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Image courtesy of UNM AJAAS Instagram.

AJAAS creates space for queer Chicanx identities

In pursuit of activism and pride, The Association for Jotería Arts, Activism and Scholarship at the University of New Mexico meets twice a month to organize events and create a space for Queer Latine, Chicanx and Indigenous students.

AJAAS – a national collective of artists, activists and scholars – has existed since 2005. 

Their name and organization reclaims a Spanish slur against Queer folk, focusing on activism and community, AJAAS member Lama Quiroz said.

“It's a way to reclaim that word in order to empower ourselves,” Quiroz said.

The UNM chapter has been centered around education of the histroy and culture of the chicano power movement, Quiroz said. AJAAS attended the Latinx Visions conference along with hosting book club meetings this past year.

“A lot of the work that we did this past semester has been on education, or more so educating ourselves on what we are – how gender and sexuality is rooted here in the U.S. Mexico Borderlands,” Quiroz said.

AJAAS has created an important space on campus to expres both her Latina and Queer identities, Quiroz said. The organization represents and understands both those identities, contrary to other predominantly white Queer spaces.

“I wanted to be in a space where I felt like I belonged,” Quiroz said. “Especially since I'm a trans-Latina and there aren't many other Queer people like me who are Queer, Latina, Queer Chicanos  and I didn't want to be isolated.”

Marcela Johnson – the secretary of AJAAS – finds that both their Mexican and Queer identities influence the way they express themselves. Mexican and Queer principles of community are felt throughout the club, creating an environment that allows people to feel comfortable expressing themselves.

“There’s a lot of community in both and just the use of communal spaces and sharing. I especially see this present within our group … I also personally do a lot with fashion so I feel like having both of these identities directs the way that I express myself,” Johnson wrote.

Self-expression through art is a common practice in AJAAS, Quiroz said. Along with finding community in activism, it has allowed her to connect with others in the club.

“I like expressing my Queer Latinidad through my art or through my music. Others in an AJAAS express it in various ways that I am able to connect with. For example, Queer Chicano punk or standing up for our rights when they are threatened,” Quiroz said.

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Music has long played a role in Chicano protest. Ozomatli is a Chicano music group out of Los Angeles that first met when working to unionize the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and in the protest that followed not gaining union recognition. The Chicano movement has long been involved in labor organizing, originally the National Farm Workers Association, United Farm Workers was founded by Chicano labor activists.

Unpacking and understanding Mexican-American history and the roots of Latinx struggle in class and union organization, Quiroz said, has been a part of the educational goals of the club. They focus on translating those values into the work they do now.

“Having the space also helps me to contribute to and help my community,” Johnson wrote. “We’re also such a diverse group that even with similar traits, we have so many different experiences and we can all learn from each other. I feel that as a community, this space makes us stronger.”

Expressing herself through art, Quiroz said, she has found pride in herself through the space that AJAAS has created to educate and find community.

“I'm proud to be a trans Queer person, or a Queer Latina person, or more so standing up for our rights or showing the growing pains of living the way we are,” Quiroz said.

Maddie Pukite is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at editorinchief@dailylobo.com on Twitter @maddogpukite

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