I can still hear the news. I had just finished running through my typical morning regimen: taming the hair, brushing my teeth, making sure my armpits weren’t too offensive. It was as I walked out the door that I heard the words “mass shooting.”
I felt a distant tinge of remorse for not knowing the story. But I was in a hurry to get to work.
I remember receiving a text message from my mother with lamentations of that day’s tragedy.
I remember watching the televisions at work and hearing the conversations between patrons about the massacre.
I remember clocking out and desperately needing a shot of tequila because my nerves were destroyed.
I remember releasing a stream of tears as candles were lit in their memory.
I remember standing on that crowded street and taking in the other tear-stained faces glowing dimly in the candlelight all around me.
I remember blurring the rest of my evening with more shots, hugs, declarations of love to friends, and eventually finding solace with a lover in our horizontal heaven on earth that took the form of my bed.
I can still hear the news.
Even though it is no longer trending—I can still hear it.
In the midst of the Pulse tragedy, a flame erupted in my already fiery Leo heart. My connection with these fallen spirits was not only on behalf of our queerdom, but was also because of our Latinx identity. And through this foundation shattering reality check, I began to recognize a part of myself I had not fully explored.
I grew up in a seemingly affluent Latin household. I had a father who worked tirelessly and a mother who eventually began to work to maintain our comfortable lifestyle. The façade eventually crumbled, illuminating the reality of our existence as compared to “true” Americans.
I’d spent years trying to appear just as normal as the rest of the other kids, and I might have seemed that way—aside from being called a faggot on a daily basis. My mother lovingly forced me to come out to her in a McDonald’s drive-thru when I was fourteen. When I finally obliged her and confirmed my queerness, she said “okay.” and proceeded with our order.
She later told me that she had informed my family, both immediate and extended, and told them that if they had any negative thoughts to never speak to her again. I will always remember that. Even as we endured the woes of falling into poverty, I always had the comfort of knowing that I was being provided with a kind of support from my family that isn’t always found in our culture or even bloodline.
Personal tragedies have since struck that have distanced relationships with some of my blood, but have also made other connections stronger—especially in the journey of finding my queer identity. Through it all, the only thing that I felt truly robbed of was my other half; an identity that, from being a child, I tried hard to hide.
One struggle that I believe we have all felt is our tendency to engage in self-shaming. We are made to feel ashamed of where we are from. Of our accents. Of our parents’ imperfect English. Of our dark skin and curly hair.
These are inherent and beautiful pieces of ourselves that we are made to believe are lesser because of the values in this country.
I spent my whole life trying to fit in without this kind of cognitive understanding. I accepted my queer identity because I had no other choice. But why did it have to be different with my other half?
I’ve spent hours talking to peers about this personal struggle and its effect on me in recent years, and more often than not, I get that uncomfortable turn of the eyes or the excuse that I’m just a fiery Latino.
Here is my response to that attitude: Fuck yeah and fuck you.
The years I spent trying to be as less brown as possible cannot be regained. The musical influences that shaped my development are filled with English verses as opposed to Spanish. What I can say now is that the only thing I am still ashamed of is my assimilation. Though it’s hard to know the importance of this as a six-year-old boy in ESOL.
When I heard the news, it was as if my heart burned to ashes and was reborn like a phoenix. Inaction was no longer an option for me. I am no longer ashamed of who I am. I’ve become reconciled with the fact that I cannot change my childhood, and I am appreciative of the privileges I was awarded while growing up.
Every day brings a new addition to my identity that I learn to love and express. This is not a form of isolating myself from the powers of oppression, but rather a declaration that I will no longer allow them to infiltrate my mind and life.
I now identify as a Latinx queer.
What that means to me is that in addition to being queer, I am also a part of a movement in the Latin community that hopes to dismantle the gender-confined language of our colonizers in such a way that it is made inclusive for non-binary and gender nonspecific spirits that are so often ignored or given the cold shoulder. This is a radical term with the goal of uniting our people in empowerment.
Our culture has a strong variable quality, ranging from our indigenous roots to our more modern Amerindian and African backgrounds. We cannot be defined by one landmass, one color, or one struggle. In truth, we are still haunted by the ghosts of our colonization.
I hope that being a small voice in such a big movement will help others to chime in and join this chorus—because we are beautiful. Our culture is beautiful. Our differences are beautiful. Our diaspora may not have been our burden, but I believe it is uniquely ours to carry and strive despite it. Our visibility is strong and growing.
We are Latinx.
Kenneth Figueroa is a queer Latinx, first generation Peruvian American living in Atlanta. Aside from being a hairstylist, he is also a founding member of "La Choloteca: Ley de Latinx" where he may very well show off his insatiable love for Kumbia queen Karla or lip sync for his life to Shakira."