rights of queer subjectivities and communities was gaining strength. Consequently, the Coloquio inserted itself into an arena that took up an older tradition of struggle for greater recognition in the judicial sphere; greater protections in terms of health and social services, access to education and other rights; and, above all, greater guarantees of dignity in daily life. The agenda of the first Coloquio focused on: 1) elaborating queer debates from a multi- and trans-disciplinary perspective; 2) establishing alliances and integrating community-based initiatives into the educational processes at the University with multiple knowledges from outside of the academy; and, 3) articulating proposals for public policy both at the level of the UPR and of the country in general to comprehensively represent and defend the particular claims of queer communities.

Beatriz Llenin Figueroa (BLF): What is patently clear to me today is that when we started this project--in my case, as a senior undergraduate student at UPRM--everything about queer subjectivities and experiences, about queer lives, seemed to be cast in melodrama. At the time, the term "queer" itself was used almost exclusively in academic circles in Puerto Rico, and the metaphors that enveloped it revolved around clandestine versus official lives, double-entendres, prisons, enclosures and various forms of victimhood.

In many ways, I feel the public discourse in Puerto Rico was cyphered, too, in melodrama. "Hush-hush"--when not overt violence--was the generalized response to a statement about someone being pata or pato.4 I certainly remember living in constant panic, which started with my own fear of myself. The silence was so overwhelming that the condition of exclusion started from the very horizon of possible existence: we all know what happens with something that is not--cannot be--named. This was the case in my immediate context at school, at home, and then at the university and the country as a whole. Of course, if one overcame one's panic, many references and support could be found in the critical work of queer intellectuals and people and projects working toward queer justice, both in the university and beyond, at least for half a century. But one would also learn from their testimonies the steep price they had to pay for naming and defending the world's diversity. So, you had to have the resources--financial, physical, emotional--to dig, and then, to deal with what you found ...

Jocelyn Geliga Vargas (JGV): What challenges did you face in the organization of the first Coloquio ?Del otro la'o? at UPRM specifically? How were these challenges confronted before, during and after this pioneer event at UPRM?

LRC: The main challenges were a result, precisely, of the silences, of the closet and of blatant institutional ignorance. The first reaction to the Coloquio proposal that the university leadership at the time articulated was framed as a terse question: "Is this an appropriate topic for the university?" There had been significant precedents at UPRM. A few courses on queer themes--many of which could be taught only through the rubric of a "special topics" course in the absence (which is still the case today) of a curriculum with a transversal gender and queer perspective--had been offered at UPRM. Students and faculty had courageously established formal or informal organizations, such as the 1990s PRISMA, founded by Angela Figueroa Sorrentini and two other colleagues. But almost ten years later, when we started the efforts that would eventually become the Coloquio, these isolated initiatives has either ended with a bang or been shut down in response to institutional persecution. So, in 2005, the first challenge was to break the silence about issues that had been systematically negated and remained unacknowledged in deeply ingrained institutional practices of discrimination. Material challenges came in second because we had to struggle for institutional support. And the third main challenge was the internal fear shared by all of us who brought the idea to fruition. For me, it meant an abrupt coming-out of the closet to university authorities right at the time when I was occupying the position of Chair of the Department of Humanities. It included being exposed within the orbit of the university and in the rest of the country. Given the novelty of the event at the time, there was significant media coverage by the national press, such as El Nuevo Dia and Primera Hora, as well as the regional television stations. That was, for me, a catapult into an unprecedented level of visibility, with all the implied costs and benefits that, for better or worse, this entailed in a profoundly homophobic context.

BLF: I recall that the Organizing Committee debated arduously about the name of the Coloquio and the events to host by invitation. We quarreled, especially, about whether to invite speakers from the religious and political right and pondered the possible effects of such an invitation--i.e., the potential fundamentalist takeover of the Coloquio. Within our very diverse group of students and faculty, some of whom were coming together for the first time, many of us felt an immense pressure "to get it right," precisely because of the overwhelming responsibility of claiming an unprecedented visible and public space for queer lives and concerns at UPRM, which has traditionally embraced very conservative ideological stances and complacently engendered a similar atmosphere on campus.

