On Feminism, Identity & Latinas in Arts and Literature: An Interview with Cristy C. Road

by Andrea Dulanto
-USA-

SpitandPassion

Spit & Passion. Photo credit: FEMINIST PRESS.

In December 2012, Brooklyn-based artist and writer Cristy C. Road came back home to Miami to read at Sweat Records from her latest graphic novel, Spit and Passion. The autobiographical narrative centers on Road’s early adolescence – growing up working-class, Cuban-American, and queer in the early 1990s.

As she read, artwork from the book flashed behind her on a screen – a surrealistic vision of a young Road flying into the universe with one of her earliest influences, Freddie Mercury of Queen, or the more muted image of her sitting in her bedroom closet, which is decorated with Christmas lights and the Cuban flag.

At intervals during the reading, Road sang and danced to Green Day’s music – a punk-pop band that has been a major influence in her adolescence and throughout her artistic life. Her performance mirrored the exuberance of Spit and Passion and underscored the complexity of this story of early adolescence.

In many ways, it is a story about surviving alienation and self-doubt. Throughout the book, Road expresses being conflicted about coming out as gay to her family and friends, and particularly about the kind of effect it would have on her sense of Cuban-American identity.

Road reflects on these issues of identity. “To a Latina or any person of color, there is a lot of gray area, because we live in a country of assimilation and white-washing, where holding on to our culture is as imperative as living our life to the fullest – and out of the closet.”

Spit and Passion is also about discovering what you love – Ren & Stimpy, Green Day, girls with shaved heads, being Cuban. It is about building the first connections to who you are and who you want to be – a Cuban-American queer punk rock artist. There is a lot of joy in that discovery and connection. Many readers may relate to the idea of music, particularly during adolescence, being an integral part of that joy.

In the following e-mail interview, Road shares her thoughts about feminism and the arts, Latina representation in the arts and literature, and how she connects to her identities as a queer punk–rock artist and writer of color.

How would you describe your art and writing?
All the art and music I’ve done has stemmed from my punk identity and connection to the subculture, so it’s safe to call it all punk. There is more to my identity – queer, Latina, jaded, angry, etc. – although the language and topics I focus on are heavily influenced by the music and writing that circulated in my punk rock community. A lot of the writing I’m most influenced by has always been by musicians like Crimpshrine, Blatz, Allergic to Bullshit, Bikini Kill, Rancid, and of course, Green Day, as well as zines like Cometbus, Doris, and Fag School.

A lot of the books that have changed my life are also punk in some respect, such as Valencia by Michelle Tea and Dhalia Season by Myriam Gurba. Then, of course, I’m influenced by all epic things – Broadway musicals, Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas. Visually, my art is influenced by punk band art. It’s also super influenced by Ren & Stimpy.

How do you view the connection between feminism and the arts?
The sexism in all mainstream industries, such as publishing, visual art, and music, has historically enabled a radical underground feminist art movement without the same restrictions and barriers that one would experience in the mainstream media world. For example, I wasn’t allowed to mention in the jacket of my book, Bad Habits, that it was mostly about healing from sexual assault and emotional abuse, because it wouldn’t have contributed to marketing the book in a profitable way. This is capitalism and patriarchy biting my ass.

So now I work with FEMINIST PRESS, who really believe in the intention of a [feminist] project as opposed to just selling it. That’s not to say that other publishers didn’t believe in my intention, but at the same time, I felt silenced and was reminded that we have a long way to go. For me it goes beyond this, because I use art to challenge sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, and all of these things that are either sensationalized or dismissed by the mainstream media.

What are your thoughts on the representation of Latinas in arts and literature?
We are still stereotyped in bizarre ways by white people and, unfortunately, by each other. The stereotypes, not just on ethnicity, but mental health and class, that are so atypically represented in most films and movies are so tacky and uncomfortable. Of course there is amazing stuff out there, but a lot of the amazing stuff is taken from our own experiences and not really sensationalized by white filmmakers. I’ve often been described as a non-traditional looking Cubana – angry and rebellious – because I represent myself as really queer and punk, but it’s annoying that people put such a focus on my inability to conform. Why can’t the focus be on the fact that we all have a similar story as far as finding our own unique way to survive as Latina and queer?

