Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Problems with Branding Something "The First Ever," An Example

About a month ago, I learned that a Latino Institute was to be held at Creating Change, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's annual conference. Creating Change is an important space where activists, professional LGBTs, policy influencers, etc, come together to share, learn, strategize, and build community. I attended several Creating Change gatherings over the years and have always left feeling reinvigorated by the opportunity to be around those who share similar values and ways of being and knowing in the world, and to dialogue (at times argue) over strategy and our understandings or relationship(s) to history and current experiences.

It is based on my experiences at Creating Change, my past as an organizer of, and in, LGBT (in some instances Queer) Latina/o spaces, that I offer some thoughts on the Latino Institute and the language deployed in its branding.

I sincerely hope these thoughts are taken as an offering, rather than an attack or an attempt to stir the pot with gratuitous bitterness (I try to be explicit when the latter is my intent). Specifically, I want to share thoughts on language, history, and lessons I learned over the years.

First, I'm filled with a mixture of sadness and pride that a Latino Institute has finally become part of the institution that is Creating Change. Felicidades, kinda.

Second, the language used to brand the Institute is problematic. This was not the first time queer Latinidad came together at Creating Change to have conversations about intersectionality of identities and experiences, as well as dialogue and strategize around pressing issues affecting our communities. There were meetings before. 

Of course, we can talk about the effectiveness and efficiency of these meetings (being messy was basically a ground rule), but I cannot sit idly without reminding or informing folks that these gatherings took place and that, in many ways, these created much of the foundation on which this Latino Institute stands. While it is technically true that this was the first ever Latino Institute at Creating Change, important historical facts can be inadvertently glossed over or erased with language and branding.

Third, the Latino Institute does not stand on past Latina/o spaces alone. Creating Change has had a Queer People of Color Institute for many years. And, yes, the QPOC Institute was deliciously messy in all kinds of ways (perhaps it still is-- it's been years since I've attended). From white folks and light-skinned folks being asked to leave or prove their "ethnic'ness" to disagreements over sex-positive icebreakers, we laughed, rolled our eyes, cried, and sucked our teeth. But above all, we came together. That these spaces were about coalition and community building in ways that sharing a particular colonizer allows us to take for granted, should be learned from, rather than overlooked as a non-Latina/o space.

I do not seek to diminish the work of bringing together a Latino Institute at Creating Change. But I do hope to bring forth a perspective that comes from years of introspection, heartache, and a commitment to remember and document the complexities of our histories.  

Hopefully the Latino Institute was better structured and better facilitated than we were capable of. Hopefully folks in the room were able to get past the political stumbling blocks we encountered time after time. Hopefully, history will be better preserved and shared so that future meetings know and remember, they were not the first either. 

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