Today I am choosing to share an excerpt from a Keynote I did this weekend for the Expressions Not Suppresion Conference in Fresno. I was blessed to speak with all these cute little queers about where I come from. Check it out. Its kinda long but that way you learn for asking me to write something hehe.
For the many of you that don’t know me. My name is Yosimar Reyes. I am a poet, storyteller, lover, or as my abuelita would summarize it “a carbon”. So most of this platica will be about some stories that have helped me developed into a poet and all these identities that I embody (academics call that shit intersections.) Orginalmente soy del estado de Guerrero, Mexico for those that do not know; Guerrero is in the southern part of Mexico that is why I’m cute, short and dark, cause the colonizers didn’t land there. If you look at the history of Guerrero you will find that we are a people who have historically been rebels, fighting against oppressive governmental structures. I believe this is why I am such a hocicon and carry this spirit of resistance.
I don’t have any memory of where I came from. Sometimes I have dreams but I am not sure if these were lived experiences since I came to the United States at 3 years old. I came to this country with my abuelito and abuela, they are my only connection that I have to Mexico. They raised me on all these stories about where I come from. If you have grown up with old people you are probably familiar with some of these stories. I think we all have some connections like this one story my abuela always tells about some buried treasure buried beneath the house in Mexico and how it is our duty to return and claim it. Granted some of these stories are embellished and are more chisme then fact but I think that it is these things that have made me a lover of words, communication and my own personal history.
Today I want to talk to you about history and this is simply because right now we are all living in a country that is very forgetful and the problem with us as queers, immigrants, people of color is that we have a long memory and forgetting is something that is merely impossible. It must be stated that all of us in this room have a long history some of it might not be lived but by simply being present in this moment speaks to the fact that we all have a migration story. Some of us were born in the country and some of us come from across borders and oceans but the reality is that we are here and because of it we need to learn to see the commonality of our communities as oppose to how we are different.
You might be wondering why I am choosing to speak about migration at this conference and to be honest I think I am choosing to speak on this because I feel that one can not move on in life without questioning how we got here. What brought us to this place? Today I stand before you not as a poet, community leader or educator. I stand before you as an undocumented immigrant one with frustrations, headaches and heartbreak. I stand before you as warrior armed with his truth fighting a government that chooses to label me an “illegal alien”.
I decided that I would tell two major stories today that have shaped me into being the crazy jota that I am. I think that every time you ask a queer dark skin immigrant Mexican to speak some truth about their journey you better be ready for the whole pinche book . There are two major labels that have hunted me through my journey. Labels that I have had to reclaim in order for them to no longer have psychological as well as spiritual damage towards my character.
I want to tell you the story of first time someone made me feel like a criminal or what the media likes to call an “illegal alien” and this story took place a couple of years ago. For the very first time I am challenging myself to write about it since I still have nightmares of this day. Of course being that this incident was so serious and frighting for me I am choosing to tell it with some humor since I think laughter is the best medicine to cure a broken spirit.
I have never though of myself as a criminal. All my life I was raised with the idea that if you are honest person good things will come to you. When I was growing up I would see how my grandparents worked so hard for the little we had. As I got older I became more aware of the fact that sometimes you don’t have to be a criminal to be treated like one in this country.
I am about 19 years old feeling so stoked cause I just finished rocking the Empowering Women of Color Conference In Pomona. Im feeling like Beyonce herself since the night before I had dinner with Carlos Santana and Harry Belafonte and they asked to fly into Oakland to perform for an event they organized. So here I am getting hugs from all these women of color telling me that they love my work and what not. I’m getting hella love like that scene in Selena where all the cooks and janitors run to meet her when she is shopping for her homegirl’s dress for the Grammys but just like in that scene there is all always some white supremacy to kill the moment.
I arrange a flight change from Pomona to Oakland since I have to be at the other show with Santana. Just like Beyonce I come in and out of shows cause I got to catch my plane. I meet a sister at the conference that is also flying into Oakland that day so we build community and decide to fly on the same flight. We come to the TSA line where I show the officer my boarding ticket and my ID. I was feeling so happy that my poetry was finally being picked up that I didn’t notice that beside the TSA officer stood this pale face butch lesbiana. I showed my ID which stupid me was my Consulado card and as soon as I did, this cabrona pulls me out of the line takes my matricula and automatically tells me: “ Why do you have this ID. This tells me that you are not suppose to be in this country.”
My heart sinks. Homegirl shows me her badge that has the word ICE written in shiny silver letters. If you are undocumented you can only imagine the cold that invaded my body. She proceeds to question me but in my head all I am doing is praying that creator gets me out this situation. Long story short she asked me a series of questions which I answer my most affluent accent.
She asked me where I was born. I replied “ San Jose, California” She asked me what high school I went to. I answer “The Latino College Preparatory Academy.” She asked me what College I attended. I replied, “ The National Hispanic University” All this time in my head I’m like “ Ugh dumb ass stop naming all these brown institutions you should have just lied and said you went to Heald, Devry or Wyotech”
Here I am standing in front of this scary white woman in a uniform, call it genetic trauma but at this point all I am visualizing is Christopher Columbus about to give me smallpox. She continues to ask me dumb questions like: “What grade I got in recess?” and “What are monkey bars?” When she is done patronizing me and literally terrorizing me she lets me go and me being the good little immigrant that I am I wish her a good day.