The Coloquio was the first of its kind, composition and scope to be held at the only state university in Puerto Rico. Moreover, it came to be and has remained at the Mayaguez campus, in western Puerto Rico, which constitutes a subaltern region with respect to the metropolitan area around the capital. The Mayaguez campus is associated primarily with engineering and natural sciences, disciplines that have not demonstrated consistent interest in queer studies in the UPR. Thus, our claiming of a public space simultaneously meant a sudden visibility for many of us not only at the university, but also within our families and circles of friends. Discrimination, an extremely perverse phenomenon, creates the conditions for people to assume one is queer--whether or not that corresponds to one's own process of (dis)identification--if one is organizing or participating in an event that has queer in its title, something which does not happen with events on a range of other topics. So, regardless of one's own subject-position, partaking on the organization of the event in 2006 meant becoming public, "coming out of the closet," at the radical expense of others' perceptions, with all the effects of such a situation and in the context of each person's own degree of social and familial vulnerability.

To confront these more intimate challenges--which added a layer of conflict to the institutional ones that Lissette mentioned--each of us deployed our own strategies. In my case, I learned quickly that there is nothing you can or cannot do that will satisfy an atmosphere that is always already against your very existence and modes of loving and desiring. Thus, I threw myself into the process with my own ethical compass.

Recurrent anecdotes I've heard repeatedly in Puerto Rico aptly illustrate my point. They all revolve around the exigency to behave in a certain way, talk in a certain way, closet yourself in a certain way, because you must think first about the suffering you cause to those who love you, especially your parents. The variation on the anecdote is the "supportive" parent who advises you to closet your queerness in order to avoid the pain and suffering that others will inflict on you. My conviction was then, and still is today, that these are just ways to mask people's (parents included) own struggles with prejudice and discrimination. A supportive parent must protect the child's subjectivity--in all its forms--from violence, rather than protect himself or herself from the perceived "shame" the child will bring to the family. If "avoiding the child's pain" were truly the objective, then parents would equally demand that their child "hide" from being female or black in an utterly misogynistic and racist culture! Imagine that.

In a university and country where many of the social indices of representativity, respect and justice toward gender and sexual diversity are very poor, the Coloquio organizers opened in 2006 an unprecedented space for the queer community of our archipelago and other countries.

CP: At what point did the organizers decide to serialize the Coloquio at UPRM? What were the needs, absences and/or commitments that impelled the organizers to give continuity to the 2006 initiative?

LRC: Immediately. Puerto Rico, like so many corners of the planet, owes so much to the diversities that make the life of the species possible. No number of colloquia will ever rectify the centuries of injustice that the colonial-capitalist-patriarchal system spews at dizzying speed, and on which it is built on to endure. More specifically, we knew sociopolitical work was/is sorely needed in Puerto Rico for subjectivities and experiences beyond the gay-lesbian binary, which dominated the first Coloquio. Moreover, we knew, and the first Coloquio eloquently ratified that knowledge, that our country urgently needs to engage in discussions about the multiple intersections of oppression and injustice, especially the intersections between homophobia and colonialism, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. We have been trying to address all of these topics in subsequent years of the event.

We also knew that the endurance of the project, its chances of becoming a much-needed national referent on queer debates, activism and affirmation that people in Puerto Rico and abroad could look forward to, was crucial in order to achieve a substantial cumulative effect. So, after the success of the first Coloquio in 2006, it was clear to the Coordinating Committee that the Coloquio had carved an important space for interventions desde el otro la'o, from the other side, an apt metaphor considering not only its queer focus but also the fact that it is based on the west coast of Puerto Rico and thus, as Beatriz mentioned, decenters the focus on San Juan and the metropolitan area as the central sites of boricuir political praxis.

