Queer. Latino. Writer. Poet. Dreamer.
Posts by Karari Kue
The tea I always believed tasted like purple, and was disappointed to discover that once outside the smoky haze of a grungy coffee shop, it was nothing of the sort.
That tea into which I delve my thoughts as I grab my pen to catch the fleeting memories of summers long past and winters long thawed.
The first time I had jasmine tea I was in this same coffee shop. This same table. This same chair. The only difference is the emptiness in the chair besides me. I write line and rhyme, only to scratch them out with the same pen that saw me give birth to them. Nothing fits. Nothing works. Nothing speaks to the thoughts spinning in my cup as I absentmindedly twirl the wooden stick in my jasmine tea. Some of my best poetry I wrote while sitting in this very chair. At this very table. In this very coffee shop. And here I am again, but the words aren’t flocking to my paper like they used to. What is missing? What isn’t the same? I know the answer all too well – it’s him.
How is it that what I feel most is his absence? If cold is the absence of heat, then loneliness is the absence of him. A cliché I would never say, if it weren’t for the fact that no better metaphor comes to mind. He isn’t here along side of me like he used to be, staring at me as I would hurriedly write down as many ideas as I possibly could, like a child attempting to snatch every piece of candy from the shards of a broken piñata. We rarely spoke, but it was enough to know that if I chose to look up from the chaos on my paper, I could find peace in his eyes. Those eyes of black tea. Never mind that I would rarely look up, or that I have never really liked black tea. His eyes were but a necessary remedy to various ailments that plagued my mind.
The hustle of the coffee shop lulls me. People enter. People order. People leave. Just like in my life. No one stops to give me a glance. No one stops to even say hello. But that’s ok. I don’t care to look up anyway. The only thing that interrupts the insanity on my paper, or possibly add to it, is the click-click-click of my pen. Pen tip goes in. Pen tip comes out. Pen tip goes in. Pen tip comes out. It’s amazing how easily amused I am when I can’t write. I feel as if I’m drowning in my emotions but my well worked mind can’t create a single coherent phrase. In other times, I would call my muse. But my muse is gone, probably fell into someone else’s coffee cup on her way to see me. Stupid muse. No doubt she’s deep inside a coffee-junkie’s stomach dictating my lines to a mediocre poet writing love poems to his flavor of the week. How bitter of me to say that. Almost as bitter as this damn jasmine tea. It’s bad when even my jasmine tea doesn’t taste the same. I keep adding sugar and more sugar but all I succeed at doing is making the tea more unbearable.
I look up. A girl is writing her midterm paper. The four empty cups beside her tell me it’s due tomorrow morning. It’s late already, past midnight. I look down at my paper and see nothing solved. Among the black blotches I don’t find the epiphany I promised myself I would find. My papers flutter as a cold breeze enters the coffee shop. It serves as my only reminder of the frigid cold that awaits me outside. What am I doing here? I said I needed time to write and I have spent the past two hours sipping on a jasmine tea can’t seem remember what jasmine tea really tastes like. I keep thinking of him even when I said I wasn’t going to. Thoughts of him penetrate my chaos. I can’t help it any more than can the scent of the jasmine flowers avoid passing through the white paper that confines them. I close my eyes. I don’t see a purple that doesn’t exist. I see black. I hear his laughter. I hear my own. I hear the verses of hundreds of poems yet to be written. I open my eyes.
I’ve had enough.
I take my papers. I take my pen. I take my poetry book, now full of unwritten poems. I leave my jasmine tea on the table. I walk to the door. I Open it. And I step out into the bitter cold. But not without first ordering a black tea, to go.
Today, as many of you may already know, was International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a day meant to highlight the contributions of indigenous peoples and expose the struggles they still face today.
Let me start off by saying that I do not identify as an indigenous person. I know some of you may disagree, and wish to label me as such. But, to do so I feel, would be a gross insult to the true indigenous peoples of Mexico and the rest of the world. Maybe it is possible that I am a detribalized indigenous person, yet, I am also fully aware that my experience has been more as the oppressor than as the oppressed. I have not faced the discrimination and poverty than many indigenous peoples still face. I know I’m not white. But I’m not exactly indigenous either. I am that hazy mix – Mestizo. That said, I am also cognizant that my roots lie in the indigenous peoples of Mexico, particularly one group: the P’urhépecha.
