"To be an artist you need an audience, and art education is crumbling. How can I reach low income audiences if they aren't receiving the education to understand the work in a certain context? It’s meant to be shared. As much as we do a lot of the work for ourselves, we wanna share it with our community and other artists. We wanna celebrate ourselves and others, and to be understood."
Yeah, I’m just realizing more and more, even with queerness, there’s a lot of invisibility for all of us. Not fitting into the male gaze or whatever. Like lesbians, anytime they’re represented, it’s white women engaging in an objectifying way where it’s still satisfying the male gaze. That’s what we see slapped on T-shirts and stuff.
I had a really hard time framing it, but being in the honors program this semester has really helped. You start to see the body of work you’re creating, and at first I didn’t know why I was doing the work. Now it’s about visibility. We really need to build community, especially with everything happening right now. It’s not the time to hide I think. Which we normalize. Not that it’s not valid since I feel like being fearful for our community members is very real, but we have to continue to push and take story building into our own hands.
May I ask what body of work you’ve been creating, and what the reaction has been?
The body of work I’m specifically thinking about is a series of portraits. Gender nonconforming portraits. Friends. Myself. Not really being femme or butch. Thinking about heteronormative behavior, especially in the lesbian community. Seeing couples, one being masculine and the other feminine. Why does it always have to be that way? Femme on femme is more accepted but then there is also shame from our community on them. So I’m representing all types of love. Just trying to depict what we don’t see. To help normalize those relationships more. To get rid of the stigma that carries along with that.
The other one is portraits with the cosmos. Its me investigating my indigenous side. My parents are immigrants from Mexico, south, deep south rural Mexico. So they grew up very different than Houston. We have gone and visited family, and they speak dialects. They still live in houses of adobe.
I feel like with more stuff that is coming up in current events, I have been responding by trying to reconnect myself. Like thinking about epigenetics and how the trauma your ancestors go through resurfaces in you. It’s like the study of how those experiences change your gene expression. Even if you've never lived those experiences, you still feel trauma and fear of things. It might be like your dad or grandpa went through that. So it’s ongoing research of self investigation. Especially with our environment and everything happening right now, I think we could really learn from indigenous people. Thats where I’m at right now.
I’m so thrilled! You have a whole semester to wrap it all up.
Yeah! I wouldn't say wrap it all up. Like it’s actually the beginning of something for me. I’m really excited about it. To expand. I work with audio as well. I make and write music. One of the things I’ve been doing a lot is….So I casted different aluminum shapes. The cans I collected to melt down to make the cast were made from objects during conversations like this. It becomes part of the sculpture. So If we were sharing a beer, I would keep the can and sculpt it. Record some of this conversation, and so I’ve been taking beer to the class and our class has been talking about aspects of feminist theory and equality issues. Environmental issues etc. I then edit and add different things, and it becomes part of the sculpture. You hear the conversations overlap. I’m not exactly sure where it’s going but I know I need to investigate further because it feels right.
The mystery! I love how you brought up femme and butch. How do you like to identify?
I say genderqueer, gender non conforming. Ummm it changes from day to day. Like with being an artist. Before there was a lot of pressure to identify as a painter or sculpture or printer. Like why do we have to confine ourselves? In all aspects of our lives we shouldn’t have to be confined to any one label. I guess that’s how I feel about my gender presentation. Everything is a spectrum. Even with what you identify as one day changes another day. It should be ok. It’s your life. For myself, I’m just queer. Haha Some days I’m more of something than others.
And you're just fucking awesome
That’s the best part.
Yeah people are missing out.
QTPOC are the best.
Yeah, I just wrote this book that was part of this class. Its called Explorations About Brown Queer Identity and it’s very specific for my perspective, I acknowledge everyone’s experience is different. I’m not speaking for anyone, it’s my perspective. But yeah, one of my favorite things about myself is being queer. It’s interesting because I feel like many people would be mad about me stating that. Mad that you can be queer and celebrate yourself. So it’s interesting, but we’re like yeah!