We have developed a methodology to set the pace of the Coloquio's relevance and continuity. As an evolving collective, the organizers evaluate and reflect upon each of the biennial gatherings, counting with the input solicited from participants in the open forums that constitute the closing event of each Coloquio. In light of this process, we have gradually diversified the codes, signs and metaphors that guide our project and have engaged in a discussion of queer subjectivities and experiences within other parameters that are not reduced to "the closet" and other forms of extreme violence and silencing. The last two colloquia, for example, were dedicated to the themes of "Race and Queerness" (2014) and "Queer Caribbeans" (2016), respectively. The seventh Coloquio (2018) will be dedicated to trans and inter lives.

JGV: Considering the trajectory of Gay and Lesbian and Queer Studies over the last two decades, as well as the evolution of Queer Puerto Rican Studies and activism during this period, what led the Coloquio organizers to change the conference's suffix from a focus on "diverse sexualities" to a focus on "queer sexualities"? What does this nominal shift imply for the scholarly, cultural and political agendas of the Coloquio ?Del otro la'o? as an ongoing project?

LRC: The Coordinating Committee of the 2006 Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades diversas was not entirely satisfied with this title. It was a compromise, a result of heavy negotiations. "Diverse sexualities" seemed at the time to encompass most of the arguments presented by the Coordinating Committee and in the public discussion that some members initiated online. The eventual name change was the result, once again, of very productive discussions within the Committee that led to the agreement that the appellative queer was, within and beyond Puerto Rico: (1) more recognizable and politically committed, and, (2) a way of inserting the Coloquio in a context of appropriation and affirmation of concepts originally used as forms of discrimination, so as to eliminate their violent effects (the same effort had proved very successful for us with the phrase "del otro la'o" in Spanish).

Our terms of reference keep evolving in tandem with the debates and causes that concern and mobilize us. For the seventh Coloquio in 2018, we have already decided to use "cuir" rather than "queer" to insert ourselves in the discussions over the last few years, especially in Latin America (Valencia 2015, Vitieri and Lavinas Picq 2016, among others), concerning the need to revert the coloniality of knowledge stemming from United States' imperialism, which the use of "queer" in Puerto Rico, a primarily Spanish-speaking country and a colony of the United States, attests to.

CP: In your scholarship and writing, however, you have been recently using the term "boricuir." How do you define it?

LRC: A privileged perspective from the liminal, from the unstable border of the Boricua occupying the Caribbean archipelago and other islands and spaces (like Manhattan, the Bronx, and the Barrio, among other peripheries), with a foreign passport and without a nationality recognized in international forums. Boricuir is an essential impossibility, forged and celebrated in daily acts like abject sexualities, without necessarily determining the characteristics of identity according to the usual conventions of our beleaguered modernity. The boricuir is necessarily hybrid, fugitive, borderland, weird, queer and implies all of the strangeness that emanates from the Boricua experience of our Caribglobal (a concept coined by Rosamond S. King, one of our keynote speakers in the VI Coloquio), with an emphasis on rebel bodies and desires.

The root of the concept boricuir affirms the resistance of the Boricua, under constant imperial siege, as a strategy translatable to the bodies and the desires that embrace queerness. The suffix cuir changes the graph queer of the north to decolonize, at a glance, our impossible bodies, desires and passions. At the same time, it upsets the other colonization--Hispanic--bending its own word with transgressive opacity. JGV: The last Coloquio in 2016 registered a record number of presenters and participants and was co-hosted by the Universidad de Huelva in Spain. In light of the Coloquio's evident growth and success over the past decade, what do you regard as its central contribution to Puerto Rican cuir studies and activism? To what extent has the Coloquio inserted itself in transnational and transdisciplinary debates regarding cuir knowledge production, activism and cultural interventions during this period? BLF: With each Coloquio the Coordinating Committee has adopted various strategies for subverting the divisions between academy, activism and society. In the first place, it has always included themes and issues "proper" to the academic, activist, artistic and sociocultural fields in the call for papers of the events. At the same time, as the programs of each year of the Coloquio attest to, the Coordinating Committee has created special sessions by invitation to ensure the integration and dialogue between diverse perspectives. The same objective has guided the decisions about keynote speakers, who, during the first five colloquia, were recognized activists, academics and artists such as Olga Orraca Paredes, Johanna Emmanuelli Huertas, Jose (Joe) Toro-Alfonso, Pedro Julio Serrano, Osvaldo Burgos, Angela Figueroa Sorrentini, Gloria Careaga, Ana Irma Rivera Lassen, Juan Carlos Jorge and Salvador Vidal-Ortiz. The sixth Coloquio in March, 2016, was characterized by the novelty of a thematic axis--Queer Caribbeans--that granted it a particular geopolitical and affective orientation. The keynote speakers were renowned Caribbean intellectuals and activists Rosamond S. King, Lawrence (Larry) La Fountain-Stokes and Jorge (Yoryie) Irizarry. A fourth keynote speaker, Jose Antonio Rodriguez Mena, delivered his speech via digital teleconference from the University of Huelva.

