The first time someone call me a JOTO I must have been in Elementary school but it wasn’t the actual word that broke my spirit. I think it was the energy in which it was said. Truth be told at such a young age I had no idea what that meant but I knew it was bad cause it didn’t feel right. The way it was said made me feel like I was something lesser, like by simply existing I caused anger and hatred that at 8 years old I could not understand. I remember one summer my mom asked me to move in with her. I think it was because she felt guilty that for most of my life I was raised with my grandmother. I remember I was in 3rd grade and she enrolled me in summer school at Santee Elementary.
Since I was new to the school I had to make new friends. My cousins attended the same school but they were all older so they would not play with me during recess and besides they were too busy being cholas to be paying attention to my ass. Of course being the badass bitch that I am, I quickly made friends with all the girls in my class. I liked hanging out with girls because they weren’t rough, they were kind, they liked to just chill and talk. We would walk around the grass collecting ladybugs and butterflies while the boys wrestled and played chicken fight. It were these simply things that kept my spirit happy. Playing jump rope, sliding down slides, lying in the grass looking at clouds, I was a happy kid with a wild imagination pretending I was Xena the warrior princess and shit.
I don’t remember the kid’s name or the game we were going to play but I do remember that he said something to me that day that I think I still carry with me. I think we were going to play cops and robbers but he was very vocal about not wanting to play with me. My homegirls, which of course always had my back, asked him why and he simply said “porque es joto!” implying that because I was queer I was handicapped or not worthy of playing with them. When he said this I could see how all the kids in their confusion took a step back. I was left speechless. It was like someone had punched me in my stomach. I think it was the feeling of not being wanted that automatically sent a message to my brain to release tears because that’s the kind of person that I am. When I am upset or feel unwanted I simply tear up. There are no sobs or sounds just tears that I can’t control. The feeling of alienation and not belonging, being singled out, of not having the strength or courage to stand up for myself left me mute so I simply followed my abuela’s advice and walked away from the situation. I sat by my classroom door and stared into nothing. It was a hot summer day and I could feel the mocos running down my mouth but I didn’t care because I felt broken like that one time my mommy called me pendejo for the first time.
This is when I learned the power of words, the energy that one gives when we state them and how words are a manifestation of spirit. Some of them can be toxic but other can be healing. I didn’t grow hatred towards that kid; instead I began to hate myself for not fitting the mold. I tried to play sports I really did but it was not my nature so I gave up and picked up books. To avoid playing with other kids I always brought a book out for recess. Books had words that did not hurt me; Books had stories of better places then my block. I remember at the time one of my favorite books was “The Story of Ferdinand the bull” which was about a bull who preferred smelling flowers over fighting with other bulls. I became the nerd and this is what got me respect. People overlooked the fact that I was different and they assumed it was simply because I read all these books.
The word JOTO does not bother me anymore. In fact none of these words do. I’ve been called every name in the book from faggot to wetback, joto to illegal and now I simply reply thank you because I have read to many books to believe in this idea that I am all these hatful words. I have learned to pay more value to the words of love that have encouraged me to be the poet that I am today. I still have to work through that feeling of not being wanted and controlling my tears. I don’t want feel broke anymore and for the most part I don’t but from time to time I am reminded of those days in which I did not have the voice to defend myself.
Sometimes I want to go back to that dark skinned fat boy with dimple sitting outside his classroom wondering in what world does he belong in take him in my arms and tell him that I love him, that his mommy loves him even thou she becomes frustrated with her situation so she takes it out on him, tell him that he is a blessing to the world and that one day his poems will inspire other boys and girls like him to be bad bitches and speak about the power of our spirit.
I want to tell him gordito one day you are going to meet a tribe of people that are fighting to give you voice so there is no point in you crying or feeling unwanted. Close your eyes and dream that one day the sun will shine brighter then this summer and you will find power and joy in your words.