Queerness, Poetry, and the Fight for 15 Movement

Franky Piña Publicado 2017-07-25 03:08:42

Deivid Rojas is a poet, documentarian; he’s seduced by history and politics is his passion. His conscience awoke the moment he migrated from Colombia to the U.S. He arrived in Miami when he was eight years old. The idea of emigrating was his parents’. Latin America’s financial and political stability went up in smoke again. And the idea of a ‘future with better educational and economic opportunities for the family’ could only happen outside of Bogotá. Migrating was a disheartening experience: his parents worked 50, 60 hour weeks in the food industry.

‘When you emigrate, you do it forever’, a fiction character from Milan Kundera said. Migration is surrounded by adventure and falls, of sacrifice and hope. ‘Everything is a gain, if everything is a loss’, poet Octavio Paz wrote. In case of Rojas’ parents: sacrificing their social status in Bogotá to become members of the immigrant working class was a difficult pill to swallow. The dream of living comfortably in their Miami paradise, was stronger than the opportunities motherland offered. His father, Ruben Pacheco, started out handing out fliers on the streets of Miami, while his mother, Patricia Jimenez started working at a restaurant.

It was during his tenth year in school that Deivid started to feel empathy towards the more vulnerable within his social environment. His English teacher planted a seed through her teaching method based on historical events and activists’ speeches such as South African Steven Biko and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. From then on, Rojas started questioning his role in society. However, Miami didn’t offer the political awareness he was looking for and he needed to go to university as far as possible. He went from a precocious idealism, to collegiate pragmatism when he entered Swarthmore College, 20 miles from Philadelphia. Once in college, he took a more political turn.


Early years in Miami.

While living in the Magic City, Rojas never had to shelter himself under the ‘Latino’ label in order to define his identity, but when arriving to a college town, Swarthmore, where white was the dominant skin tone, his Latino identity became a politicized. Also, when publicly defining himself as Queer, the personal became political.

In college, Rojas became President of Enlace, a Latino group in campus; Vice-president of the Student Council; he participated in the Dream Act movement whet it started gaining momentum; contributed to the creation of the political magazine Swarthmore Overlaps.At College he concentrated on History and during the last semester he took a seminar on Labor History and understood the power of labor and wrote his thesis on the ‘Bogotazo’.

In 2011, Deivid Rojas graduated from college. That same year, the Occupy Wall Street movement hit the financial and social world. That year, Walmart’s employees also went on strike. What he had learned in college ‘in theory’, was now taking shape in the form of social movements across the U.S., and other parts of the world. Thanks to a scholarship, he was able to travel around the world for a year. Rojas never got too far away from Colombia; during his years in college he always worked with the war displaced victims. ‘We have to remember that Colombia is the country with more displaced people in the world’, Deivid states.


Graduation at Swarthmore College.

Now, political work must not be reduced to the social arena. When he came out to his family as queer, the family also underwent a transformation. “My father was very understanding , and it didn’t matter much to my siblings. Everything was always cool as long as I wasn’t ‘one of those locas’. This attitude offended me because, if I wanted to be a loca, I would be a loca.’ In his minds, I could be gay and still be masculine. I think they were afraid I would emphasize my feminine features instead of the masculine ones. Fortunately, that has changed.’

For the most part, that attitude, still dominates the Latino culture, which celebrates masculinity and puts it in a pedestal, and that narrative about masculinity makes some people uncomfortable. ‘We must understand that we come from a very macho society where the man is the center, the head of the household or the business, and if you act in a different way, the standards of masculinity are not met.

When Deivid came out as queer, he started to break from the chains that tied him to concepts about what meant to be a man, and the existing expectations about what is to be a man. “I even think that every man should question their masculinity. For me, it’s been a long, yet liberating process.”

“I love being a queer Latino. It’s part of who I am and I am happy to share that, and be political about it. I don’t even question it any more.”

Rojas arrived in Chicago in 2013. Love brought him to the Windy City, and with the speed of a gust, three weeks later he had found a job organizing the Fight for 15 campaign. What a better way of getting to know Chicago than organizing workers! The job only lasted a few months because, shortly thereafter, he started working as Director of the Communications Department.


Fight for 15.

Rojas has held that position for four years, and with time, he has come to realize that workers’ history has a lot of power to transform minds and even, impact other’s opinions.

Today, if a campaign wants to win ‘it has to rely on intersectionality’. For example, Fight for 15 cannot only be a campaign for economic justice. It has to humanize the campaign participants; treat workers as complete human beings, people of color, immigrant, transgender, queer. And that is why we have to tell stories. Queer people exist everywhere, and not only regarding the issues of marriage or HIV. Queer people are workers and they are also leading the campaign Fight for 15, and other city organizations. That is why I think it’s important for the queer community to tell our stories as total human beings, not only fragments. I am part of the Fight for 15 movement and I am also queer, and I don’t see these two things as separate entities.