Additionally, all of the colloquia have designed spaces and provided resources to community organizations to disseminate their work and to local, regional, national and international artists to present their work in a variety of modalities. The colloquia have included diverse activities: roundtables, panels, performances, poetry readings, film screenings and discussions, open conversations and workshops, among others. In spite of the limitations and challenges we have faced, these strategies have assured, aside from the integration of various spheres of debate and struggle, an ongoing dialogue on the objective shared by all: to eradicate all forms of discrimination and oppression on the grounds of people's desires, subjectivities, bodies, and loves.

Past conference events have included performances and workshops such as: "Emplumando: la literatura queer en Puerto Rico y el fenomeno de homoerotica como apropiacion del espacio heteronormativo literario" (Growing Feathers: Queer Literature in Puerto Rico and the Homoerotic Phenomenon as the Appropriation of Heteronormative Literary Space"); "La regla" (The Rule/r); "Conversaciones deSagradas" (Un/holy Conversations); "El activismo que heredamos ... discusion sobre el activismo desde la democracia participativa en las comunidades LGBTTIQ" (The Activism We Inherit: Discussions on Participatory Democracy Activism in LGBTTIQ Communities); "Putting Down the Master's Tools, Using our Words/Stories/Art to Queer Social Justice"; "?Consumidor del otro la'o?: perspectivas duales sobre el hombre gay como consumidor de bienes y servicios" (Consumers from the Other Side: Dual Perspectives on the Gay Man as a Consumer of Goods and Services); "Generos saludables y enfermos segun el manejo clinico de la diversidad sexual" (Healthy and Sick Genders According to the Clinical Management of Sexual Diversity); and "Escritura LGBTIQ" (LGBTIQ Writing), among many others.

Evidently over the past decade the Coloquio has actively fomented co-existence within diversity via deliberative discussions of diverse points of view from a multiplicity of methods, perspectives and disciplines; enriching and transformative dialogues; testimonial exchanges; and the continuous formulation and circulation of questions and answers that have the potential to change our lives from the point of view of art, grassroots community work, and diverse types of activism and intellectual activity emerging from local, regional, national and international actors engaged in cuir politics. By uniting diverse thinkers, writers, artists, activists, community leaders, students, professors, staff, curious visitors and bystanders, among others, for an intense period of collective reflection and transformative dialogue in a unique and safe space and time, the Coloquio has become a micro-laboratory for the experimental practice of a free, plural and open society that a participatory democracy promises.

LRC: We have also been working intensely in finding ways to increase and diversify international participation. The sixth Coloquio, as Beatriz mentioned, made a concerted effort to go beyond the Puerto Rican archipelago in order to articulate discussion, work and creation within the greater Caribbean archipelagoes and diasporas. But still, we were not overwhelmingly successful because of two challenges we have been facing since the beginning, and which are not our control: (1) the colonial status of Puerto Rico, which demands people to apply for U.S. visas and endure--many times futilely-the ensuing excruciating process; and (2) the steep costs of travel to our country.