How does it feel to come back to Miami to read your work?
This event was special for its queer context. It was really awesome to target queer Miami audiences and talk about my experience. I need to return more, you know? I still feel like a lost homo who is too queer, kinky, smelly or punk to fit into the gay community in Miami – but that is just my childhood-based insecurity building an imaginary wall. I really want to connect further with the gay community here because as far as the Sweat Records event went, I really felt everyone intersecting on a middle ground, whether it was politically or emotionally. We all had a similar relationship to the conservative agenda of the larger part of Miami, and it was nice to speak my truths without feeling scared or feeling that same insecurity that’s ingrained in me.

In Spit and Passion, you share a room with your sister and your closet becomes your solace, a place that opens you up to explore your identity, which is particularly important and symbolic since you were not able to be “out” as gay to those around you. Can you talk more about your perspective on how and why being closeted was not an entirely negative experience?
Of course it’s overall a negative experience, but it’s also a valid experience. My problem is how the – mostly white – gay world doesn’t see how anything could be as important as being gay. I actually did not feel more empowered by coming out to my family when I was 24. I spent many years hating pride parades, gay communities, and people who seemed to have it easier because they didn’t have to hide anything. What made me realize that my choice to stay in the closet for so long was valid and real and brave was getting to meet other queer people of color who had the same experience.

In Spit and Passion as well as in Indestructible, you create an accurate and vivid portrait of Miami with your characters, scenes and dialogue. But this is not the Miami seen in the mainstream. Why do you think the different stories and images of Miami are rarely heard or seen?
I used to attend a lot of amazing things put together by The Miami Workers Center, and there are definitely a lot of grassroots/angry/queer facets and people in Miami. But there is also a lot more power given to those with a more conservative and complacent voice. People like the comfort of feeling safe as if there isn’t anything wrong, especially people who, like myself, are trying very hard to hold onto their roots. But in the end, I honestly don’t know.

In Spit and Passion, you write, “I wanted to be Cubana as much as I wanted to be gay.” It seems that those of us with different identities often feel like we have to choose one over the others. What are some ways that you hold onto all of your identities without compromise?
It has been such a journey to feel like I am not compromising one identity over another. I was running between my Cuban family/community, my punk community, and my queer community. When I turned about 26, I left Miami and entered a really punk community. Then that burned me so I left for a gay activist community. That burned me as well, so I turned to a less political gay art/club scene where I found my cultural self among really amazing queers of color artists and performers.

I also started eating meat and grew out all my hair, got a lot of tattoos about my culture and family, and started listening to a lot more salsa and reggaeton. I got more connected to my roots, basically. It was a deep thing. I learned a lot during my Saturn Return – the thing that happens when you’re 27-30 and realize if you’re on the right path or not.

I subconsciously did all these things to conform to my family's interpretation of "women,” and as much as I loved that era of having long Quinceañera hair and wearing high heel wedges everyday, it just wasn’t me. I wanted to look androgynous and punk. I certainly love high heels and a dress for a special occasion, don’t get me wrong – but I needed to go through all these processes to finally feel like I fit in my own soul.

Now I have a lot of Latino queer punk co-conspirators and my life is pretty balanced. A really amazing QPOC (Queer People of Color) family that has formed recently has been through The POC Zine Project, a project started by Daniela Capistrano, another NYC-based queer Latina. We went on tour with other QPOC zine writers and that really allowed me to realize what I truly had, community-wise.

***

Cristy C. Road’s work provides validation to anyone creating art outside of the mainstream, particularly those involved with social activism. Those who view her artwork and read her writing are given encouragement to connect to their own voice and identities.
For those who would like to attend one of Road’s readings, her upcoming appearances are often announced on her website. She will be on the Sister Spit Tour throughout the U.S. and Canada during April 2013.

About the Author: Andrea Dulanto received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Florida International University, and her B.A. in Literature & Women's Studies from Antioch College in Ohio. She works as a freelance writer and editor, and teaches writing at Florida International University. Publications include BlazeVOX, PopMatters, Elevate Difference, Sinister Wisdom, and Court Green. Her writing can be found at andreadulanto.wordpress.com.

Tagged with: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*