A Backyard Funeral Afterparty para Latinidad.
Whenever I see terms that could be conceived as being a part of “Latinidad” trending on social media, I find myself logging out, a means of conserving energy against what has historically proven to be a frustrating, deeply disappointing conversation surrounding “Latin_” identity.
So often within this “discourse” it feels like I’m bearing witness to a physics summit on the very nature of reality, held at a backyard family funeral afterparty. The elders playing dominos and chismiando over cafecitos while the parents argue over collective memory and property and “what’s best.” It’s that three a.m. sweet spot where the homies and kin come thru while the primxs gather to discuss potential futures. When foos you never see any more come together arguing over some chisme. Only the chisme is reality. Or, the many realities of this thing we call Latinidad. Inevitably this leads to erasures, flattenings, and platitudes; when those start getting thrown around, in most realities, is when I leave the party. Maybe tweet about it. Or just get sad and say nothing as the upset eats away at me.
But in this particular reality, I’ve decided to stay. To clear my throat and talk my shit.
“Latinidad” is dead. As with most extensions of empires, it’s been dead. But it loves to haunt the spaces, places, and peoples it’s affected, entangled, and estranged. So much so that we continue speaking this alleged socio-geographical-identifier into existence for the sake of “discourse” as if all this noise doesn’t have an impact on the lived realities of those who find themselves ensnared by this term.
As a poet, I think a lot about the nature of reality and have come to be enamored of and entangled with language and its role in creating this reality. I believe particles in our observable universe exist as both particle and wave, occupying a superposition within a given field, or vector of reality until an observer is introduced. A number of experiments and theories put forth by actual physicists back this belief up, so much so that it’s become a fundamental theory in physics: quantum mechanics.
My favorite understanding of quantum mechanics is Hugh Everett III’s many-worlds interpretation, which suggests myriad realities existing alongside our own experience of reality. These worlds are brought into existence by moments or events of decoherence.
For Everett, “decoherence” is when a particle goes from being both particle and wave, to only being a particle. Another way of thinking about this is that the particle goes from occupying all the space in a given field, to occupying a very specific place in space and time. It’s a solidification of reality. Like flipping a coin, heads or tails, Schrödinger’s cat, ad infinitum. You with me?
This decoherence doesn’t mean that the other reality, in which the coin landed on the other side, ceases to exist — on the contrary. This theory supposes that an entirely other reality (or world) is created in that moment and that “version” of you goes on to live within it — what’s known as a “branching.”
My grandparents instilled in me from a young age the sense that we were Yucatecos, both my grandparents being Yucatec Maya, with my grandfather in particular holding the closest Mayan roots. Habanero with every meal; Maya lessons on the ride home from elementary school, sitting in the milk crate “back seat” of grandfather’s bike. Climbing Chichen Itza before the (colonial) world declared it a wonder and closed it off. My mother grew up in Hollywood and instilled in me from a young age the sense that we were Chicanos: as she saw it, we were “American” with Mexican ancestry and heritage, which made us decidedly not American. This made sense to me since my elementary school placed me in an ESL class because of my last name, which was not American.
This sense of being Chicano was especially solidified somewhere in the ninth or tenth grade when I was sent to the principal’s office by my English teacher for refusing to mark “Hispanic” on a standardized state testing form. I marked “Other” and wrote out the word “Chicano.” I can still hear that old white lady yelling at me to “mark down that you’re Hispanic because that’s what you are!” I can also still hear my mom coming in and laying waste to the school administration, calling them ignorant racists. I don’t remember ever having to return to that wretched woman’s class. I don’t remember having to explain my relationship to the word Chicano after that. Perhaps this was my first branching within the field of that which we call Latinidad. In one reality, maybe I didn’t argue with that teacher, I marked “Hispanic,” internalizing the language and perhaps in the aftermath of that branching, the other version of me solidified their entanglement with that Nixonian-era US Census identity marker’s field of existence. In another reality, I went full Yucateco, moving back to the peninsula my family had left years ago; becoming a part of ancestral earth.