Thus, we need more digital exchanges than we have had in the past, some of which have been difficult because of internet connections on site at UPRM or where people are connecting from. We have since decided to work with previously recorded interventions, and to have the person or persons online live only for the period of discussion and dialogue. For future colloquia, we are working towards the possibility of establishing an alternative site in Latin America. Conversations are under way with previous participants from Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico to explore potential collaborations in the near future.

JGV: Transgender issues have received much-merited attention in cuir debates in recent years. To what extent is this the case in Puerto Rico and in boricuir praxis? How has the Coloquio ?Del otro la'o? partaken in these discussions?

LRC: The debates over trans--in its amplest and most polysemic sense--have been gaining more visibility in the Coloquio with every event. The 2018 Coloquio will be dedicated to this thematic axis, encapsulated in the subtitle "Trans, Inter and Other Urgent Paths for Queer Becoming."

Trans and inter challenge the sexual binary and sexual univocity itself, call into question some of the theoretical premises of queer studies and some of the principal claims of queer activism. In the context of Puerto Rico, and especially of the struggles for the extension of rights, the trans community has been, indeed, the parting of the waters. The more radical sectors of boricuir activism have insisted in not giving into the request, iterated frequently, for the exclusion of trans diversities from juridical initiatives in process. The more moderate have been willing to postpone their demands in order to gain some level of legal protections. This tension has been debated in previous Coloquio editions. However, there is a loaded and urgent pending agenda regarding inter and trans issues. This is precisely the reason why the Coloquio organizing team has chosen to dedicate the 2018 event to these discussions.

There's no doubt that the broad and ample spectrum of trans has been a challenge to the gay and lesbian struggles from the very origins of activism in the twentieth century. The very nomenclature "queer" has had as one of its agendas the problematization of the heteronormative axis that the binary opposition perpetuates. This radicality to our practice of vindication has been gaining momentum in Puerto Rico but is still an unresolved issue. The seventh Coloquio in 2018 seeks to pave this route while also recognizing the protagonism of trans in the struggles for emancipation of all queer practices, desires and bodies--for example, that of Sylvia Rivera, an essential Puerto Rican trans activist in New York, very visible in the Stonewall Riots, as well as that of Cristina Hayworth, the organizer of the first pride parade in Puerto Rico. In recognition of this valuable journey, the Coloquio will be trans-formed, yet again, in 2018. We look forward to partake, collectively, in this urgent discussion. CP: This special issue of CENTRO Journal is titled "Revisiting Queer Puerto Rican Sexualities: Queer Futures, Reinventions, and Exclusions." In light of your critical insertion in contemporary queer Puerto Rican studies and activism, what are some of the exclusions that demand redressing in contemporary boricuir debates, organization and cultural and knowledge production?

LRC: One of the main exclusions of queer studies--more than queer activism-has been precisely intersexual and transsexual diversities. There are significant exceptions, but there are still too many unexplored areas, issues and stories that merit attention. Another exclusion in boricuir debates is the lack of attention to the differing intensities of homophobia in particular contexts in the Puerto Rican archipelago. To "revisit" queer Puerto Rican sexualities, queer futures, queer reinventions and queer exclusions demands that we re-visit the premises of our exploration. We must attend to, document, and discuss homophobia in context: how is it experienced and dealt with in different regions of our archipelago? How is it experienced in urban versus rural areas, in "la isla grande" versus the other islands of our archipelago?

The differences between environments of privilege--such as the university and the city--is another issue that deserves study, debate and action, even within the context of activism itself. The same can be said of other intersections with race, coloniality and class, to mention only the most urgent ones.

Thus, the future of boricuir studies and activism should radicalize and intensify the Anzalduan tradition of intersectionality--resistant praxis directed at overlapping and multiple forms of oppression--from a transdisciplinary perspective. Delving into these decolonizing knowledges should be a first step; breaking down the fallacies around the borders of activism and scholarship should be the second one. There are many activist knowledges that we have yet to integrate into critical "academic" debate and vice-versa. This opposition is patently fallacious in the boricuir context and should be, urgently and resolutely, challenged.