One of my biggest qualms with Chicano Studies has always been the focus on the Ancient Indigenous past instead of the living indigenous presence. Especially, I disliked the almost exclusive focus on the Mexica-Aztecs. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge the unquantifiable contribution of the Mexica to the culture of Mexico. Without them, we wouldn’t have an Eagle in the center of the Mexican flag, or the word chipotle (what would we call an Americanized burrito then?!). The problem is, Mexica-Aztec culture never fully resonated with me the way it did with many of my Latino Studies/Chicano Studies peers. The reason: my family is not from Mexico City.
No, my family (my mom’s side that is) is from Michoacán, the ancestral land of the P’urhépecha. The traditional dances I would on occasion see during my summers in Michoacán were nothing like the dances I was reading about in books. There were no feathers or conch shell horns; There were only old men masks and canes, or butterfly shaped nets. Even the food was somewhat different. Reading discussions of the history of the tamal, never did I come across any mention of the uchepo michoacano. However, growing up I never realized that those actually were part of Michoacán’s indigenous heritage. It is only until recently that I have begun to learn the culture, the history, even the language.
It is through this learning that I have become much more connected to my mom’s homeland. For one, I have begun to see Mexico as a much more diverse place. But also, I have begun to see myself as part of the Mexican diaspora. Kolombrín Parákata (as the Monarch Butterfly is called in P’urhépecha), in its travel from Michoacán to the US, never actually makes it to its destination. On the contrary, it is its spawn that actually reach it. Yet, these new generations, while having no personal recollection of living in Michoacán, are still able to begin the journey back when winter arrives. I am like that. I have no personal recollection, yet something still draws me to this history.
But my journey back has not been easy. This history, sometimes it feels, was meant to be forgotten. The acculturation programs started by Lázaro Cardenas (President of Mexico, and a fellow michoacano) during the era of agrarian reform were partially meant to empower the indigenous, but under the assumption that it was their indigenidad that kept them back. Because of the relative success of these programs, a lot of knowledge has been rapidly disappearing. I have found it incredibly difficult for me to find the history of the P’urhépecha even though their history is one of resistance.
This impulse to return to something that existed before me is why I have taken on the pseudonym “Karari Kue” (which means “Gay Writer,” more or less). Currently, my writing is taking me backwards. I have begun to write my parents’ stories and my grandparents’ stories; they are, after all, part of my story. I can’t know who I am unless I ask what the Argentine writer Ana María Shua asks, “Where do you come from? Where are you going?” In a sense, International Indigenous Peoples Day allows all of us, whether we identify as indigenous or not, to ask ourselves this question. It allows us to reflect, even if it is for only one day or two, on the people that existed before us, and continue to exist alongside us. Their struggle is our struggle. Their strength, is (as the P’urhépecha say) juchari uinapikua (our strength).
I’ve realized something: I no longer depend on my parents for advice. Mostly, I feel that their advice is laden with archaisms and the prejudice of a previous era. Like many queers, I feel my parents have not addressed issues affecting my life to my satisfaction. And because of this, the paths of communication have, essentially, been closed, open only to the most necessary exchanges. This, ultimately, only functions to further my own sense of alienation from my home and from my parents, in particular.
Now, as a bitter queer Latino, I normally wouldn’t care. Like many other things I am particularly bitter about, I would dismiss the situation as out of my control and push it out of my mind (only to dwell on it at night, of course, thanks to my inherited Mexican Catholic guilt). However, with the help of a very good friend, I have realized that it is very much within my control, and apparently, I am much more to blame than I would care to admit, mostly due to my own obliviousness to my manipulative ways.
