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Here you will find my reflections as a Union College Minerva Fellow in Estero de Plátano, Ecuador. Be sure to ask me questions!

16th April 2014

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reflection

In a few days Jacqui and I will be leaving Estero de Plátano and embarking back to the United States. I guess now is a time for reflections. What have we been doing in Estero? Have we made a difference? What were we supposed to be doing here in the first place? I have been trying to answer these questions since our arrival but I can never find the right responses Estero de Plátano first and formost is a developing community. Things are happening. Students are attending and graduating Highschool at never before seen rates. More tourists are visiting Estero, the roads are better and there are more projects happening. 

When we first got here I knew that I wanted to listen. Figure out the needs and desires of the people of the community. Some people came directly, asking to help with an old cemetary. But what do I know about fixing up an old cemetary? As much as I wanted to help with this project, it might have been too soon for us to work on it. 

Garbage is still not picked up by trucks on a regular basis. People still throw out trash in the street and garbage is still burned as a last resort. How do we fix this problem? We have been able to sit in a meeting with the sub centro de salud and a comitee promoting health, their goal is to make garbage collection a priority project where a truck will come by at least once a week (one ambitious member suggested twice a week!). Maybe as time goes on and this comitiee remains active, their goals will be met. Importantly Jacqui and I have very little participation in this. 

I guess one of the most important things I have done here was try to not do anything. Or at least, give more responsibilities to the community members. If the Women{s cooking group wants to go to a workship, let the actual secretary do her job instead of handing me the role of secretary. My goal in this is not to build up self esteem. It was always important for me to say ¨Ustedes pueden hacerlo.¨  

One thing I find interesting about Estero´s history with volunteers is how for the most part volunteers get credit for some projects. For example Aaron´s (a fellow from last year) tree planting project or the Water Plant from a fellows a few years ago. What I want most goes back to the minerva Fellowship´s ¨mantra¨ by Lao Tzu

Go to the people.

Live with them.

Learn from them.

Love them.

Start with what they know.

Build with what they have,

but with the best leaders

when the work is done

the task accomplished

the people will say:

¨We have done this ourselves.”

 I want people in estero to say ¨we have done this ourselves.¨

Tagged: Minerva Fellowship

4th April 2014

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Photos in Quito! 

fotos en Quito! 

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4th April 2014

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Paseo a Quito!

A few months ago Jacqui and I came up with the idea of taking the becados on a trip to Quito. We thought this would be a great motivater tfor the becados to come to the meetings and workshops at the sub centro de salud. It would alsop be a great way to get some of the youth out of estero, many of whom have never been outside the Esmeraldas province, let alone Ecuador´s capital city. We had to make due on our deal so not every becado could go due to lack of attendance but a good majority went and it was a great success! 

In Quito, we visited Universidad Tecnológica Equinoccial, visited Museo Intiñan at el Mitad del Mundo, went to a college fair and finally went to the movies! 

The highlight of our trip was seeing the becados´ enthusiasm visiting the University and at the college fair. Not too long ago, Estero de plátano didn´t have many high school graduates now  there is a group of youh eager to do whatever it takes to study at a university evel. This year, one of the becados graduated and she is excited about the college process. She wants to study turism at a university in Quito. This is a big dream that she could eventually use back home as her own community is growing as a popular tourist destination. 

Next year will be an exciting one as more becados will graduate. At the college fair, I  had to push for the timid becados to ask questions and make good impressions. many of the representatives were impressed that they had travelled all the way from Esmeraldas. This caught the attention of one such representative as I pushed one eager becado to ask about agroindustria as a possible concentration. They began talking about his life on the coast and to my suprise, the man took out his wallet, handed the becado his business card and told him to keep in contact, that he has a year, and if he keeps doing well in school there could be a posibility for a scholarship! 

I hope the trip allows the becados to dream big. They have a lot of options unfortunately, they are not exposed to these options. I want all of the becados— all of Estero´s high school students to graduate  and study at a university. However, the sad truth is there is no money. We still don´t have a plan for this years graduate. Last year some becadas started studying at a university but had to stop because they needed to work and save money. 

What can we do to ensure that these high school students don´t fall short of the dreams due to lack of funds? 

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Hace unos meses Jacqui y yo teniamos la idea de llevar a los becados en un viaje a Quito. Pensamos que este sería un gran motivación para los becados a asistir los reuniones y charlas en el sub Centro de Salud. También sería ser una gran manera de conseguir algunos de los jóvenes fuera de Estero, muchos quienes cuales nunca han estado fuera de la provincia de Esmeraldas,mucho menos la capital del país. Tuvimos que hacer debido a nuestra oferta así que no todos los becados podría ir por falta de asistencia  pero una buena mayoría fueron y fue un gran éxito!

En Quito, visitamos la Universidad Tecnológica Equinoccial, visitamos el Museo Intiñan en el Mitad del Mundo, fuimos a una feria universitaria y finalmente fuimos al cine!

