Charting Our Migrations, Daily

By Eddy Francisco Alvarez Jr.

Photo credit by Eddy

Photo credit by Eddy Francisco Alvarez Jr.

The following piece was born out of my research on queer and trans Latina/o, Chicana/o Los Angeles, out of the memories of the people whom lovingly shared their stories, dreams and migrations with me. It is also inspired by the writings and storytelling of jotería in the city, those that paved the way for many of us to tell our own versions of LA. It is also influenced by my personal daily crossings, my experiences growing up in the San Fernando Valley, and my coming of age as a gay Mexicano-Cubano in the mid 1990s. This piece is also a SWAPA or Spoken-Wor(l)d- Art- Performance-as-Activism, a performative meditation based on my witnessing of the written and oral stories I heard, recorded, and read, and on the cuentos and memories inscribed in the walls, streets and buildings of Los Angeles. SWAPA is about using writing and performance to witness yourself, others, and our relationship to the world around us. It is a vehicle for social change and transformation. As Chela Sandoval writes, “SWAPA is a technology for truth and reconciliation.” Witness with me.

We chart our migrations daily,
our daily crossings, daily journeys, life journeys, our daily bread.
In the charting, we remember,
Re-membering our broken selves,
We invoke love, loss, desire, touch, recuerdos,
Memories that for a moment, while stopped at the red light, make us hopeful again.
How do we remember then, the forgotten; that which we didn’t even know had been there?
that which lies buried deep?
How do we re-member,
Bringing back the erased, the unheard, the dead?

How do we erase, too, those invisible borders, cross without fear when the stoplight is broken, looking both ways carefully before we cross?

How do we chart ourselves— our brown, butch, femme, trans, queer selves onto fractured roads,
through debris?

to find our sequined selves under the rubble, under festering, old, decayed stories of oblivion
of loss, of death, of tragedy, but also of survival and hope.

How do we rechart our selves in the multitude of the city that erases our individuality but also gives us anonymity to exist—to be queer, to be undocumented, to be a macho, a maricón, to be free— if only temporarily?

How do we board the Metro at Pershing Square, and not forget the cruising grounds for gay men, immortalized by John Rechy over fifty years ago,
in his, OUR City of Night?

Even he faced erasure
for not being Chicano enough—his words too dirty, too white, to queer,
too, too, to excess, exes, sex, sex, dirty, lazy, dirty Mexicans, sick,
like AIDS patients— “dirty.” AIDS in our community?
“That never happened,” they say.
How do we unforget the queer homeless kids living under the 110 and 10 freeway underpass whose parents threw them out?
How do they cross thresholds, cross bridges into the eastside where the stories
of buchas like Nancy Valverde, are erased even by well-intentioned historians?
Stories like hers, brought to life by educators, writers, performers
Through stories like “The Barber of East LA.”
Stories erased like the queerness of the Chicana/o punk scene, of the Chicano Moratorium, the Walkoutsno habían jotos ahi? Y marimachas?
What about the stories of lesbianas making crossings through the Arizona desert, holding hands in fear and in pride,
afraid yet courageous, knowing they might die,
feet swollen, blistered.
The media reports them among the presumably heterosexual statistics of dead bodies, crossing.
News reports: Latina transgender woman found dead in downtown LA, growing numbers of transgender women of color brutally murdered.
Nobody cares.
They change the channel.
The killings must stop.
Trans Latina warriors y activistas – lead the way Reyes, Román, Salcedo
“Transgenero inmigrante y que?”
And in the face of it all
We maintain hope.
Fold out maps in our pockets,
Maps of memories to keeps us intact,
Old school maps, like a Thomas Guide,
Some with GPS maps
but most of us with mere scribbles,
An address of a pariente lejano that someone in the pueblo recommended,
landing pads, where Mexican immigrant men,
and maricones del epicentro find home away from home, away from home,
make friends and lovers and family
in the darkness of crowded one bedroom apartments in Pico-Union,
In the San Fernando Valley.
Por el día they wake at 5 am,
Stand in front of Home Depot trying to forget the night before,
the movida of survival, of love, of hunger for touch, for love, for family, for love,
porque como dice Cherríe Moraga,
“familia springs forth from touch, constant and daily.”


unnamedEddy Francisco Alvarez Jr. grew up in North Hollywood, California, of Mexican and Cuban parents. He is a creative writer, performer an educator. He has been writing creatively since he was a child, inspired by his paternal grandfather – a poet who taught him to write in cursive and inspired him to write. He received his BA and MA in Spanish from CSUN and his PhD in Chicana and Chicano Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His academic and creative work appears online, in the Oral History Review, Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies and in Queer in Aztlan: Chicano Male Recollections of Consciousness and Coming Out. His forthcoming publications include poetry and prose in Joto: An Anthology of Queer Xicano and Chicano Poetry, and in an anthology on Queer Chicana/o, Xicana/o Spiritualities both by Korima Press. Dr. Alvarez currently teaches in the Department of Africana and Latino Studies at State University of New York, Oneonta.