The complete human being is a person that manifests itself in different areas: politics, ethics, social commitment and also, through the arts. In 2016, Rojas began an additional journey when he started to write poetry. He began to question the concept of masculinity in free verses. He also wrote about being queer and about love and being in love with a man of color. At some point, he began to publish his poems on Facebook, and although he never thought he’d read them in public, the activist Emmanuel Garcia read them in the virtual world and invited the young poet to participate in the cultural dialogue Vives Q. From being a guest, he went on to become part of the organizing committee of Vives Q Labs.

Rojas’ poems were raw and sought to convey the poet’s honesty. He also realized, through the readers, that there ‘is a thirst for stories about the complexities of the queer community, such as being queer, the relationship with family, love, the historical context, because all these elements coexist in my being. In that sense, my poems are very political because they draw on aspects that would hardly be perceived both within and outside the community.’


Grandma.

In ‘Vallenato with Grandma’, Rojas reaches the family otherness, the construction of the everyday narrative of being queer. It’s a translation to the most human act, to love and be loved. Deivid moves between multiple identities and his essence is within each one of them. He creates linguistic bridges and recreates the complexity of his world view, in an act as old and spiritual that is a dance:

 

Vallenato with grandma

 

My grandmother, while dancing asked me

¿Estás feliz?

Which really meant

¿Are you still, gay?

 

 

She hugged me, and said

Eso es lo que importa

 

We twirled and whirled

To the vallenato

the guacharaca

El acordeón

 

We kept on spinning

Both of us holding on tighter, más apretado

In fear

Her, the fear of the unknown

Lo que no se sabe

Of God’s judgement

For my safety

For my happiness

For my soul

Me, of losing her love

 

Her hands grasping me tight

The same ones that carried me

To a land where I could be free

Where I could be me

Our feet stopped moving

She whispered,

Lo quiero mucho

La quiero mucho también

 

Rojas has been captivated by the power of story, both his own and others. The others are as important as his poetry. He listens to the workers grievances and seeks to discover narratives about being queer. Sometimes they reflect in his poems, and sometimes he captures them through film. He has started working in some film projects, but has also collaborated with other filmmakers. In 2016, he participated in the film Signature Move, which premiered this year in the SXSW (South by Southwest) Festival. The film tells the story of a Pakistani lawyer who loves Lucha Libre and falls in love with a Mexican woman who is fighting to accept her gender identity.’


Documenting voices.

Four years have passed since Rojas started working for Fight for 15 in Chicago. Back then, the campaign was a wild dream. It was impossible to imagine that such crusade would turn into a full-fledged social movement. To raise the salary to 15 dollars an hour has gained track, starting in New York and California. In Illinois, the measure passed in the Senate and is now waiting to be signed by Governor Bruce Rauner. In 2016, Hillary Clinton, as part of her electoral campaign, accepted the worker’s fight to earn 15 dollars an hour.

The Fight for 15 movement was born from a dream and strengthened the labor movement. Intersectionality has favored the leadership vision that has started to tie up the loose ends of a more general struggle. The American worker’s enemy is not the worker from an underdeveloped country; it is the system where politicians fight to preserve corporate interests.

On May 23, Fight for 15 rallied against McDonald’s and President Trump. They both represent capital interest. While McDonald’s doubled the CEO’s salary to 15 million dollars and is investing millions of dollars in their new corporate offices, the humane conditions of his workers have not improved. That is why the Trump-McDonald’s duo share multiple accusations, such as the embezzlement of worker’s salaries, sexual harassment, tax evasion and unjustified layoffs of the works that are raising their voice against injustice.

The Fight for 15 movement is growing, and it’s not a labor movement only. The intersection of struggles for a better and fairer world has allowed them to work with other organizations such as the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, Move Org, Color of Change and NextGen, among others.

Behind great movements and the small, daily labor victories exist those beings who have started to understand the whole from the vindication of gender identity, human and political rights, and poetry: such is the case of artist Deivid Rojas. A young man committed to politics, history, the arts, otherness, and the queer community.

 

Translated from English by Carolina A. Herrera.


Learning to organize in India.

Franky Piña has been the cofounder of several literary magazines in Chicago: Fe de erratas, zorros y erizos, Tropel Contratiempo. He is the coauthor of the book Rudy Lozano: His Life, His People (1991). One short story by Piña was published in the anthology Se habla español: Voces latinas en USA (2000) and Voces en el viento: Nuevas ficciones desde Chicago (1999). He is the editor of art catalogs: Marcos Raya: Fetishizing the Imaginary (2004), The Art of Gabriel Villa (2007), René Arceo: Between the Instinctive and the Rational (2010), Alfonso Piloto Nieves Ruiz: Sculpture (2014), Barberena: Master Prints (2016) and Raya: The Fetish of Pain (2017). Piña is the editorial director of El BeiSMan.

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