Allow me to explain. As many of you familiar with my writing may know, I have serious Mami issues. There is always a silent stalemate at work beneath our interactions. On the surface, it all seems fine, but debajo – ¡uy! – there is a ciénaga of things at work, where every word that is exchanged is charged with underlying meaning meant to “change” the other into what we envision is correct (for me: the Cher to my Chaz; for my mom: the Jesús to her María, without the dying single part of course).
Now, you ask, how is this your fault, Karari? I couldn’t see it, either. But apparently, I am incredibly transparent. My emotions linger somewhere where I don’t see them but where everyone else can, almost like a one-way mirror. Now, I can hear a few of you snickering out there, but I really thought I had total control of my emotional cues. It comes to a great shock to me, that, sadly, I do not. So, whenever I would feel my mom was a bad mom, she would feel it, too. Eventually, with repeated exposure to the “you’re a terrible mother” vibe, my mom came to believe it, and thus began to act on the expectation I had of her. After all, what’s the point in trying if you’re already terrible?
And so my dear reader, this is where we find ourselves. Our relationship has slowly degenerated to a laundry list of regrets, resentments, y recuerdos of a happy past. And, honestly, this is not what I want, even if the material that stems from this toxic relationship makes for great literary drama. I want to have a healthy relationship with my mom. I want to be able to talk to her about lots of different things without being afraid of our conversation erupting into another Mexican-American conflict. I want what it seems everyone, but me, has.
I have always been jealous of the relationships my exes have had with their moms. Y’s mom was all up in his business, and from the looks of it, he liked it, because it showed that she cared enough to know the all the details (yes, including our sex life). E’s mom, on the other hand, was much less nosy. However, she and E still had a great communication that allowed for both to express their feelings. It goes without saying, that when I was dating their sons, I was also accepted. And this bothered me to no end. I always wondered: why can’t I have this with my mom? There are times (and I’m not proud of this) that I resented my exes for the relationships they had with their moms, even going as far as secretly believing that if anyone deserved to have the healthy, after-school special relationship with their mom, it was obviously me.
Thanks to my conversations with my aforementioned friend, I have recently begun to realize that they worked for that relationship; It didn’t just happen. Yes, it helped that E’s mom was college educated, or that Y’s mom wasn’t particularly religious. However, what helped more was that both E and Y turned to their moms for every day advice, whether if it was how to make oven-baked enchiladas or what the perfect birthday present for a pretentious Mexican, like myself, would be.
Even now, this boggles my US American-assimilated-Mexican, independent mind. If I need a ride to the airport or to the store, I rather drive myself or find an alternative way of getting there. If I am lost, I Google directions or call a friend. I, in general, avoid turning to my parents for petty things. In my head, I feel that they have enough things to worry about. They don’t need to be bothered with random occurrences that can easily be remedied on my own. So, instead of calling my mom, and asking her how to make pozole, I simply looked up a (much healthier) recipe on Epicurious and solved the problem myself, not realizing that in doing so, I was effectively letting my mom know that I didn’t need her knowledge, and by extension, I didn’t need her.
This is not conductive to the relationship I wish to develop with my mom. She wants to feel needed, just like we all do. There was a time when I needed her for everything. But now, it seems that I need her less and less. Because of this, she often attempts to reestablish the old order of things, where she was the mother and I was the obedient child, choosing to ignore the fact that I am no longer that little boy who did her eyebrows and zipped up her dresses. When I am treated like a child, I instantly become belligerent and close up to all advice, even if it may be beneficial for me. However, if I open myself up to her (and I know this will be hard) for advice or for help, she will feel more secure in the ways our relationship is developing and, therefore, will not attempt to return to the parent-child power dynamic.
I must admit though, that even as I write this, I am getting exhausted. There is a lot of resentment that I need to get over. I am still hurt from many of the things that my mom said initially to me when I came out. Ignoring them hasn’t made them go away. But, recent events have shown me that I may not have all the time in the world with my mom; I may very well die tomorrow. Or worse, she may very well die tomorrow. Being a bitter queer Latino I can handle. But a bitter queer Latino with a laundry list of unresolved regrets, resentments, y recuerdos? That, I’m not quite too sure.
those arsenic lips
for my liberation
from the regular confines
of a naïve smile.
