Let's begin with the glossary:
JOTEAR (from the Spanish joto, fag, often derogatory as queer used to be derogatory.), verb that's being reclaimed by Latino activists to center Queerness, i.e. to nudge the dominant paradigm of white maleness, and shove Queer experiences into the mainstream.
Here's the verb conjugation:
JOT@, bi-gender version of the word joto. It's a typographical effort by U.S. Chicanos/Latinos to hermaphrodite the Spanish word away from its single gender specificity. You see, in Spanish every noun is assigned either a male or female gender, e.g. el joto, la jota (which, by the way, is how you say "j" as in "letter j.") Tangentially, one of the rules in Spanish is that if you have one male element in an otherwise female group the entire group takes on the masculine gender. So, a group of one hundred teachers with one male teacher is referred to as "los maestros." So, maestr@s is both maestras and maestros, Chican@ means both Chicano and Chicana. No one's left out. The Spanish Royal Language Academy will likely appoint Edward James Olmos its president before it accepts this grammatical change.
I learned about jotear from Cal State Long Beach graduate Nadia Zepeda at the Chicana/Latina Feminsms conference on Saturday.
"We reclaimed the word queer, so our community is reclaiming the word joto and jota, so that's why we said joteando, to center queerness. We tend to center white, middle class men. So in a sense we're shifting that and trying to center an experience that is not normally heard," Zepeda said.
The theme of the conference is "Joteando Por Vida, Queering For Life." About a hundred people, mostly female college students from Southern California, attended the all-day event.
She and other Chicana feminists on campus organized the first conference last year after some sexist and homophobic language from fellow students pissed them off. Zepeda and others had heard that Chicana students on campus had gone through the same thing in the 1970s and formed a splinter group called Hijas de Cuauhtemoc, in reference to the Aztec ruler who was the last to fight against the Spaniards. Audrey Silvester, a graduate of CSU Long Beach, helped find the activists and built last year's conference around their experiences.
"Because we were coming across issues like sexism also within organizations or homophobia or race issues, so it was really significant for us to know that there was Chicana feminists here in the 70s. We're not starting out of nowhere, we have a history and we were upset that we didn't know this history," she said.
The conference had the typical workshops, arts, crafts, poster, and book sales. And a not very typical vagina-shaped lollipops sale. Zepeda says the $1 chocolate, vanilla, and peanut butter flavored lollipops sell like hotcakes. "We're very sex positive here. We did the Vagina Monologues every year and this is how we raise funds. We're in a budget crisis and we sell Vagina lollipops at the Vagina Monologues. They're so popular that we take them on the road wherever we go," she said.
I couldn't stay for long so I power-workshopped through the conference. Paging through the schedule, the obvious first stop was to room CBA-124 for the "Cucci-L.A. - Sexuality and Pleasure Physiology" workshop. A couple of dozen attendees, mostly college age women, listened as the Mohawk-haired, pierced panelists passed around sex toys and talked about G-spots. I walked in as a young Latina with horn-rimmed glasses put a soft-rubber, ribbed, barbell-shaped contraption with a string on the end in the palm of my right hand. Ay, it bends.
Cucci L.A. is a sex-toy business that promotes sex-positive culture. That means creating an honest dialogue about the yes, nos, and maybes of sex. A woman five feet from me talked about how her female partner had suffered a cut on her vagina and was going through vagina therapy so that she would stop associating pain with every sensation in that region of her body.
The panelist asked, "Does everyone know what erectile tissue is?" After silence she explained that it's the physical places on the body where blood rushes, the clitoris, nipples, labia, anus, dick.
On to the next workshop. About a fourth as many people attended the "Revisions to the Chicana/o Codex: Active Subjects in Chicana/o Political Poster Art." Here's what I heard in a nutshell: Mexican-calendar images of big breasted women = bad. La Llorona, the mythical Mexican woman who drowns her children and wails at night for eternity, used as a threat to generations of Mexican kids = bad. La Malinche, the indigenous woman who leaves her people to help Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes defeat the Aztecs = bad. These are not empowering images.
The panelists projected posters created by the Bay Area graphic arts group Dignidad Rebelde. Their images of indigenous, braided hair women with rifles = good. A fuchsia background poster for the San Francisco Dyke March with three women, a short-haired, tank-top wearing African American, a woman with long, dark hair, and a senior citizen with short wavy gray hair = good.
On to the next workshop: "Las Dietas: Decolonizing the Diet Mind." Great. How to turn freely eating food to freeing yourself through food.
Culture is embedded in food, the panelist said as I sat down on the desk-chair, make some nopales and frijoles when you're away at college and it'll take you back to your mother's kitchen, with all the back and forth arguing too.
Then she got deep. In spite of her antipathy toward male French philosophers, she said Michel Foucault's theory of crime and punishment and writings on the panopticon can teach us a lot about the destructive nature of dieting. A large part of dieting, she explained, is about the feeling of being watched. Complying with the rules of the diet comes from the fear of being seen violating the rules. Diets create docile bodies. Why does society frame fat bodies as revolting? She asked. Fat people are seen as weak, bad citizens. And why are slender bodies docile, good citizens. She quoted a Fat Studies scholar and urged all to become diet resisters. "Uh-huhs," and soft "yeahs" rose from the room. A heavy-set (sorry I'm still colonized) woman in a colorful dress shared out loud her quandary form this morning. "I didn't know," she said, "whether to wear a sweater or not, I don't want to show my arms. But other times I think, fuck it who cares, I just want to chow down."
The cycle of dieting, the panelist said as she parenthetically talked about her urge for chocolate cake, must be replaced with indigenous ceremonializing of food.
She ended by urging people to look up The Panza Monologues. A Vagina Monologues-style play based on Chicana kitchen table talk about panzas, lonjas, fat rolls, bellies, and how to embrace them. I knew I could leave now with a good bit of knowledge in my back pocket. It took a Foucault theory at a Chicana feminist conference to find a way to love my lonjas.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every Tuesday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.