The ongoing socio-economic and political conditions in the U.S. and globally are overwhelming, to say the least. From anti-queer and anti-trans bills in the country, many of which have been signed into law, to the physical and emotional impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on many, to war and unrest, the climate emergency, and the continuous criminalization of survival of Black, brown, the poor and working-class, queer, trans, and gender nonconforming folks.

In the midst of ongoing violence, organizers, activists, artists, teachers, and healers, are and have always taught us to dare to imagine a different world. They have always demonstrated the power of collectivity. Some of those who have led the way to liberation are queer and trans migrants, from whom we have much to learn in our vision for social justice.

The LMU community had the privilege to hear from three wonderful speakers on Wednesday,  March 16: Héctor Plascencia, Alan Pelaez López, and Loba, who partook in the virtual event “Refusing Violence: A Queer and Trans Migrant Panel.” They spoke about their experiences as queer and trans migrants living in the United States, and how they came to do the activist and cultural work that they have been doing for years, and which actively refuses violence in multiple ways.

Loba is a Queer Peruvian migrant herbalist, weaver, farmer, seed saver, full spectrum birth worker, writer and podcaster under the project Flora Pacha. They have worked with queer and trans Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) on issues of reproductive health and justice, focusing on ways to reclaim their bodies. Part of the work of reclaiming their bodies involves reclaiming what Loba calls “abuelita knowledge,” or traditional and ancestral ways of caring for ourselves, rather than always and only turning to Western medicine. In the last several years, Loba has been growing their own food as a powerful form of Abuelita knowledge that challenges capitalism.

Alan is an AfroIndigenous poet, installation and adornment artist, and organizer from Oaxaca, México. For years, they did community organizing within the immigrant rights movement and has since moved to more intersectional work that centers their location as Black, Indigenous, queer, and undocumented. Alan pointed out that much of immigrant rights activism tends to focus on inclusion into citizenship and lacks an analysis of Indigeneity and Blackness. From violent encounters with the police, Alan knew that “the law could discipline me, but the law could never protect me.” Alan eventually stopped asking for inclusion and citizenship, because as queer, migrant, Black, and Indigenous they were already always excluded. Alan left the immigrant rights movement to instead dare to “imagine liberation outside the limitations of the law,” and think about belonging, not in relationship to the state, but to body transition, Indigeneity, and Blackness.

Héctor is a queer and trans migrant who is also a movement consultant and works on coalitional building, public policy, and advocacy and research justice. They spoke about family and activism as sites where they refuse violence and create different worlds. Héctor grew up with their gay cis male migrant uncles, who offered Héctor a sense of belonging and queer home. Héctor has been doing community organization for more than 15 years. Now, as an adult, they have worked with trans organizations in Los Angeles, including the Trans Latina Coalition and Gender Justice L.A., focusing on trans and gender nonconforming BIPOC’s access to health. Héctor reminded us that we have everything we need to create change, “we already know what we need.”

It was powerful to share virtual space with the three panelists. Alan reminded us that movements need many things, such as activists and organizers, healers, and teachers. This made me think about my role in liberation work and the many conversations I have with my students about dismantling systems of oppression. Sometimes students tell me that they feel hopeless in the face of so much ongoing violence. I tell them that perhaps we won’t get to see the dismantling of certain systems in our lifetime, but the work we do now will be crucial for the generations to come who will continue that work. This is thus a collective and multigenerational effort.

My role is to have these honest and real conversations with my students, to bring my research outside the walls of academia, to stay connected to my communities. All of us have a role in liberation work. All of us here at LMU have a role in creating change. What is yours?

The above comes from a March 28 release written by Sandibel Borges, assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Loyola Marymount University.