She awaits to plant
those krypton kisses
on hopeful dreams,
on silent screams,
and boil them
in their own acidic bile.
It thus becomes
worthless to try
futile to even cry
cuz fate will
knock me down again.
So I think I’ll stay
within the borders
of this foolish,
Last night, was the Lady Gaga concert in Phoenix, Arizona and that made me incredibly sad. In addition to this, all week long, Gaga had been posting pictures of herself out and about in Arizona. Out of all the pop stars out there right now, Lady Gaga is by far the most progressive. She has been particularly vocal in her unwavering support of LGBTQ rights. But she had yet spoken out against SB1070, the recently passed and partially stopped Arizona law that allows local police departments to ask people for their documentation as long as there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in the US unauthorizedly. I kept asking myself, and her via her twitter, does she not know that there are queer brown people too? Even more so, has she not seen that there are LGBTQ undocumented youth out there as well? Queer and Immigrant, after all, are not mutually exclusive groups. There are people out there who belong to both.
Apparently, however, she does know this. And last night, Lady Gaga publicly expressed her opposition to SB1070. Although stopping short of boycotting Arizona, during her concert Lady Gaga urged her “little monsters” to peacefully protest SB1070. Here is the video.
So waking up this morning to check my twitter, I was overjoyed to discover this. Lady Gaga had at last spoken on behalf of justice for all humans! For a very brief moment (incredibly brief, super brief, brief-ísimo), I caught myself wondering whether this scantly clad Lady Gaga was, in fact, God incarnate. But of course, that would be preposterous. No, Lady Gaga is not God in human form. She is just a compassionate human being. And I realized, that’s why I want to believe (at least partially) that she isn’t truly human. We have become so used to musicians, actors, and celebrities that take on “safe” causes like spaying & neutering your pets or human rights causes involving violations out there, that when a celebrity speaks out about injustices happening right here, aquí in the US, it almost startles me.
But should it startle us? Shouldn’t this be expected of people who hold the nation’s attention more so than politicians and elected officials? Yes, I am fully aware their job is not to express their opinions on various issues. I don’t expect Freddie Prinze, Jr. to go on the record and present his plan the California state budget. But, part of the struggle for human rights in the US is not political. In fact, I would argue, most isn’t political at all. The majority of the struggle is achieving change at a social level. This is where our celebrities are most needed. They can be agents of social change. They can contribute to the creation of a more accepting US society.
This of course, is a double edged sword. If we encourage our celebrities to speak out in favor of social change, we will inevitably also encourage those who want social change, but not necessarily for the better. Exhibit A: Karyme Lozano. But this shouldn’t dishearten us. We need to keep fighting for justice and keep being advocates for social change. History, after all, is on our side. And after last night, so is Lady Gaga. Although I’m not quite sure yet which one is better.
It’s been quite a week, full of events and opportunities to meet new friends, acquaintances, allies, and – why not?! – possible love interests. Last night, United Latino Pride closed its first ever Chicago Queer Latin@ Pride Week with the annual Queer Latin@ Picnic sponsored by Orgullo en Acción and then later in the evening with a night of partying and dancing at After Dark. A fitting way to end a stellar week of events that highlight our unique Queer Latin@ experiences.
But what made it such a fitting end? Well, as activists, we often are forced to give up our social life for all the work that needs to get done, much to the chagrin of our friends, families, and loved ones. Every member of the United Latino Pride coalition has contributed their own time, money, and energy to ensure this week was a success. But not everything should be all work and no fun. Food, music, and yes, alcohol have a certain je ne sais quoi that allows even the most uptight among us, to let loose and celebrate.
Yes, a lot needs to get done to ensure that one day we may all be treated with dignity in this society that currently looks down upon us because of our language, our culture, our gender, and our sexuality. But, it does us all a lot of good to get together with friends, family, and loved ones and celebrate the life and love that we currently have. It reminds us all exactly why it is we are fighting for justice. It’s not just for ourselves, it’s for those we love most as well.