It is also imperative that we document our struggles, our successes and our failures as a dynamic movement in constant trans-formation. As Rosamond S. King argued in her keynote address in the sixth Coloquio, we will proceed down this path by nurturing our communities' boricuir historical archive and recognizing the multiple persons--the great majority of them anonymous--who have gone about forging these debates and these struggles, with our gaze fixed on our complete vindication. To conceive of ourselves today as part of this trajectory does not only mean to know ourselves to be in good company, but to celebrate and be thankful for all of those who have gone down these paths of liberation previously.

Moreover, urgent interventions are needed for the transformation of educational curricula across all levels, especially at the current juncture, in light of the violent and nefarious politics of the current local and U.S. governments. A transversal and systemic integration of the perspectiva de genero (an educational perspective attentive to gender) or, to use our terms, perspectiva cuir (an educational perspective attentive to queerness), to all disciplines and areas of study is still sorely needed to move beyond the fallacious idea that these are just "special interest," topics that pertain only to "certain sectors" of society.

JGV: How do you envision boricuir futures in twenty-first century Puerto Rico? What kinds of reinventions and/or reconfigurations do you deem necessary in order for boricuir communities and movements in Puerto Rico to stand against the austerity measures imposed by the colonial state amidst the current economic crisis and against the concurrent conservative reification of heteronormativity in civil society?

BLF: As if our long history of colonial, racist, patriarchal and homophobic assault and exploitation was not enough, we are living in the midst of a humanitarian and ecological crisis spewed by the toxic combination of history, neoliberal debt and pillaging, and the disastrous effects of Hurricane Maria and climatic change. The agenda for resistance is, therefore, immense and multi-faceted. But, if something seems undisputable historically, is that LGBTQ communities and movements in Puerto Rico have always been integrated in solidarity with movements for justice and equality in the country: for decolonization, for ecological, racial, and gender justice, among others. This commitment will have to continue in the current struggle to ensure a continuity of the country (and the UPR) for Puerto Ricans, and more specifically, for the most vulnerable at all levels, as opposed to the neoliberal-colonial project to turn the archipelago into a tax-haven, mega resort, for the mega rich. This panorama also demands that social movements from the very diverse Left in the country show the same degree of solidarity with queer communities, which has not always been the case. Inasmuch as the country and society we are fighting for condones any form of violent exclusion and injustice, it will be an accomplice to the centuries of colonialist, capitalist, patriarchal and homophobic exploitation.

Moreover, let's honor our terms and struggles: having a perspectiva de genero/ perspectiva cuir means understanding that poverty, social exclusion, austerity measures and climatic events will affect disproportionately more those communities that have already been systematically and historically depleted by patriarchy, homophobia, colonialism and capitalism. The same goes for communities living in rural areas. Scholarly and grassroots research presented at the Coloquios, and documented in their proceedings, have amply demonstrated this tendency.

CP: The visibilization of same-sex relationships through the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States and its extension to Puerto Rico is an obvious victory for equality. Nonetheless, this legal conquest signals both alliances and divisions for many members of the Puerto Rican LGBTTIQ communities. How might the decade-long trajectory of Del otro la'o collaborations and debates partake in and contribute to these debates?

LRC: Since before the legalization of marriage between persons of the same sex in Puerto Rico in 2015, the Coloquio has been a space to debate its conveniences, dangers, reach and limitations. Achieving this type of juridical protection exhausts the agenda of certain forms of activism, while it is wholly insufficient for others. At the same time, these steps of recognition are accompanied by the worsening of phobias and ultraconservative actions. This is where we stand now: we celebrate, circumspectly, this juridical decision but we are aware that it potentially exposes us to bigger challenges, more violence and greater social vulnerability. However, this "conservative revanchism" billows our hope that change is inevitable and that a society free of homophobias is closer than ever. We can also re-appropriate this "counter-reaction" to strengthen our struggles, radicalize our demands and enrich our networks of action and solidarity.

JGV: Both of you are professors of Comparative Literature at UPRM, accomplished scholars in the field and co-founders and editors of a Puerto Rican publishing venue, Editora Educacion Emergente. In light of these experiences, how would you characterize the current boricuir literary landscape?

