If Only We Could Remember: Being Queer and Indigenous in the South

A photo of queer indigenous activist Eydka Chilomé.
“To be a queer indigenous mestiza in the u.s.South is to provide the visceral embodiment of lost memory and the possibilities of a new world.” -Eydka Chilomé
Photo by Fela Raymond.

By Eydka Chilomé

Writer’s note:  I have chosen not to capitalize trump, u.s., klan/neo-nazi, and european in the context of this article because, in my opinion, these things should not be given more power.

I am an unapologetic queer indigenous femme woman, activist, artist, and educator with hair on my legs and under my armpits. I currently live in a place called Texas where I bear witness to police killings, klan/neo-nazi rallies, confederate flags, and trump propaganda—essentially white supremacy wrapped in the violently-appropriated indigenous Mexican aesthetic of the “cowboy.” Today, the u.s. South yells the same war cry that my ancestors have heard over and over again—a proud declaration of settler colonialism. My people, indigenous in heart with the proof of a 500-year war in our mixed blood, have learned the rhythm of this war drum and have learned to survive it. Heartbreakingly in that survival—amidst the trauma, displacement, and severing of culture and tongue—many of us have forgotten the vastness of our cultures and the ways we once celebrated and engaged in love and intimacy. As Guatemalan activist Juan Gerardi reminds us, La tarea es recuperar la memoria del pueblo—translated to “The work here is to recupeate the memory of the people.”

Truthfully, the word queer could not begin to explain the complexities of what it means to be an indigenous body who remembers her way back home through love—not to my father, not to my people, not to the world. It took me years to figure out how to explain my queerness to my father. Violently displaced from the land where he walked barefoot on mountains and nurturing river beds until he was 18 years old, my father was born 2,000 miles from where I sit writing this. Like our ancestors, my father lived in a reciprocal and intimate relationship to a land that was once called Cuscatlan, and is now called El Salvador. Like many of the poor indigenous peoples of the global South, my father moved north to survive ongoing genocides funded and facilitated by u.s. and european capitalist-driven intervention. Consequently, I have ended up in the u.s. South.

As I sat at the table with my father, defending my identity as a queer woman, I found myself reminding him of everything that this colonial empire has stolen from us. I had to travel through 500+ years of history, of movement, of violence and erasure, to try and articulate things that neither English nor Spanish could truly explain. “This is not the way we lived. I cannot pretend like I fit into this imposed world when I don’t—when we don’t,” I urged. He looked at me challenged—his mind trying to understand, his heart knowing that the truths of this war are undeniable. That the things we have forgotten will be the things that will save us, if only we could remember.

A photo of queer indigenous activist Eydka Chilomé.

“The u.s. South yells the same war cry that my ancestors have heard over and over again—a proud declaration of settler colonialism. My people, indigenous in heart with the proof of a 500-year war in our mixed blood, have learned the rhythm of this war drum and have learned to survive it.” -Eydka Chilomé Photo by Vanessa Ramos.

I remember that our people knew much more than a heteronormative patriarchal reality. I almost want to laugh at the ways this colonial project has reduced the infinite spectrum of love to one format—a format that rarely honors and fulfills the women, the two-spirits, and the life bearers of our species. I feel a great sadness that my own father would wish me a life of numbing patriarchal violence, a fate so many of my mothers who came before me endured. I’m saddened he thinks this prescribed life would be easier than one where I am encouraged to creatively explore and remember alternative ways of experiencing fulfilling love. But I forgive him. I remember that part of our work as queer indigenous peoples is to remember for our ancestors, and to be courageous for our elders, our descendants, and each other.

As queer indigenous peoples in the u.s. South, we have found ourselves in the belly of the beast. We have responded with memories that lead way to an ancient future in which the bounty of love is not only honored, but harvested for the sake of future generations. Some of the fiercest political and spiritual movements—dedicated to honoring life and justice for the land and its people—are led by queer indigenous activists from all over the world. I am humbled by queer indigenous women all over Tejas who are leading the charge against extraction, pollution, water contamination, gentrification, labor exploitation, incarceration, and unjust laws that restrain our movements as indigenous peoples. I am honored to be on this land—a land tended to by indigenous relatives who have always been here, remembering, resisting, and honoring all the queer ways our people have loved and lived. As a part of the indigenous diaspora in the u.s. South, we learn from the natives of this land and work with them side by side. Because of my community, family, and endless relations, I am reminded daily that my queerness and my brownness wage resistance in the face of historical amnesia and a white supremacist heteropatriarchal system that would rather we not exist. To be a queer indigenous mestiza in the u.s.South is to provide the visceral embodiment of lost memory and the possibilities of a new world.

You Might Also Like