I can’t help but be a bit sad as I write this. I regret not being able to go to as many events as I had anticipated. However, I am also excited for next year. Who knows what is in store for us all. Let’s hope it’s bigger and better! A very big thank you goes out to all the members of United Latino Pride and all the organizations and sponsors for the events. Without all your tireless effort, we wouldn’t have had any of this. You are our real orgullo! ¡Hasta el próximo año!
I’ve been talking a lot to some friends about Miguel Villalba, the 15 yr old boy that was killed last Sunday night in Cicero. Maybe it’s because I once knew him personally, or maybe it’s because he is, sadly, just the first youth in a string of more to come and lose their lives to gang violence this summer. Whatever the reason, I haven’t been able to shake off his death. During one of these conversations, someone said that she hoped the killer would be found so that there would be closure to Miguel’s murder. At the time, I agreed. But that comment got me thinking, will we really get closure? Based on media reports, Miguel was arguing with the shooter moments before his death. Because of this, I imagine the assailant was around Miguel’s age. If he is arrested and prosecuted, we didn’t just lose Miguel’s life to a senseless act of gang violence, we lost his as well.
As adults, we normally find easier to punish the bad child. Maybe it’s my bleeding liberal heart, but I don’t believe there are genuinely bad people in the world, simply misguided people. Yes, that means I don’t consider even racists, sexists, transphobes, homophobes and xenophobes to be bad. Our youth are in transition. Everything that will happen to us as adults — love, friendship, pain, stress, sex, violence — is happening to them in a very intense and compressed manner. But instead of guiding them, we dismiss their problems as petty. I know, because I’ve done it.
I’m guilty of assuming that, because they are young, the problems and feelings they are experiencing aren’t real. The truth is, while their problems may feel unimportant or small to me, to them they are much bigger and very real. Yet when whenever they act up, I simply punish them for it, often not bothering to know why they are behaving that way. Yes, we could find Miguel’s killer. We can arrest him, prosecute him, and throw him in jail. But did we really accomplish anything? I don’t think we did. All we succeeded in doing was losing two more youths to gangs.
So what are we to do? First, we as youth service agencies need to encourage parents to become a part of their children’s lives. We need to encourage healthy dialogue. This is especially true for us in the Latino community. Our parents (usually) come from a culture where complete respect for the authority of the parents was unquestioned. While this may have worked for our parents back home, it doesn’t make sense here. Life is different in the US. The way we shape our families needs to not only take into consideration our culture but also our current surroundings. Secondly, we as youth service agencies need to follow our own advice. Yes, it’s often easier to just discipline the child; but fundamentally understanding gets us much farther. If our youth feel welcomed within our doors, they won’t go looking for the false acceptance gangs give them. If we are their second family, gangs will not be able to compete. We lose too many of youth to gangs, both buried and jailed. It’s not easy raising a child. But in the world we currently live in, it’s not easy being a child either.
Last night, Miguel Villalba (15) of Cicero was killed by a bullet in front of Roosevelt Elementary School. Shot, according to news reports, in the back of the head. I only live about 3 blocks from where it all happened. I walk past it daily. Today, on my way to work, I looked around for any sign of what had occurred the night before. Of course, I found none.
The sad thing is, this is nothing new in Cicero. Summer vacation is also the time of year when the gangs are most active. I just heard loud noises from outside, as I write this blog. I recognize the sound very well. But for my own sanity, I dismiss them as fireworks.
I knew Miguel Villalba. He was once a member of the Boys Club of Cicero, where I work. Sadly, I can’t I remember much of him. Since discovering who exactly had been killed, I have been racking my brain trying to remember anything about him. Did he like dodgeball? Had I ever made him laugh or given him a band-aid after hurting himself? Did he feel safe at the Club? It frustrates me that I can’t think of anything. I feel as if I have failed him. My agency has failed him. All of Cicero has failed him.
