Gerber/Hart Library and Archives (Gerber/Hart) hosted a virtual conversation with former Amigas Latinas leaders Evette Cardona, Mona Noriega (who were co-founders) and Lourdes Torres (a board member) Jan. 29.
Queer Latinx artists Amanda Cervantes and Jose Luis Benavides moderated the conversation. Cervantes is also a curator and writer, and works in City Colleges of Chicago's Harold Washington College's digital media design department. Benavides is also a photographer and lecturer at City Colleges of Chicago's Wilbur Wright College.
They have been using the Amigas Latinas collection for their current work, including for the Global Center for Advanced Studies symposium "Latinoamerica in Chile."
Amigas Latinas (which existed 1995-2015) was a Chicagoland Latina LBTQ volunteer-run non-profit support, advocacy and education organization that began as a monthly discussion group (Platicas) to one that offered many events and services over its 20 year existence.
The talk focused on Amigas Latinas' archival collection (housed at Gerber/Hart) and the ways in which artists and scholars like Cervantes and Benavides continue to use these resources in their own work.
Gerber/Hart's Programs and Social Media Coordinator Jen Dentel kicked off the discussion. Benavides called Cardona, Noriega and Torres "really phenomenal leaders in the community." He added that they would be sharing slides from Amigas Latinas' archives with accompanying questions about those slides for the panelists to answer.
Cervantes said their primary aim in working with the archive was to "honor and share Amigas Latinas' legacy to younger generations of queer Latine people."
Cardona recalled that someone asked her, "Why does Amigas have to be so political?" She said her response was "Huh?" because she felt that the organization was not really political in naturejust that it was trying to create safe spaces for queer Latinx women to exist. Cardona added she thought about it for a while and then realized "the personal is political," and that the ethos of Amigas Latinas could be perceived as political by many people.
Benavides asked about Amigas Latinas' newsletters and flyers.
Cardona spoke about coming out and called herself a "late bloomer" in that respect, adding that going to Womyn of All Colors & Cultures Together (WACT) brunches helped her meet other Latina lesbians. She added that, a year later at a WACT brunch, someone said that the Latina lesbians should band together and form a groupleading to the launch of Amigas Latinas.
In terms of the newsletters, Cardona said they began as a way to compile all the announcements that were made at the Platicas so everyone in the group would be informed about everything going on in the community. Cardona said the flyers were created to share the location and topic that would be discussed at the next Platica which were held on the third Sunday of the month. She said that the flyers were mailed to the people on their list and emphasized that they did not want to post them in a public setting because, especially in the early days, people were still not out and they wanted to ensure everyone's safety.
Benavides asked about how Amigas Latinas intersected with the Latinx immigrant communities.
Noriega said that Amigas Latinas was holding immigrant groups accountable if they did not include the word gay in their messaging because they noticed that politicians were willing to exclude queer immigrants from their calls to action on the issue. She added that when Amigas Latinas members would go to immigration issues meetings they would be the only people in the room standing up for queer immigrants.
They also touched on intergenerational queerness and how that manifested itself within Amigas Latinas. Noriega spoke about being a mother and how she navigated her own coming out story. She said many queer women did not come out to their children and that some lost their children in custody battles. Cardona said this "was a really important topic" and that they held picnics so the children of Amigas Latinas members could interact with each other.
Cervantes asked about race, class and culture discussions that Amigas Latinas had. Cardona said it was so important to have these talks because of the very different lived experiences of each of the members. She added that putting the year on your flyer is vital to track these things in an archival situation.
Torres said members were developing their own identities and how they intersected with the outside world.
Cervantes also asked about how Amigas Latinas dealt with trans inclusion within the group.
Cardona said that if a trans woman also identified as a lesbian, that person could be a part of the group. She added that she has regrets about how they handled the issue of gender identity in the beginning of the organization's existence because they did not really discuss or acknowledge that intersectional identity the way they did with the other identities within the group.
Torres said that, over the years, they got better on being more intersectional in their approach when it came to people's queer umbrella identities and showcased that progress with the language on their flyers and the topic choices for the Platicas they held.
Other topics included mental-health issues, the softball team, art events, film screenings, the book club, the younger spin-off group Amiguitas and the role social media played in how the group communicated in its later years.
A Q&A session followed.
See artatatimelikethis.com/follow-the-dust/amanda-cervantes-jose-luis-benavides for more about Cervantes and Benavides' work.