We could follow innumerable sub-branching events that subsequently structured my sense of identity within these realities, defining and explaining the experience of being alive that I was having at the time. I have always been interested in expanding my understanding beyond what I previously thought possible, including my amorphous understanding of myself; perhaps we can think of it as a kind of superpositioning of identity within a particular vector at a time. Chicano; Foo; Pocho; Latino; Latinx; Latine; Luz.
After almost getting kicked out of college two or three times, I managed to claw my way back from the brink. I threw myself into my studies, learning about third-wave feminism, the global south, prison abolition, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed among myriad concepts, theories, and writings. As I moved through this education, “Chicano” just wasn’t hitting the way it used to. My sense of identity, I was realizing, was not really rooted in nationalistic alignments or ideologies, instead falling more in line with what I understood at the time to be “Latino.” Another branching, meaning of course that there is a version of me that dug deeper into the sense of a Chicano identity, and that term’s attendant sub-branchings.
Anyway. In this Latino reality, time passed. I found myself living longer than the college-age version of myself could have imagined, and with these years came a shift in my understanding of my gender-identity, away from an imposed binary. Within this sense of decoherence I encountered “Latinx” —the first term I had heard that didn’t feel performative or tokenizing, but inclusive, rooted in queer feminist communities of color that I feel such a kinship to.
Of course, the very framing of “Latin” as an identity prefix is rooted in the colonial gaze: “Latin America” itself is an encapsulation devised by Europeans to refer to parts of the continents colonized by “Romance Language” empires. So this Latino/x/etc. experience lacks the inclusion of (pre-Euro contact) Black and Indigenous life at its epistemic core. This is why “Latinidad” is destined to fail as a unifying term: It excludes vital populations of peoples whose experiences, frankly, outnumber the status quo.
It’s an old tool of colonization to deny the subjugated population’s reality (and thereby humanity) in favor of the colonizers’ reality; the Aztec and Mayan empires, after all, took part in their own brutal assimilation of Indigenous peoples. This absorption into the empire, this flattening of identity, extends across time and space, from the Spanish inquisition’s torture tactics to the gag-law imposed on Puerto Rico from 1948-1957 to the very insistence that all the people within the vast spectrum of this language-exceeding experience should gather under a single word.
The idea that there can be many worlds of Latinidad feels within the realm of reasonability. Each branching of identity creates its own field or wavelength of resonant identities (e.g. Chicanoism as related to Xican@ y Xicanx). Some of y’all are tan chillones! The appearance of “Latinx” is not a “slur” it’s an attempt at inclusion beyond a gender binary; it’s a widening of a broader wavelength whose name we can’t agree on. It’s an expansion of the field that exceeds your particle experience. Perhaps this essay itself is another moment of decoherence.
This is the point in the party where all the primos y tíos and tías y todos get loud and tell me that I’m a buzzkill. They remind me that this is a funeral. The backyard keeps getting bigger, and I’m supposed to shut up and dance or leave. So be it. But before I depart the backyard funeral afterparty pandemic reality summit of 2021, allow me to present a modest set of principles:
Essentially, we’re each having a particle experience in this vast field of “Latinidad,” and some of the particles are demanding that we all assimilate into the same particle positioning, insisting that it is not representative of the particle but in fact, the field as a whole. Yet the field itself suggests that all possible positions of the particle are not only possible but in fact happening in their own individual worlds.
As previously stated, to think of Latinidad/Latinx experience without considering Black and Indigenous Peoples is to insist on a colonial mindset. Ultimately, it’s about more than just passing the mic: There needs to be a concrete, ongoing investment in reparations owed to AfroLatinx, Black, and Indigenous peoples worldwide. How can non-Black Latine folx be better accomplices, IRL? We should always return to this question.
Matter is neither created nor destroyed: One experience of Latinidad does not cancel another. What do I mean by this? I mean. Let the Chicanos have their “o.” Let the Latinas keep their “a.” And most importantly, let’s lose the theater of outrage and virtue signaling when an “x” or an “e” arrives. (It’s embarrassing to see how many machistas have missed the flight of the chancla; too many of you idolizing the machismo of the Euro-invaders-deemed-conqueror. Conquered what exactly? ¿No que estamos aquí? Some of y’all watch a little too much ancient aliens to be a part of this.) That being said, not every experience of Latinidad holds the same “charge” for every individual, and while proximity may increase notions of kinship, experiences are not interchangeable; i.e. a white Latinx experience is not a Mestizx experience is absolutely not an AfroLatinx experience is not a fourth generation proud Hispanic experience.