Totally! In society we’re not taught to self validate ourselves. People are always asking why you’re so happy, and I’m always like, it’s already difficult getting through life, why not make it an effort to be happy right?
It’s more about them. Are you mad about me or mad about yourself?
How long have you been here for?
A year and a half. So a year ago was my first semester. I feel like I just got here as a transfer student. As a transfer student you can stretch it out, but because I came in with so many credits...I was in and out of community college for 8 years. I graduated high school in 2006 and then I moved out to the Central Valley. Didn’t plan on going to college. Rough situation.
I kinda left trying to be myself. I couldn’t be my queer self as much at home. My dad used to drink a lot and it was just a lot of home stuff. It was really hard being out in California and having no family here. Working coffee shops and paycheck to paycheck, and going to school full time. It took a way longer time than I’d planned to transfer. But I also never planned on transferring to UC Berkeley so I feel like everything I went through came full circle. I feel very blessed to have the opportunities I have had. The mentors and community. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this by myself. We don’t exist in a vacuum. Especially thankful for my mom.
Yeah, living in the Central Valley was really interesting. Just being a young queer woman by myself. Have you been to the Central Valley? Yeah, being from Houston you think… California, and I’d never been anywhere besides TX and Mexico.
You literally just bought a ticket and left?
Well I made friends before I graduated high school and they’re from Fresno. Before I met them, because of all the stuff happening with my dad, I told myself that when I turned 18 I would move to New York or California. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know shit, I was a youngster.
But I made friends and they were all from Fresno, and I had been working since 16 and had some money saved up, and just moved out here and started working. Since I was from out of state, I had to wait a year before starting community college and moved to San Francisco a little bit after a breakup. Then one of my sisters got really sick and passed away. I ended up moving back to Houston. I was 20 and I just had to be home, I’m really really close to my family.
It was a really, really hard time. It was a hard decision to move back... my sister who was 13 was really outgoing and excited about life. I felt like she would be like, do you. Go! I felt like my time in CA wasn’t done. I moved back.
I have a very tight knit queer family in Central Valley. Yeah after that I was working for WIC. Women Infant Children’s program. It’s a program that helps children under 5 and moms who are pregnant and low income. I provided nutritional education as a nutrition counselor. That really influenced my work as well. Many of the women worked in the fields. 50% of the produce produced in America comes from the Central Valley. Yeah, the food on your table is coming directly from this work. They don’t have very many opportunities. They’re working with agriculture yet they don’t really get to see the “fruit” of it in many ways.
I was in school and worked there for two years. I still needed to be making art. So that was that.
I took out loans, which was really scary... I was able to transfer in two years. Realistically talking, if I was still working and studying, it would have taken me 5 years to transfer, plus another two years here. I was able to focus full time on school, give it my all...I was able to get more involved, apply to scholarships, be in honors. Financially it is still hard even with loans. What a privilege to not have to worry about money and focus on school...
So all those little things have really informed my work. Even the audience that I make my stuff for. I’m interested in the concept of high and low art. Who gets to decide what’s in the gallery? And once it’s in a gallery, who has access to that? And how do I make it accessible for people who don’t have access to these spaces...I know I didn’t have access to that growing up...I’m still trying to work through all of this.
How do I survive off my work and how do I make it accessible for communities I want to impact and empower? Sorry, I just talked a lot.
No, no! That was phenomenal. I’m so proud of you. You’ve come such a long way and I can’t wait to see years and years of love and labor come to fruition. I also find it so valuable to have non-traditional students in college. I was fortunate to have an easy financial path through undergrad and so many of my peers as well. So to meet someone fighting for this is crazy! My mom is afraid of getting her degree. She has time now. Time for you to live your dream. That generation to find happiness.
And congrats to your mom. Putting 4 kids through college. That’s part of it. And also raising you in a way where you value your education, that speaks a lot about your mom.
Our parents are awesome regardless of their problems!
Yeah, growing up you realize too they’re human. They’re not perfect. They fucked up with some of us but they’re still ok. The kids are ok.