It was once the plane had taken off and I looked out the window at the immense sky that all these tears began to run down my face. It was like I had been carrying a river inside of me. A river of deep sorrow, I kept picturing my grandparents in that plane with me. Viejitos. Mi abulita’s long treza and that innocence in her eyes. My abuelito and the wrinkles in his skin. I kept asking myself why they hate us so much? What have we done to them to come after us with their badges and unjust laws? I was mad at myself that I didn’t say anything. I stood there. Letting that woman violate me. It felt like she had taken all that my grandparents have worked hard for and crushed it with her hatred. The way she spoke to me, the way she looked at me, it was not human.
After that incident in the airport a lot of things came into perspective. I swore to myself that I would never let someone make me cry like that. That I would never give someone so much power over me for them to break my spirit. That I would never let them hurt me with their hate. That will constantly remind myself that the reason they look me with disgust is because they know we were not meant to survive but we are still here. For once I began to question why I value this country. Why I felt that if I were to be deported it would feel like a death sentence and for the most part I think this has to do with the fact that this place is all I know. This is the place where all the people that I love live. This is where I learn about my skin, my voice, my queerness, this is where I have built a tribe.
It was after this horrible ordeal that I finally realized that no matter how much work I put in, no matter how good of a person I am, no matter if I am the most amazing poet in the world in the end in the eyes of white supremacy I will always be an “illegal alien” . I will always be the problem. It does not matter that across my homeland their corporations are exploiting our resources, it does not matter that treaties like NAFTA continue to affect my birthplace. I will always be the problem.
In places like Arizona and Alabama just by the color of my skin I become suspect. Just by me knowing that I come from a history that surpasses the last 500 years of colonization that laded at out shores I am a threat .
I like to talk to you about history and this is because all of us learned who we were not through a textbook or a classroom but from stories and experiences like these and its very important to note that these are the stories that we need to pay more attention to. These experiences are what will bring us closer together acknowledging the fact that we are living under a system that teaches us that we are the problem all because we are too queer, too brown, too feminine, too masculine or because we are not enough American. And that fact is that we are not the problem, we have never been the problem.
Today I want to leave you with this because the war we are fighting is not over yet and we must begin to arm ourselves with the knowledge of who we are and the places we come from. We don’t need textbooks to remind us because we carry these narratives in our skins. These stories come to us in dreams so as you lay your head to sleep tonight remember that ancestors speak through the wind.
We have written endless poems about sorrow
Poems honoring the deaths of our sisters and brothers
From Gwen Araujo to Sakia Gunn
Lawrence King to Ruby Rodriguez
These poems have already been written
And it is such a shame
That whenever we are called upon to honor the lives
Of our prophets they are already in a coffins
Because too often they have placed their hands on us
Brutalized our bodies and demonized our spirits
Too often they have taken it upon themselves to silence our tongues
Hunted our skins
Celebrated the deaths of our kings and queens
Pushed us back into closets
Build borders and fences
Disconnected our spirits from the sacred
But it is undeniable
That the queer spirit is resilient
For we have survived for centuries
Without proper recognition
Written in land is that fact that we have existed since the beginning
Cause’ we were born prophets
Carrying legacies and histories in our own bodies
It is our speech sacred wind
That blows as a reminder
That we are still present
Alive and thriving
You stand as living proof that our sexualities are just as natural as a flower’s bloom
You are heaven sent
Reflection of God
Of heavens and stars
You are the reason why brown boys like me choose to pick up a pen
Why trans teens walk proudly across school hallways
This poem is for you
This is for what you represent
For all the times you felt caged and bled your feelings on a page
For every insult disrespecting your name
This is for you
Because you have broken through
Armed with your truth
You are helping paint the world
The color of rainbows and we thank you
You are ancestry in progress
Leaving blueprints from future queer babies to build with
You are inspiration
Testimony to the fact that we have traveled so many roads
Across different borders
We are here
Chanting to your names as a community
You are a movement
Like oceans and suns you are picture perfect
Butterfly wings you are fly
This poem is for you and for what you represent to
Young girls who love the taste of femininity on their lips
Colored Boys who prefer to the arms of men to cloth their bodies with
These words are sacred medicine for every bruise
For every broken spirit
Every suicide thought
This is a kiss planted on neck
A protest sign in every march
A melody in every chant
This is for us
Because we made it
Across those troubled waters
We have made this our home
Found unity and strength in our voice
Because too often we have written poems about sorrow
Poems about the slaying of our sisters and brothers
Too often we have brought flowers to their memory
Washed away blood from pavement
But tonight we bring those spirits song
Offer poems and prayers for healing
This is ceremony is for warriors
We offer you blessings
We rejoice in your names
With hands towards the heavens
We say blessed be the day creator gifted you with your duality
We have written endless poems about sorrow
But starting today we shall write about our smiles
About the way we dance in defiance
Hold each other near and craft a new drum
Sing a new song
You are our legacy
A dream come true
Tonight we celebrate the fact that you are holding it down
For a tribe of people that will
So take these words and place them in your medicine bag
And remember that in whatever road you take we got your back
You already gifted and anointed
So the only truth
You must follow is your own