Poly And Race: Poly and Chicana

A late addition to the #PolyAnd series for Poly and Race week, Avie, hailing from the southwest, brings us a Chicana perspective on polyamory. Being queer, polyamorous and Chicana isn't easy; but at least Chican@ heritage values having each other, beyond individual differences.

I am Chicana.

I am polyamorous.

I am queer.

Chicana is not race; not by certain political markers. Like queer, it's also a political identity; you can be of Mexican heritage and not call yourself Chican@. You can be homosexual and not call yourself queer. You can be in an open relationship and not call yourself polyamorous. There are differences, nuances of declaration and intent that I need for you to distinguish, when I identify as a polyamorous queer Chicana. These are the words that describe me; I declare them quietly.

That is how I often regard these aspects of my identity; I pass quietly through my life, but never in denial. I live my identity; it is me. I don't need to introduce myself so fully to everyone I meet, but I will never deny myself. It is a liminal space, and I am always having to recontextualize what it means to be myself. As Gloria Anzaldua said, to occupy this liminal 'borderland' space leaves you "caught in the crossfire between camps, while carrying all"; I carry a lot here, in my personage and in the check boxes on demographic surveys. I occupy a space of crossroads, refusing to be any less than the sum of myself.

Chicana is not usually a label you are born with, unless you have been informed by someone you can identify that way. On the demographics forms for school or employment, I could choose to be Latina or Hispanic or Mexican-American or leave it blank or else. But I have chosen to be Chicana, because I have the option to declare it, and because was lucky enough to be given this designation by learning from my mother.

My mother is an academic. She made me acutely aware of the dearth of representative role models for brown girls. At the very least, she taught me about Frida Kahlo, who aside from being brown like me, was also queer like me, and was nonmonogamous. As a youth, to be Chicana meant that I had Frida, and her terror, and her art.

Being Chicana meant the odd discomfort I felt when my second grade teacher assured me she knew I only spoke English at home. She wasn't incorrect in assuming that about me, but it felt wrong for her to assume so strongly without letting me speak.

Being queer means feeling like I'm speaking the wrong language when I ask my own brother advice about a friend I like, and he assumes a gender because it's the gender someone would think about in his world (straight), and I don't mention a gender because it doesn't matter in mine (queer). He is my brother, he is brown like me and we live in the same city; but we do not see eye to eye. But I am an adult now, and I do not need his advice or approval to reciprocate a crush.

Still, I have the literature and history of other queer brown women, like Gloria Anzaldua, who stands in the borders of identity theory -- less accessible to white queer theorists, for being Chicana, and she is less accessible to Chican@ theorists for being queer, and being both at the same time. And because of her background in academics, my mother still knows who that is, and she had always welcomed my girlfriend or boyfriend to family dinners, or had queer friends herself from work. Coming out as queer was easy, even if some of the particulars are still challenging.

Coming out as polyamorous was among the scariest things I have done in my life. But being polyamorous is one of the things that has brought me the most joy in my life. To accept potential love I can give and receive, and to receive approval and positive communication about that from and between my partners brings me such joy.

To come out as polyamorous became inescapable, as I've become more and more of an adult, and the simple question of "How is your day? What's new with you?" became more and more complicated to answer faux-monogamously.

I may be quiet about identity, but I will not deny myself. It was getting harder to avoid saying that my day was great, curtailing the part where there was more than one person I loved making it that way. And besides, wasn't I an adult now? You might ask why I would owe anyone an explanation then, but being open with my mother is something I'd always relied upon -- and who is anyone to tell me, an adult woman, that my happiness is invalid?

Still, my mother had no reassuring books or characters for me to feel secure about before I found my own reflection in them. Frida Kahlo wasn't monogamous, but she was known for cheating and despair, not happiness or consent with her husband. I was terrified about coming out; I was afraid I would finally cross all lines and borders from just being different, into being unacceptable. I was afraid I'd finally lose the family of people I'd had all my life.

I've always struggled with having limited representative icons in my life. Frida is known to me for her pain and her painting, but to others, she is just that "Mexican woman painter." So I've had to ask myself, who will read me, and how? I've not wanted to be reduced to any one aspect of my identity (woman/ queer/brown etc). But I have wanted to be someone important. I have been quiet about my identity because I used to feel a need to try and conceal these signifiers of otherness in the hopes that I won't be swept to the sidelines for my difference, even when I relate to and love so many different others. I have been fortunate in having a supportive family. Chican@ culture is known for having tight-knit family structures, collectivism even, but often has been criticized for being socially and sexually conservative. Even in the rights movement, the voices of women and queers have had to stand at a distance, such as Anzaldua, though this has changed much over time. I had considered with great gravity that I would be disowned when I came out– queer was easy, but what would be the response to polyamory?

I have idolized people across their labels and place and time, but as I've grown up, I realized as much as I might be quiet about my labels and attributes, I carry them with me. I can see how brown I am, and so can anyone else.

This is me.

This is now my first writing as a polyamorous queer Chicana -- all at once. All at the same time, at all times, like I often am quietly. Here, I am finally speaking through the intersections. I wasn't always aware I was all of these things, but I learned them as I kept moving through my life and finding those things that were important that I needed to do and be. I need to love, and I need to love myself. I need to speak about myself, even if it is quietly. I need to acknowledge what influences my voices, so that I can better be understood. 

Still, I am anxious when thinking about what will be understood about me, from the image of me holding a lover's hand in public.

Who do I read as, if my lover is a man? Or a woman? If the public space has already seen me with another lover, what will they read if I have two in one week? What do they read from the color of our skin? If it's contrast or homogeneity?

Which do you prefer?

But that last question is no one's to answer but my own. I know what I prefer in my life and I know what I love. I merely have to consider the above questions every time I step out with someone, because I know the rest of the world might want answers or already have assumptions about what it means. These assumptions may make it harder to live the life that I want. I may have to stay quiet and steel myself to their assumptions, until I am in a safer place and can explain myself, like here.

I cannot always succeed in being truthful about myself. There are certain people in my life who would prefer me under different demographics, and sometimes I cannot write in my real answer. But I am out where it matters, and I am proud of who I am.

As such, I managed to come out to my mother and the rest of my family. In my social life, I am out about all of these things, though acquaintances still insist or assume I must be either straight or gay, or that I'm probably part Asian, or other things about me that can't really be changed by their assumptions. While my brother does not take much to understanding, my mother's acceptance was quiet in all the right ways.

"We love you no matter who you love. You may bring anyone you want into your family, and we will support you," she said. And then she asked where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner.

I asked my mother how it was that despite the noted social conservatism, that I keep seeing other Chican@ families opening up and welcoming their children of all walks of life.

“M'ija, the world is hard for us, and at the very least, we have each other. And that ends up mattering more than anything else.”

And more than anything else, even being polyamorous and queer, my family and my Chicana heritage has given me somewhere that I matter, somewhere I am loved, and I intend to keep sharing that with the polyfamily I am building.

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About the Author

Avie Saenz - Writer - Active Contributor

Avie is pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at a big university in the Southwest. She currently has two cats, a number of lovers, and even greater number of novels unfinished. Her primary creative interests are fusing the style of Western literature with the stark landscape of contemporary city life, sexuality, and classical archetypes.