An interview with Ray E. Rojas for Pluma Fronteriza.
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Author of the Lambda Literary Award-nominated Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen [Evelyn Street Press, 2005], Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano has his foot in several places in Aztlan. Whille in Austin, he served as executive director of ALLGO, a queer people of color organization.
Born in San Jose, raised in Chihuahua, and schooled in Austin, Herrera y Lozano is multifaceted in where he can draw inspiration from.
Ray Rojas (RR): Lorenzo, you were raised "somewhere between Chihuahua and California. Can you be more specific for our Pluma Fronteriza readers? What ages did you live in Chihuahua? When did you go to Austin?
Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano (LHL): I was born in San José, Califas, but at the age of 10, my parents decided it was time to return to México. My mother was born in San José as well, and my father was born in the small mining town of San Francisco del Oro. When we finally relocated, we moved to a ranch called Estación Adela, which is located near Hidalgo del Parral and is one of the many ranchitos created post-revolución.
Having finished elementary school, secundaria and begun la prepa, I had already planned to make my life in México. A few months after I turned 16, came the crash of the Mexican economy post-Salinas de Gortari and all possibilities for me to finish school went out the window. So, I took what resources I had available to me, grabbed my birth certificate and moved back to San José to live with my abuelos.
In San José, I attended the National Hispanic University, which at the time was a mostly Chicana/o university (don’t let the name fool you!) catering mostly to working adults. Because my English training stopped in 5th grade and my Spanish had been pieced together while living in México, I decided to pursue a degree in Translation and Interpretation Studies, in hopes that it would increase my knowledge in both languages simultaneously.
In 2001 I met my compañero, who I have made home with for nearly 9 years. At the time, he was living in Austin, Tejas, so I packed up my U-Haul and moved to Eastern Aztlán. It wasn’t until recently that I returned to California to be close to my familia and near my abuelita, who is living with dementia.
RR: How did you get into writing?
LHL: As with many queer writers, writing was a way to get through life. Coming of age in Chihuahua was as challenging as it was beautiful. I never could completely fit in, whether because I was from another country, I had a bit of an accent, I dressed funny or because I always had a certain air that gave away the fact that I was just different (some would say “la mano caída” gave it away).
The difference I see between my experience and that of other queer writers I have read about, is that my writing was not necessarily an escape from my current reality. Instead, it was a way for me to make sense of my feelings, my desires and my longings while using the very tools and realities that surrounded me. Since the age of 12, I have been writing about love, desire, heartbreak, land and cultura from the place of a brown body that straddles multiple fronteras.
As I look to my first publication and the three manuscripts I have since completed, I realize that I continue on the journey to make sense of life, death and desire from the same place I was writing when I was entering puberty. By now, I’d like to believe my craft has improved, my politics have been refined and my consciousness has been infused by transnational, trans-spiritual and gender expanding values. All of this, I call the fundamental manifestation of my Xicanidad.
RR: For those readers that don't know, what is the Sandra Cisneros Macondo Workshop Community?
LHL: As the name implies the Macondo Workshop was created by Sandra Cisneros. The Macondo community is made-up of writers of many genres, many of which straddle multiple genres. One thing we all have in common and that is fundamental to becoming a part of the Macondo community, is our commitment to community, to writing from the place of and for the people from which we come from, to bring about social change in ways that are consistent with values of peace and of compassion.
RR: Your book is filled with many religious riffs as its title "Santo de la Pata Alzada" teases, and of erotic writing? How did you put this collection together? On what theme? How to relate and compare the religious motifs (misas, benediction, Eucharist, etc.) to the erotica.
LHL: Santo de la Pata Alzada is comprised of erotic pieces, of cultural affirmations, of love sonnets, of corridos, and of heartbreak rancheras. It is, in essence, a coming-of-age book that documents the chaos of sitting at the cross roads of religion(s), of two nation-states, of culturas, of language(s), and of desire-based identities.
My whole purpose with the book was to document the world I witness through the lenses, the tools and the languages I was raised in. The incorporation of religious iconography and traditions is not intended to be gratuitously offensive. Instead, I sought to make sense of and illustrate the beauty and sacredness of love and of desire through the multiple languages I had access to, religion being one of them.
Therefore, the book contains erotic poems that are woven through catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal and indigenously sacred images and practices. These are the ways of knowing, of speaking and of loving that I was raised with. These, then, became the ways of documenting, of exploring and of experiencing my realities.
As for the actual name of the book, “¡Santo de la pata alzada!” was an exclamation my grandmother would make whenever she was appalled or shocked by something she saw, heard or read. Although she never saw the book, I knew that its very existence would merit such a response. I titled the book in her honor, as it is an homenaje to the mujeres, the jotos, the marimachas, the transgendered, the translanguaged and transnationed, who have been forced to abide in silence and in the shadows of secrecy.
To write, is my act of resistance.
RR: Can you further explain the influence you received by Lesbian writers such as Cherrie Moraga and Ana Sisnett?