I know! The moment when you realize your parents aren’t superheroes. Oh! Mom, just cried. She cries too.
Yeah. I think having strong parents-- especially my mom, I saw her cry a few times but it wasn't often. Looking back, I didn’t see her cry too many times. It’s just like she’s so resilient. She put up with so much shit. Thank you. Thank you for showing me how to stand up for myself.
I talk a little about this in my book. It’s a weird situation when your parents are traditional and freaking out, and seeing your friend’s parents’ reaction. I expected something like that, and my mom was just so...she didn’t embrace it but at that point, that was the best I could have asked for. Not her wanting to talk about it. And it can be kinda hurtful to think about it but during that time I was relieved.
She didn’t kick me out. She didn’t cuss me out. She didn’t make me feel like shit about it. You know. She was just like, we’ll talk about it later. She never treated me any different. Once again, they’re human. They need time to process the same way I think we needed time to process before being ok with ourselves.
It’s this ongoing process.
It is! It’s funny when straight people are like, when did you know? It wasn’t from one day to the next and it’s different for everyone, but you figure it out. You might try something, like it, or go NOPE!
It’s different for everyone. Definitely. It’s a spectrum. There’s that and also it’s no one’s business. They don’t have to know everything you do and I think “straight” people also have this experience.
We should ask that! When did you know you were straight?
Yeah! Like how do you know you’re straight if you have never had gay sex?
We can make this a project! Carry a microphone around and everything.
I love, love, love how you brought up the gratefulness for your parents just ignoring it because the white queer and trans community has such a different assumption or narrative. They are often stunned that parents can do such things.
Yeah, different cultures and ancestries. That’s another challenge within our communities. This notion in many communities of color that queerness is a white invention, and I think it has to do with the histories that have been hidden from us. Like if we really start digging into history, a lot of our stories have been colonized and erased. So we don’t know a lot about our queerness. We’ve had to hide for safety concerns. Even now we’ve had to hide for many different reasons.
Even in indigenous cultures we have two spirited people, so we didn’t call it these derogatory names. Even queer was a derogatory term and we are taking it back now, reclaiming the word. Umm, but, yeah, that’s a whole different thing. Yeah it’s really hard for parents to come around to that.
In Spanish these words are so ingrained in everyday language, these derogatory terms are used during sport games You have an implication that being gay is negative if you're using it to describe a sour situation. Words and how we use them matter. Or when people say don't be a pussy. Why use it like that? We need to change it around and cheer people on.
Yeah! Be a pussy! You got this!
So I think about the very simple use of language and how they perpetuate notions of women, and yeah..that’s where my head is at a lot of the times when I point it out to straight folks. Like my cousin, and straight cis guy.
Yeah and he is thinking about these things. I feel like many people mean well, and when you have a loved one who is part of marginalized communities, you have chances to explain why language matters and they really listen. They go home and maybe they’ll call someone else on it. It’s the beginning of a ripple effect to change the culture we live in.
Yeah! I’ve been thinking a lot about accessibility.
Oh wait. I’m around queer people all the time and other people don’t use the language we use, then we condemn others who are”ignorant.” It goes back to art institutions. So many don’t have this art speak or have access to art institutions which are mainly run by white people, especially white men. Ohh! Have you been to SOMARTS?
They have a monthly queer performance event which is curated by a different person every month. It was just so special! Eccentric and raw. How often do you get to see this crowd in a regular art institution?
I was going to ask. How do you feel about the city of Houston? I feel like it’s very diverse and international, and it has a queer scene but how would you say it compares to SOMART?
Well I was at MIC/A in Baltimore for four years, and was only home for breaks. I’m just now starting to explore Houston as an adult, but I’ll be gone soon enough for residencies too. I often have, woah this is there moments. Even though we have a diverse array of museums, I wanna say that it is very censored and catered towards privileged people. The museum district itself is so insulated. Montrose is becoming very fetishized and gentrified. I hope to meet really great people whenever I go back but I really don’t know.
That is one of my biggest fears in Tulsa, OK. How does the oil industry run art there? Will I be spending my year pushing buttons? What kind of conversations will I be allowed to have? Do I need to be concerned for my safety?
Yeah, I think that’s one of the hardest things about being a queer artist. Every artist has doubts and questions and fears about how our work is received, but there is a fine line between being criticized and our safety. Definitely here...lately it’s changed. I used to think I was safe with everything I made. It might shock some but most people are really open. Especially with the election, and even when it was coming up, I experienced a lot of homophobic aggression...in the Bay! You’ll be in Oklahoma...I think they need to be exposed to you and your art. How many times do they get to listen in on conversations? I think for people who are trying to be allies, this is their time to listen. You’ll test the waters and see how far you can push this. This this work needs to be done and fuck them. They need it. We need it. Having a year residency is great!
I’ll definitely keep you updated.
I should be in SoCal.
When do you start?
I have a semester left here but after I’ll have the summer.
We can link up and have a studio visit or something.
Yeah! I also want to collaborate.
Yes! There’s a collective here called Little Greeny.
After the election we had a radical art jam in the back of the studios. A group of musicians and different students and performers, and a lot of the art practice students. We painted a mural. Whoever wanted to grab the mic while they’re playing could. Let your soul out.
It was a way for us just to let loose. It’s really, really hard. Things like collaboration are so important, especially in our community. One of my analogies is, when you’re experiencing something and you're not sharing your stories and someone else is experiencing the same thing, we think we’re alone in feeling and thinking these things. By sharing them we realize we’re not alone.
It’s like working under a lightbulb that keeps flickering. It bothers you and it’s bothering me but we’re not talking about it. But when one of us is finally like, “is this bothering you? Cause it’s really hard to read with this flickering bulb.-- Yeah, let’s get together and change it.” Yeah these spaces, actual creation of space. Whether it’s an art project or to actually document these things and take matters into our own hands is really powerful. So I’m really excited to hear from you.
Is your honor show still up?
No. It went down already. That’s another cool aspect of the project. I have been working more with murals too and one of the aspects I like about murals is the history, but also the potential of community collaboration. So bringing people in and getting to know people in your community you may not always talk too. Being Mexican and thinking about the history of Mexican artists, and being confined to that, but also street art. What does it mean to put a pedestal outside that is not confined by the “white cube”? What does it mean to paint a mural inside a gallery that has to go down? It’s ephemeral. If you didn’t see it...It’s like performance. Documentation is how the project lives on but the actual thing is gone. I did this mural and had to paint over it myself.
You had to whitewash your piece. That’s quite symbolic in itself.
I went into it thinking about all these actions. The content of the mural was a temple, like Aztec temple, and thinking about civilizations that are part of our history in every culture, and it’s been hidden away. There are only remnants that we use to try to make conclusions about their lives on. The installation was the mural with the casted sculptures and audio installation. I was like, this is gonna go down and I spent so much time on it, and if you didn’t see it, you didn’t see it. But there are these components that are still living in their own way. I wish you could have seen it!
I have some documentation on Instagram.
I have been thinking a lot about the image of the work. Nowadays the image seems more important than the actual piece since you apply to places, and forward others your website/social media.
*Belinda shows me documentation of their work*
You can hear them when you walk up to them. Sometimes you can make out what people are saying but you can’t exactly follow through with any one conversation. I was also thinking about how women actually give birth--life-- and it’s interesting that we have such a patriarchal society globally, and it makes more sense to revere women. How the fuck did this happen?
I love the title Genesis in this case. It references where patriarchy kinda started with the blame of Eve.
It also looks like the virgin Mary. I grew up Catholic but not strict. We didn’t have to go to Church regularly, I’m lucky.
Oh My!! Lucky! I had to go to confession and go through Confirmation and all those rituals.
Yeah, as I learned more I started rejecting it. It doesn’t make sense. Why aren’t we allowed to question/ I feel like I follow more of a Buddhist philosophy. Prayer as well. Prayer doesn’t have to be tied to this institutional religious structure. The way you share your hopes and dreams in a conversation is a form of prayer. Simply putting what you’re grateful for into the universe is a form of prayer.