BLF: Vibrant, diverse and dynamic. The boricuir cultural arena is more alive and the publishing resources, the congresses, the debates and the cultural production, more variegated than ever. The festivals are multiplying and the representations are diversifying. We are in the midst of a robust boricuir cultural panorama that is forging new spaces and forms for the study and support of the struggles under way. At the same time, the "fluid borders" have been dissolved, such that the interchanges, mestizajes and reappropriations in collaboration with our Caribglocal--especially with our diasporas--are in full effervescence. Here as well there is a luminous seed of our emancipated future.

The boricuir literary landscape--especially in poetry and the short story--is populated by such writers as Angel Lozada, Aixa Ardin, Alexandra Pagan Velez, Nemir Matos Cintron, Angel Antonio Ruiz Laboy, Moises Agosto, David Caleb Acevedo, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, Luis Negron, Mayda Colon, Gaddiel Ruiz Rivera and Abdiel Echevarria Caban. The landmark publication in this respect is the anthology Los otros cuerpos: antologia de tematica gay, lesbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diaspora and the landmark literary collective is HomoerOtica. In terms of publishing there is the series Cuir from Trabalis Editora and the series Queer.y from Editora Educacion Emergente. There is a conference on Queer Literature at the UPR Carolina already in its second installment.

Important intellectual literary work is also being carried out in re-readings of such canonical figures in the Puerto Rican literary tradition as Alejandro Tapia y Rivera and Rene Marques. The academic work in queer studies by Ruben Rios Avila, Arnaldo Cruz-Malave, Frances Negron-Muntaner and Larry La Fountain-Stoke s further enrich the blossoming of boricuir literature and scholarship, as does the crucial work done by faculty and students in precarious institutional conditions at the Programa de Estudios de la Mujer y Genero at the UPR Rio Piedras. The same vital urgency characterizes the work of many activist initiatives that are underway. These include, among many others, CABE (Comite Amplio para la Busqueda de la Equidad), CABE-Oeste (the west coast chapter, in which both of us participate) and the Colectiva Feminista en Construccion.

In addition to the vibrant and diverse literary production and the extremely visible activist work of multiple organizations over the last decade, there are also all sorts of performance art and independent theater and music interventions and collectives that have also contributed immensely to the necessary diversification of voices, discourses, bodies and representations in the public space. Prominent productions are those of Mickey Negron, Awilda Rodriguez Lora, Macha Colon y los Okapi, Alegria Rampante, Vueltabajo Colectivo, Kairiana Nunez Santaliz, Helen Ceballos, Kisha Tikina Burgos, Sylvia Bofill, Teresa Hernandez, Mima and the Espicy-Nipples collective. On the path opened by the landmark 1990s documentary Elyibiti (dir. Aixa Ardin), queer visibility in Puerto Rican cinema is also increasing exponentially. The Puerto Rico Queer Film Fest, an internationally renowned festival that we have been fortunate to welcome in several ?Del otro la'o? colloquia, has propelled this spectacular development. A significant array of short and feature films, as well as documentaries, attest to this. For instance, Mala Mala, Alex y Fabio ya no estan, Sam, Ser familia, and Extra Terrestres are just some of the films that have contributed to the thriving boricuir art scene.

In sum, boricuir art has been at the forefront of producing an urgently needed sense of opening, joy and possibility for queer lives and subjectivities. We sense that in 2018, the melodramatic metaphors are still meaningful, but we are much more exposed to their use for celebration, parody and the carnavalesque. The range of metaphors, at the same time, has exploded way beyond "the closet" and its related images of enclosure. Diversity as a precondition for the very continuity of life on the planet is an idea with much more currency than the notions of contra natura, which, to the beat of religious-social fundamentalisms, used to dominate public discussions. We sense our triumphs, certainly, but are painfully aware there is still a long way to go. Therefore, we are profoundly committed to continue contributing to the multifaceted struggle for boricuir liberation.


(1) The subtitle of the event changed for the seventh and subsequent Coloquios to "Perspectivas y debates sobre lo cuir" (Perspectives and Debates on Queerness).