LHL: As a young man coming of age and coming to terms with multiple identities (Xicano, Mexicano, Queer, Cisgendered, etc), I sought the works of such writers as Gary Soto, Victor Villaseñor, and Judith Butler. While these and many other writers helped inform the very formation of my individual identities, it was through the work of women of color, including queer women of color, that I began to grapple with and even imagine the possibility of embodying multiple identities simultaneously.
The work of such writers as Cherríe Moraga, Adelina Anthony, Sharon Bridgforth and Dr. Jackie Cuevas, embody the type of writer I hoped to become. Through their mentorship and by witnessing their craft, I continue to explore my writing from a place of intersections, of overlapping identities and ever-expanding possibilities for love, desire, communidad, cultura and familia.
RR: I got Catholic. I got Pentecostal. Were you (are you) both these religions? Or "losing my religion"?
LHL: I was raised Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical and Pentecostal consecutively, which speaks to the heavy presence of Christian iconography and practices within my writing. It was during the Pentecostal years that I experienced my first relationship, which was with a pastor’s son. After two spiritually and emotionally tumultuous years, I came to terms with who I was and left the church. I no longer practice or identify with any form of Christianity.
RR: In your poem "rama seca: bendiction of a disowned queer" you use "macho as La Felix." Is this a reference to Maria Felix?
LHL: It is. While most gay men I know grew up with Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand, I grew up with María Felix and Lucha Villa. Whether on screen or in real life, strong and assertive women have had a constant presence in my life. My mention of La Felix in this poem was intended to pay homage to the mujeres who I saw as holding power and knowledge, while also rejecting the manufactured forms of masculinity that my father had disowned me for not embodying.
RR: Compared with 30 or more years ago, what do you think gay males are facing today that is different? Is raising children far more prevalent? Is your biological clock ticking?
LHL: I try to avoid romanticizing periods of time, but also recognize that things do change. For instance, the 1970’s saw oppressive institutional forces that policed and criminalized gay men who congregated and were consensually intimate with each other. Yet, the 1970’s also saw a fervent disruption of sex and sexuality that was far more fluid than what we see today. Certainly, such freedom of expression was countered by disease and violence.
Although, while we have many, many lives to mourn as a consequence of disease and violence, we must remember that our losses are not the product of freedom of expression, but of the very structures that collude and depend on disease and on violence. After all, disease and violence are rooted in systemic oppression and should not be as easily relegated to only being a direct byproduct of the mechanics of queer intimacy.
Today, we have seen the Supreme Court declare anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional (Lawrence v. Texas), and in some parts of the country and of the world, we can marry each other. Even as we are not as prone to be incarcerated for congregating in gay establishments (though this still happens), we are still subject to state, community and religious violence.
It is important to note, however, that while our struggle continues, it is not unrelated to the many other struggles that other oppressed peoples are engaged in.
As a queer Xicano, I know that my struggle is inherently and intimately tied to struggles for sovereignty, reproductive self-determination, peace, immigration and prison emancipation, to name a few. An ongoing struggle within movements for social change, including the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) movement, is that we have failed to fundamentally link and intuitively identify the ways in which most of us traverse and embody multiple issues, multiple identities and multiple possibilities.
In terms of raising children, I believe that queer people of color have always raised children.
As the LGBT movement has sought same-sex marriage recognitions, we have failed to institutionally recognize that communities of color have long traditions of creating family in ways that are different, and often more expansive than what monogamous, coupled and economically-tied marriages purport to afford. From gay men who co-raise their sisters’ children, to lesbianas who co-parent along with their compañeras whose children were born before entering these relationships.
And from those of us who were raised in communities and by villages of people who shared in the loving, raising and nurturing of their collective children.
My clock is ticking loud. My compañero and I have spent years weighing the options available to us for becoming parents. This year has marked an important step as we have begun to align our lives and careers to accommodate and support our dream to begin a family of our own. With this, we recognize also the heteronormativity of two people raising one or two children. Within this context, we hope to create a home that is fed by the love, support and influence of many people, from many walks of life and of many identities.
We follow the footsteps of our ancestors and contemporaries in knowing that a queer family is possible and necessary.
RR: What project to you have in your future in activism and writing?
LHL: I am on the brink of completing the fourth manuscript that follows Santo de la Pata Alzada. Upon completing this fourth body of work, I have the task of beginning to disseminate through journal submissions and exploring publishing options. Once the collections of poetry are all complete, I will also begin shifting into novels, which will be based on my years in Chihuahua as well as my childhood in San José in the mid to late 1980’s.
Meanwhile, I have been brought onto a team of writers at Change.org, writing specifically for the Race in America blog providing critiques on contemporary issues that are rooted in legacies of structural racism.
RR: Can you give me a website you'd like to share with our readers?
LHL: Colombiano Andrés Duque has an excellent blog with the latest on LGBT issues in Latino América and those pertaining to Latinas/os in the US: blabbeando.blogspot.com
RR: Can you give me a name of a young Chicano(a) or Latina(o) writer that we should be playing close attention to?
LHL: Joe Jiménez is a queer Xicano writer I have long admired and followed. His work is exquisite, sharp and embedded in the lushness of cultura. A native of the Corpus Christi area, Joe currently resides in San Antonio and has a blog at the following address: godblessthedead.blogspot.com.