There is no “right” or definitive answer to the problem of identity and existing. I don’t know if it’s even a problem necessarily (and there are a lot of problems that need addressing within the “community,” if you can even call it that). There’s more here than any one person can unpack or explain. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m happy to be wrong. To continue learning how to accumulate a language to better understand myself. That language is not rooted in notions of “la raza,” cosmic or not. That language is not rooted in any one nationalism. That language is not rooted in empire. Perhaps the language has no roots at all and is a dirigible conversation of light and water. Maybe we are moss and tillandsias in diaspora. I think we have to go beyond ourselves to get to what we even mean by “we.”
We cannot deify any ancestor, advocate, scholar, thinker, writer, etc., as each is human and ultimately riddled with human error. Vicente Fernández refused a liver transplant for fear of the organ coming from a homosexual or drug addict. Gloria Anzaldúa was appropriative of Indigenous cultures and anti-Black in her rendering of a “new mestizaje.” Cesar Chavez hated undocumented immigrants and would refer to them as “wetbacks” and “illegals.” Maybe that’s why a bust of his severed head sits on the desk of the current US President. Sí se puede con más representation, right? Becoming an ornament of the table instead of ever being offered seat. You mad? Take it up with history. Nobody is perfect.
Dismantle. Destroy. Abolish whatever you need to. I will help you do it if I can. But I think it’s important to imagine and plan for what comes after. I know what you want destroyed, but do you know what you want to build? What is it that comes after the dismantling? What will you make of the raw materials and resources that come from that which has been dismantled? The cultivation and redistribution of the after is as important as the abolition itself.
I have attempted writing this essay countless times over the years. Continually writing, deleting, restructuring, and rewriting the thing in my head. Sometimes it feels like I am trying to bring together a fractured mirror as wide as the sky. Some of those fragments have lost their shine; other, louder fragments weren’t even part of the mirror to begin with. The more I push against this essay in my mind, the more fragmented I feel. The more I accept that coherence across community requires that community be treated as a verb and not a noun or adjective. Community and coherence require commitment; work and not just words.
For a long time, I was convinced that “everyone has to get on the boat” that there might be a way for everyone to come together. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that not everyone needs to be on the boat. Not my boat. I am not in community with those who wish me and those like me death. I am not in community with anti-Black, homophobic, transphobic, machista foos who think that these traits are something to be proud of. I am not in community with the parroting lemming lames that echo unfounded ignorance, nostalgic for white bodies and old times they will never occupy. I don’t trust those of “us” whose relationship to identity and community begins and ends with a checked box on a form.
I’m saying that I’m glad Latinidad is dead. I’m glad I don’t claim identity based in nationalism and the inherent violence of a flag. And all of y’all rocking with your masks of Amerikkka y Mexikkko and fascist nationalism can all go to hell. I’ll see you there con los conquistadores you adore so much; we can have coffee on the slicked-back devil scalp of old Ronnie Reagan, who, even in hell, will remind you that you are the help and not a part of his party. Keep the backyard party. I remember why I’m never invited to things. I’m going home.
I’ll leave you with some dreams I’ve had:
The angular world of settler colonialism is evaporated and in its absence birds emerge as the new Latinidad; pigeons parade, shouting loud how they’re all Quetzalcoatl, while the starlings attempt to speak more clearly with Chaac to better nourish the land, their murmurations signaling the beginning of a whole new season of being on earth.
Tillandsias become the dominant species across the planet. No roots. Reaching new heights and views. Capable of cohabitation without conflict. Fire season ends forever.
Lin-Manuel Miranda exits the entertainment industry and is never seen nor heard from again.
Reparations are ongoing and liberation is underway. The land is given back. The languages, names, and resources are returned. Colonizers go home, empty handed.
Borders return to being what they always have been: imaginary and non-existent.
There are no prisons, not even the little linguistic trappings of identity and self. We become a spectrum of infinite light.