Miguel wasn’t just a Boys Club member. Miguel had been moved out of Morton East and into the Alternative High School. He was referred to a CeaseFire Meeting with Corazón Community Services. It becomes painfully obvious that people around him knew he was at risk. Yet, as Youth Service agencies, we often feel our job is complete upon referral. We have, after all, so many youth to serve. We don’t have the resources nor the time to focus all of our attention on just one child going through a difficult transition into adulthood. Just today, I was surrounded by approximately 100 kids. Every one of them deserving my attention. Every one of them at risk by the simple fact of living in Cicero and being, well, brown.
I feel the same impotence that many do. What are we not doing? What am I not doing for our kids? Something is seriously wrong in Cicero. Everywhere I look, I keep hearing about the New Town of Cicero. But it looks like same old to me. Larry Dominick’s government is too busy worrying about parking ordinances and towing that it has forgotten about our kids. Just a few weeks ago I was ticketed for having a blown out tail light. The time it took the officer to check my insurance, write the ticket, and send me on my way could have been used to stop crime. But crime-prevention doesn’t put money in the coffers.
I can’t say I have answers or solutions to any of these problems, and that gets to me. I wish I could say, with certainty, that I knew what the Cicero government had to do to clean our streets and rid our community of violence. But I don’t. I wish somewhere in the deepest recesses of my brain an epiphany would come, guiding me in the right direction. But instead, I will go to work tomorrow knowing that I one of my kids is dead, and I did nothing to stop it. Who knows which of my other kids may be next. I ask you not to dismiss Miguel’s death. He wasn’t perfect. He made his share of mistakes, just as we all do. But he was a person nonetheless. He was someone’s brother, someone’s son, someone’s friend and grandson. Today it was Miguel. Tomorrow it can very well be you.
The opinions expressed in this blog are my own. They do not attempt to speak for or represent the opinions held by the Boys Club of Cicero, its Staff, Donors, or Board of Directors.
I like to think I’m pretty well-connected. I have, after all, been working (legally) in non-profits since I was 16. I have spoken on behalf on LGBTQ Immigrants at the May Day March in 2007. I’ve been on air at Homofrequencia with the amazing Tania Unzueta (@ilehlainat) twice. Not to mention that I’ve performed at various Latin@ events while studying at UIC. If anything, I’d say I’m very well-connected.
Then I went to last nights event. It was the kick-off party for the first ever Chicago Queer Latin@ Pride Week at 2nd Floor Gallery in Pilsen. I had decided to go because I wanted to support fellow San Antonio artist Ana Fernández (yes, I am aware I’m not actually San Antonian, but I’m San Antonian adjacent). Upon arriving, I realized I didn’t know anyone! How is this possible? Had my year and a half in absentia in San Antonio really affected my network that much? I was starting to feel pretty pathetic. However, as time went on (and that refreshing vodka pink lemonade started to sink in) I began to work the room a bit. Or maybe I should say, the room worked me; I am after all, a bit of a pasivo
During one of the conversations with Vivian González & Lisa Martínez (co-founders of the soon to be launched Lesbian online publication The L Stop), I realized something. This is exactly why we need a Queer Latin@ Pride week. If someone like me, who [once] thought of himself as well-connected, isn’t at all, then what about everyone else? I probably have seen many of the amazing people at this event before. The problem is where did I see them. I most likely saw them, and they me, at a club or at Market Days. We probably didn’t give each other a second thought. Just another brown face in the mix.
But we need to give each other a second thought. We are the fastest growing ethnic group in the nation. Our voice, while always important, is becoming louder. And the talent is already here. I was very impressed with the work everyone is doing. But few people, outside of our small network (as I added all my new “friends” this morning on Facebook, I was surprised to discover we already have 16 mutual friends; go figure!), know of all that is going on. Queer Latin@ Pride week will allow us space where we can meet new friends and talk to many of the amazing leaders in our community. We are more than just potential make-out partners at Circuit or small talk recipients at Spin on Dollar Drink nights. We are potential business partners and collaborators. Possible allies and advocates in the struggles we are all mutually fighting for. After last night, I’m more excited than ever for this week. ¡Qué viva el Orgullo! Bring on the pink lemonade!