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  • Erika Abad

“LatinX Marks the Wound and Space for Collective Healing”

Updated: Jun 13


Art that depicts moon with punk glyphs of women with shaved heads, tattoos, and boots.
Skinbyrd Coyolxauqui, Barrick Museum. Photo by Mikayla Whitmore

As I started to prepare to write about Xochitl Xitlaly’s mixed media art piece, Skinbyrd Coyolxauqui, she told me she didn't identify as Latinx or Latina. She personally identifies as Indigenous and only checks the Latino/Hispanic boxes when she has no other option. Our conversation got me thinking about the delicate balance many face: reconnecting with their familial or ancestral past through their creative practice while also ensuring their work aligns with existing discussions about their practice. In other words, how do artists who know they’re going to be identified as Latina/o/e/x remain part of those conversations while their work resists those borders and boundaries? 

 

With Census data showcasing how people are identifying as Black and Indigenous alongside Hispanic, I found myself reviewing pop culure essays and discussions on the term Latino, and more specifically Latinx. Alan Pelaez Lopez's "The X Is A wound, Not A Trend" (Color Bloq the stories of us) provided a way to approach answering the question I pose above. Pelaez Lopez identifies four wounds: settlement, anti-blackness, femicides, and inarticulation. Pelaez Lopez frames the wounds with attention to the ongoing discrimination LGBTQIA+ individuals experience. Indeed, Pelaez Lopez understands the X in Latinx as a "linguistic intervention [constructed] in the hopes that [members of the LGBTQIA+ community] can live a livable life.”

 

The artists I’ve met in Nevada approach their creative practice with that same goal. Their art, performance, and professional advocacy becomes the intervention that they hope will lead to having more livable lives. In my evolution from being a guest on Favy and Babelito’s Latinos Who Lunch and art review essayist for “Two Cultures, One Family-Building Family, Finding Home,” I have begun to reflect on what I’ve learned regarding supporting artists in their efforts. They’ve invited me into their studios, shared and translated their practices, walked me through their internal thought processes and motivations in ways that writing about them couldn’t fully capture. As grateful as I am for their trust and confidence, it feels more important to delve into how they heal the wounds of Latinidad that Pelaez Lopez names. For many of them, their creative practice or their ability to construct interventions for greater professional access is crucial to their healing.  

 

According to Pelaez Lopez and others, healing the wound around Latinidad is as much about the scars of anti-blackness, settlement, inarticulation, and femicide as it is about the complexity of solidarity. About a year after Pelaez Lopez's essay was published, The Nation published Miguel Salazar's “The Problem with Latinidad” and the roundtable interview with Rosa Clemente, Amanda Alcantara, Janel Martinez, Kristian Hernandez, Daniel Avarenga, and Alan Pelaez Lopez. In this discussion they expanded on Pelaez Lopez’s points about on Latinidad and highlighted concerns specific to those of us who came of age or worked together in what is now the U.S. Additionally, Pelaez Lopez expands on the critique of "The X in Latinx is a Wound" by explaining that "The rejection of Latinidad embraces nuance by inviting people who have traditionally been silenced in the US and also in their countries of birth." Rosa Clemente adds that the term erases race, building on Pelaez Lopez's earlier essay and framing Amanda Alcantara's response that she self-identifies as "Afro-Caribbean" because that term is regionally specific to her experience.


While many outlets, academia, pop culture, news, and other media sustain interest in the debate, especially during election seasons, I aim to do something different. I turn to the network of U.S.-based artists who fall under the ‘Latinx’ umbrella to explore their creative practice and the wounds of Latinidad from which they are healing.


Whether self-taught or formally trained, I will bring our conversations to the page, highlighting how each artist approaches prom the particularity of their experiences. Their aim to reclaim Indigenous, African, and mixed ancestral legacies and share their lessons with people like us/them. As many complicate and challenge the limitations of Latinidad, it is important to showcase how these artists live according to their ethics while engaging with outsider expectations.  

Artists and professor in art museum
Fawn, Erika, and Xochil. Photo by Mikayla Whitmore

While my experiences as a queer femme of color resonate with Peleaz Lopez's article, the regional specificity of The Nation's discussion does not capture the importance of solidarity that emerges in our everyday interactions. For example, my childhood classmates and mom’s coworkers’ extended family helped me retain Spanish so I could talk about my Puerto Rican grandmother. Undoubtedly, the Spanish dominance in my Dominican aunt's salon made it the spot for many women from across the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Latin America to find comfort in her chair. These everyday experiences color my lived reality as the child of Puerto Rican and Dominicans. At the same time, as a Caribbean kid in the desert, people whose families come from what is now Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador are the people who compelled me to stay in Southern Nevada.

 

I transitioned from UNLV to Nevada State because artists from above mentioned regions and national origins helped me feel at home here. Their support and solidarity have deeply influenced my approach to healing from the wounds of Latinidad. As much as X symbolizes the wound from which we are healing, I want to highlight how artists across what is now the U.S. cross ethno-national borders to heal together. Embracing complexity while standing in solidarity is crucial in our collective journey toward healing.

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1 Comment


iriswhispers
May 19

Thanks for this thoughtful piece!

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