(2) The proceedings of the first and second colloquia were published in print versions (Rios Torres 2007; Rolon Collazo 2009); copies are available for sale by writing to delotrolao@gmail. com. The proceedings of all subsequent colloquia (Rolon Collazo 2011; Llenin Figueroa 2013, 2015; Rolon Collazo 2017) are openly accessible on the Editora Educacion Emergente's website (<http: //>).

(3) This policy is based on the document titled Certificacion #58 of the Board of Trustees of the University of Puerto Rico, approved in February 2005 and available online at <https://www.>.

(4) Pata and pato are slang words used widely in Puerto Rico to refer to lesbians and gays in derogatory terms intended as homophobic insults or hate speech. However, as has happened with the term queer, the terms pata and pato have been re-semanticized and reappropriated by queer Puerto Rican writers, artists, activists and subjects in empowering maneuvers of selfand collective-naming and affirmation.


Acevedo, David Caleb, Luis Negron, and Moises Agosto Rosario. 2007. Los otros cuerpos: antologia de tematica gay, lesbica y 'queer' desde Puerto Rico y su diaspora. San Juan: Editorial Tiempo Nuevo.

Llenin Figueroa, Beatriz, ed. 2013. Actas: IV Coloquio Del Otro La'o: Perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer. Cabo Rojo, PR: Editora Educacion Emergente.

--, ed. 2015. Actas: V Coloquio Del Otro La'o: Perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer. Cabo Rojo: Editora Educacion Emergente.

Rios Torres, Isabel Margarita, ed. 2007. Actas: I Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?:perspectivas sobre sexualidades Queer. Mayaguez, PR: CePA.

Rolon Collazo, Lissette, ed. 2009. Actas: II Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?: Perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer. Mayaguez, PR: CePA.

--, ed. 2011. Actas:III Coloquio Del Otro La'o?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer. Cabo Rojo, PR: Editora Educacion Emergente.

--, ed. 2017. Actas: VI Coloquio Del Otro La'o: Perspectivas sobre sexualidades queer. Cabo Rojo: Editora Educacion Emergente.

Valencia, Sayak. 2015. Del queer al cuir: ostranenie geopolitica y epistemica desde el sur global. In Queer & cuir:politicas de lo Irreal, eds. Fernando Lanuza and Raul M. Carrasco. Mexico, DF: Fontamara.

Viteri, Maria-Amelia and Manuela Lavinas Picq. 2016. Queering Paradigms V: Queering Narratives of Modernity. New York: Peter Lang.

Christopher Powers ( is a Professor in the Humanities Department at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. His areas of research interest include Afrodiasporic literature, critical race theory and inter-media aesthetics. His most recent publication "Figurations of Passage through 'Of the Coming of John'" appeared in the 2015 special number of CR: The New Centennial Review on "W.E.B. Du Bois and the Question of Another World, II."

Jocelyn A. Geliga Vargas ( is a Professor in the English Department at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. She is the Co-Coordinator of the Center for University Access at UPRM. Her recent publications focus on collaborative methodologies and Afro-Puerto Rican Oral Histories. She has been a member of the Del Otro La'o Coordinating Committee since the third conference.

Caption: Lissette Rolon Collazo.

Caption: Beatriz Llenin Figueroa.

Caption: Promotional poster for first Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?

Caption: Promotional poster for second Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?

Caption: Promotional poster for third Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?

Caption: Promotional poster for fourth Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?

Caption: Promotional poster for fifth Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?

Caption: Promotional poster for sixth Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?

Caption: Promotional poster for seventh Coloquio ?Del otro la'o?
COPYRIGHT 2018 Hunter College, Center for Puerto Rican Studies
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Powers, Christopher; Vargas, Jocelyn A. Geliga
Publication:CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2018
Previous Article:Puerto Rican Mothers' Conversations about Sexual Health with Non-Heterosexual Youth.
Next Article:Her Stonewall Legend: The Fictionalization of Sylvia Rivera in Nigel Finch's Stonewall.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |