A Tuna Bleeding in the Heat: A Chicana Codex of Changing Consciousness

The Color of a Nation.
They thought of the desert as colorless,
blind from its high noon bright.
They saw no hue,
its original inhabitants equally invisible,
their footprints camouflaged by the dusty imprint of wagon wheels and hoof tracks.
Her name was written there in the dust.
Did you see her, she who wrote without letters,
the picture of a disappearing planet?
She knew in advance what it would mean, their arrival.
She saw us, her pueblo, a cactus tuna bleeding in the heat.

( A N E X C E R P T )

In 1996, I wrote a memoir entitled, Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood. The book,
which was initiated by my now seven-year-old son’s premature and threatened birth in 1993, was
completed three years later, marked by the death of my son’s paternal grandfather and the death of a
beloved uncle. Through the act of writing that so-called autobiography, I learned that a story well-told is
a story embellished and re-visioned just as the stories that rose from my mother’s mouth in our family
kitchen some forty years earlier. The fiction of our lives — how we conceive our histories by heart — can
sometimes provide a truth far greater than any telling of a tale frozen to the facts.
Through writing Waiting in the Wings, I learned to reconfigure and rearrange dates, names,
chronologies in the effort to create a narrative generated by a relentless faith in dreams, memory and
desire. Since the completion of that memoir, I have witnessed my journal entries moving away from an
“I” fixed on the exact record of my experience, to something, I hope, much deeper: I have encountered
the “I” of character who is and who is not me, but one which allows me the freedom of incorrect politics
and a bravery not realized in my own life. So, what I present to you today is as much an autobiographical
narrative as it is a dream waiting to happen based on some irrefutable facts. Here are a few.
In the small world that is my extended queer family we live as if our values shaped the world at large
or more accurately that our values chisel away at some monolithic monoculture we attempt to subvert
with our art, our blood, our daily prayer. This may be the truest fiction we inhabit, but it sustains us.
For now.
Another maker of fiction, Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Sherman Alexie writes: “I made a very
conscious decision to marry an Indian woman, who made a very conscious decision to marry me. Our
hope: to give birth to and raise Indian children who love themselves. That is the most revolutionary
act.” When I stumbled upon these lines in Alexie’s collection of poems and essays, One Stick Song, my
heart opened at the pure courage and simplicity of the statement. I felt Alexie my relative in the
naming of what I, as a Chicana lesbian, have kept secret for so long. For as taboo as it is to admit
within the context of the firmly-inscribed multiracial social democracy progressives paint of their
Dream-America, I had a child to make nation, one regenerated from the blood nations Mexicans in this
country are forced to abandon. I had an Indian child to counter the loss of my family’s working-class
mexicanindianism with each succeeding generation. I had a Xicano child cuz Raza’s turning white all
over the states.
Sometimes I think it is the “social advantage” of looking white enough to travel unnoticed
amongst them that has put me in the position to recognize on a visceral level how spiritually
unrewarding the white nation-state is. It may feed your belly but not your soul, I tell my Chicano
students. And beneath this writing, I hear my son ask about his beloved gringo grandpa, my father,
“What about Papa Joe?” How do you teach a seven-year-old the difference between institutionalized
ignorance, racism, bigotry, class arrogance, and the individual white people, breeds and mixed-bloods
that make up our family? How do you teach a child the word “genocide” and still give them reason to
love beyond their front door?
The evolution of my own changing lesbianchicana consciousness eventually led me to make the
same basic decision Alexie made: “to marry an Indian woman and to give birth to, and raise Indian
children who love themselves.” Not necessarily in that order, but, I believe, prompted by the same
moral imperative. I can’t write those lines, however without acknowledging that from the perspective
of most North American Indians, Chicanos are perceived as second-class Indians at best or no Indian at
all, i.e. “Hispanic.” I also can’t write those lines without also conceding that when most heterosexuals
of color discuss “breeding” as a revolutionary act, they aren’t necessarily thinking of their lesbian sisters
and gay brothers as comrades in those reproductive acts of sexual resistance. Historically, we may
have been invited to bed by those cultural nationalists, but not to the tribal councils.
Still, I believe my conversation about strategies for revolution as a chicanadykemama resides more
solidly within the cultural-political framework of American Indigenism (North and South) than in any
gay and lesbian or feminist movement, which remains, at its cultural core, Euro-American, in spite of a
twenty-year history of people of color activism in those movements. I have for the most part removed
myself from conversation with the gay and lesbianfeminist movement because most of its activists do
not share my fears and as such do not share my hopes.
Genocide is what I’m afraid of, as well as the complete cultural obliteration of those I call my
pueblo and the planet that sustains us. Gay men and Lesbians (regardless of race) have, in the last two
decades, become intimately connected to the question of survival because of the AIDS pandemic. But,
as AIDS activists have already learned, sometimes the hard way, AIDS and the threat of death, impacts
people of color communities (gay and heterosexual) differently. AIDS is just one more murderous face
in the long history of the systematic annihilation of poor and colored folk across the globe.
So, I fear AIDS as I fear gang-violence as I fear the prison industrial complex as I fear breast cancer.
But I also fear the loss of Nuevo México to New York artists; the loss of MexicanIndian curanderismo to
new age healers; the loss of Día de los Muertos to San Francisco artists and Halloween; the loss of
Native tribal and familia social structures to the nuclear family (gay and straight); the cultural loss of
kids of color to mixed-race adoptions (gay and straight); the loss of art to commerce.
I think of Adrienne Rich’s words from a generation ago, “Every woman’s death diminishes me.”
Twenty years later, I would amend Rich’s statement and assert with equal lesbian feminist passion,
“Every barrio boy’s death diminishes me.” I never knew I would experience it this way; this intimate
sense de un pueblo in the body of a boy. Maybe motherhood has changed me. And then, I think not,
except for a growing compassion for those I have loved the most intimately in my life: mexicanwomen
madres unspoken and unspoken for. This love is what fundamentally propelled me to be a lesbian in
the first place and this love remains so. And so, I suffer their sons, their fathers, our men. But I remain
a resistant combatant.