For LGBTQ people, claiming space for ourselves and our passions in a cisnormative, heteronormative world is an act of revolution. That’s why Logo is continuing Claiming Space, a roundtable series where we pass the mic to a group of queer people we admire to speak on whatever resonates with them.
In honor of Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month (September 15–October 15), Logo asked five incredible Latinx artists and activists — from The L Word: Generation Q star Jillian Mercado to New York City drag icon Pixie Aventura — about how they honor their heritage in big and small ways. Find their heartfelt answers below.
Model, actress, and activist
“My Latinx heritage is in my DNA. It’s my ancestors making sure that the future understands where we came from, understands that we need to move forward, and being proud of the country where my parents are from, which is the Dominican Republic. I have so much pride. I bring it everywhere that I go, and I make sure my community is given the opportunities that they deserve to have. Even the fact that I know Spanish and talk in Spanish as much as I can — not only with my family but with my friends, any opportunities that I get to do an interview in Spanish — and honor the fashion and cultural references from the Dominican Republic. I try to keep it as alive as I can. We’re so spicy, and we bring so much spice into everything we do.”
“Personally, I think I honor and hold my space as a Latinx individual by just being. For the longest time, I felt I needed to stay away from my heritage as a performer because I felt I needed to come across more neutral in order to succeed, but in reality, I was just whitewashing myself. I can recall a few instances in college while receiving my musical theater training where my characteristics weren’t understood, so I was either questioned about it or asked to neutralize my behavior. You see, entering a field that is predominantly white, you develop a sense that in order to be seen, you need to blend in, which also included [my sexual orientation]. It wasn’t until I embraced my queerness after school that I realized I also had power by honoring my heritage.
Drag allowed me to break the rules and create what I wanted without being told what was right or wrong. Now, everything I do is about representing queer Latinx excellence. Often, I challenge the audience to go on my journey even if they’ve never heard the music or don’t understand the language. As long as you’re true to who you are, the message will be received. It isn’t just for myself, either; it’s also about creating spaces for other Latin artists and celebrating them.”
Transgender activist, speaker, and president and CEO of TransLatin@ Coalition
“I celebrate my heritage in a multiplicity of ways. Having a month that is dedicated to my heritage is great, so I celebrate it that way, but I also celebrate it through the work that I do. As a Latina trans mujer inmigrante, I tick all of those boxes that fit under this heritage month. My work is related to who I am as a person, and doing my work is how I celebrate myself and my people. I’ve been doing community work nonstop for almost 25 years, and I’m not planning to stop until it’s time for me go. This work fills me up; it feeds my soul. It fills me with so much gratitude when I see members of my community getting from one place to another. I’ve seen shattered souls many times over the years, but I’ve also seen those shattered souls become reconstructed and who they are meant to be.”
Samy Nemir Olivares
Writer, community organizer, and District Leader in Brooklyn’s Assembly District 53
“Being Latinx for me is to hold space for the multiple dimensions of my identity: I am Puerto Rican, Dominican, queer, and a migrant to mainland America. I honor my Latinx identity by feeling unapologetically proud of who I am and by living my truth. That pride of my cultural heritage takes many forms, from speaking my native language, Spanish, to dancing salsa and making sofrito, to celebrating long Navidades and wearing my mother’s earrings, to craving alcapurrias and mojitos.
I visit Puerto Rico and my family every few months, share time with my Latinx friends, and loudly advocate for Latinx issues and projects such as Maria Fund to help with island recovery. But most importantly, being Latinx for me, [as someone who was] raised in a family with deep Christian and moral values, is to think of myself as part of a larger community and to treat others as I want to be treated. I honor my identity by continuing the legacy of my grandparents and parents through helping others, serving the community, and advocating for social justice, whether that’s bringing food to someone or caring for the sick. These values have led me to become an outspoken advocate for immigrant’s rights and families, pushing for DACA, comprehensive immigration reform, and access to social services so that immigrant Latinx families from other countries have access to the same opportunities I do by virtue of having been born with an American passport. While I am a U.S. citizen, I say proudly I’m Puerto Rican-Dominican because those are my roots, and don’t forget where my family and I are coming from.”
Musician and lead vocalist of Tony & The Kiki
“I honor my Latine heritage by creating space for my universal familia of primos, primas, and primes — space to be themselves and rock out with abandon. Rock music has come to be this ’macho white dude’ thing, which is just so ridiculous to me. Everyone on the scene today is very serious about being ’sexy’ and ’cool,’ and to be frank, they’re all just blancito AF. I want to shake shit up. That’s what Tony & The Kiki is all about, Mamí: Rock ’n’ roll, queer brujeria, funky-ass vibes. It’s what the world needs now. Kiki sweet Kiki.
In singing loudly and proudly with my unique voice and living my fucking truth, I honor all those who came before me, my queer family who blazed a trail for me to twirl down, in 7 inch platforms boots, mind you. … The word ’Kiki’ means something very special to me. It’s what I called my Uncle Jimmy, my mother’s brother, when I was a baby and couldn’t pronounce his name. He was a deeply talented florist, a first-generation Cuban/Colombian American, and my mom’s BFF. Kiki passed away from AIDS complications when I was super young, and while I didn’t know him well, I idolize him to this day for living so boldly in his truth and not giving a fuck about what other people thought. I feel it is my responsibility to carry that torch of queer magic and to continue to blaze that trail for the legendary children to come.”