Prayer has been part of every civilization and I’ve been thinking about how whenever I get into a rut, I still, me persino (to make the cross sign), I pray to La Virgen Guadalupe. It is so ingrained in me! Also she is a symbol of your mother. The mother of Mexico. It’s weird I’m praying to Mary but also for-to my mom and my mom’s guidance, and all these overlaying connotations for me. Revering women. The conversations are overlapped and speaking to how we are still suppressed. Women are so much more present in upbringing children but in positions of power and professionalism, we are talked over all the time. I feel like this installation is a catalyst for all of the work I want to make.
I love how it is larger than life too! You have to approach it and are humbled by this prayer.
I guess it’s different with familial structures too. My father tried to be this machista guy. At the same time there's 6 of us, and he has 5 daughters and one son who is the baby. It is a very matriarchal household, and to this day, I still think he has a hard time with it. Like he’s kinda like, what am I gonna do about it, and he loves us, but I still see instances where he is bothered by it. I don’t know what it is. He was raised by a single mother so maybe he feels like he is supposed to be a “man”.
But my mom does so much. She has the last word in a lot of things. It’s not like she does that on purpose but she has been the best to us. She has been there for us in so many more ways. It’s like an example how kindness, how using strength and physical power to control does not win people over. People respond to how you treat them, how you make them feel, how you explain, how you have patience. That is what my mom really has, love and compassion. I love him and forgive him for when he fucked up. He’s a good dad, but stubborn.
I’ve been out since I was 16.
Being the first children in an immigrant community, we were kinda sheltered, and being in Houston, so the whole queerness...you compare generations and kids in high school now. It so much more out there. More normalized. Not everywhere. It’s hard growing up in a more rural and conservative areas… I went to Westside High School, a pretty white school compared to my home school.
Oh sweet! I went to Clements High School. I may have seen your track and field team at meets.
Yeah probably! Oh yeah..even being a transfer student to West High was also like being emerged into a little bit of that whiteness. Growing up in Black and Mexican communities then going across town to a white high school. Again, it was more accepted there because it was a white high school. In a way it’s having a lot more resources, and white people in this country have more of that.
And it was funny because we’d be so confused why people were so nice at West High. Yeah you leave your stuff out and they take your notes, not anything else. They have their money so they just want good grades. So that was a culture shock. Looking back there was a lot of micro aggression and you’re seen as the student from the hood. No matter what.
Even going to college. I had at least a 3.0 GPA and no one talked to me about going to college. No one guided me. One time the dean looked through my files and went, “Oh, you have good grades.” I knew she’d made the assumption based on my appearance that I was a fuck up, not that I wasn’t but my grades were still good. Even though she realized, this white cis lady didn't go out of her way to counsel me, get to know me as my dean .Sometimes I think about how maybe I could have gotten where I’m at a lot faster but then again, realizing these things have changed the way I look at things.
It’s weird though because when I was applying for grad school, there were a lot of checkboxes. Conferences, residencies etc. Similarly I feel like I’ve been cheated of resources or just forgotten and glossed over. That is why I have been adamant about resource sharing. Especially living at this co-op, I found out about this program where they pair you with a mentor at UC Berkeley. Like who am I gonna ask about grad school when I personally don’t know anyone? It’s a huge resource and I pass it on to others to help them start researching. We can do a lot to pass our resources on. Like the idea of competing is a thing, but I think it is also tied to colonialism. If we all help each other we can accomplish so much more.
Capitalism. Someone always gets fucked. We can do all these small things to dismantle the structure.
It is such a problem in the art world! Share these grant opportunities! Why do we have to compete in the art world when it is already such a challenging career?
Yeah, my professors talk about that. To be an artist you need an audience and art education is crumbling. How can I reach low income audiences if they aren't receiving the education to understand the work in a certain context? It’s meant to be shared. As much as we do a lot of the work for ourselves, we wanna share it with our community and other artists. We wanna celebrate ourselves and others, and to be understood.