Lo más destacado de nuestro viaje fue viendo el entusiasmo de los becados visitando la Universidad y en la feria de la universidades. No hace mucho tiempo en que Estero de Plátano no tenía muchos graduados de secundaria y ahora hay un grupo de jóvenes dispuestos a hacer lo que sea para estudiar en una universidad . Este año, uno de los becados se graduaron y ella está muy entusiasmado con el proceso de la universidad. Ella quiere estudiar turismo en una universidad en Quito. Esto es un gran sueño que ella podría llegar a utilizar de vuelta a su pueblo como su propia comunidad está creciendo como un destino turístico muy popular.

El próximo año será muy emocionante a medida que más becados se graduarán. En la feria de la universidades, tuve que presionar para que los becados tímidos preguntaron y hacer buenas impresiones. muchos de los representantes estaban impresionados de que habían viajado por todo el camino desde Esmeraldas. Esto llamó la atención de uno de esos representantes que me empujó un becado con ganas de preguntar acerca de la agroindustria como una posible carrera. Comenzaron a hablar de su vida en la costa y sorpresa-mente, el hombre sacó su billetera, entregaron el becado su tarjeta y le dijeron que se mantenga en contacto, que tiene un año, y si sigue haciendo bien en la escuela podría ser una posibilidad para una beca!

Espero que el viaje permite a los becados a soñar grande. Ellos tienen un montón de opciones, lamentablemente, no están expuestos a estas opciones. Quiero que todos los becados - todos los estudiantes secundaria de Estero se gradúen y estudien en una universidad. Sin embargo, la triste verdad es que no hay dinero. Todavía no tenemos un plan para la graduada de este año. El año pasado algunas becadas empezaron a estudiar en una universidad pero tuvo que parar porque necesitaban trabajar y ahorrar dinero.

¿Qué podemos hacer para asegurar que estos estudiantes de secundaria alcanzan de sus sueños, aunque no hay muchos fodos?

Tagged: minerva fellowship

22nd March 2014

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tiempo libre

Since Jacqui and I are finished teaching for the year, we have a lot of free time. So we have to find things to do. We finally got the biblioteca a little more organized (getting rid of many English books hopfully we can donate them) in hopes of receiving more books for the people to use. 

I also had my first martial arts class with some of the becados and it went well. 

Lastly I was asked by the mini health center to lead a bailaterapia session for the community! I have never done bailaterapia let alone lead it but everone knows I love to dance and I am not shy to lead a group of people. So why not? It was fun maybe next time we can get more members of the community to participate! 

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Desde Jacqui y yo han terminado la enseñanza para el año, tenemos un montón de tiempo libre. Así que tenemos que encontrar cosas que hacer. Finalmente conseguimos la biblioteca un poco más organizado (para deshacerse de muchos libros en inglés que espero que podamos donar ellos) con la esperanza de recibir más libros para las personas a utilizar.

También enseñé mi primera clase de artes marciales con algunos de los becados y salió bien!

Finalmente el subcentro de salud se me preguntó para dirigir una sesión de bailoterapia para la comunidad! Nunca he hecho bailoterapia ni enseñarlo pero todos sabe que Me encanta bailar y yo no soy tímido para dirigir un grupo de personas. Así que ¿por qué no? Fue divertido quizás la próxima vez podamos conseguir más miembros de la comunidad a participar!

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Tagged: minerva fellowship

22nd March 2014

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translating!

What´s the point in writing a blog about a community when the community members can´t read it? I have decided I would translate all my blog posts into spanish. This is also prompted by my decision to send some of my blog post about the school Viña del Mar to the distric. 

hopefully it helps! 

¿Cuál es el sentido escribir un blog sobre una comunidad cuando los miembros de la comunidad no pueden leerlo? He decidido que voy a traducir todos mis blogs en ​​español. Esto también es impulsado por mi decisión de enviar a algunos de mi blog sobre la escuela Viña del Mar al distrito.

espero que les ayude!

Tagged: minerva fellowship

22nd February 2014

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Escuela Viña del Mar

I am finally sitting down to write a post about the school in Estero de Plátano. Pretty much the most frustrating part about working in the comunity is the injustice provided by the poor education system.

Recently my fellow fellow and I decided that we should take attendence of the teachers. In about 3 weeks of our recording the attendence, we found that about 3 days registered a full roster of teachers. That means only 3 times did all 4 teachers show up. I´m not too familiar with the policies in Ecuador regarding showing up, but I would like to think that this poor attendence rate wouldn´t be alowed. But that is the problem. Who finds out? noone reports it to the district, no one calls out the teachers. So Jacqui and I decided to do just that.

After asking some of the members of the padres de familia what they thought should be done, we decided to bring up the issue at a meeting. It started with one of the parents saying they were unhapy with the attendence. That was my cue to announce what we have recorded.

The teachers of course were defensive, upset, and disrespectful.

It feels as if the teachers are not often called out for when they aren´t performing, and when they finally are, they are taken aback. Screaming at parents who were trying to back our suggestions to find a solution, even causing one of the parents to walk out, has not helped come up with a solution. In fact it has left a stale energy at the school when ever Jacqui and I teach.

But what can we do? we have thought about writing directly to the district bringing along parents to call for action. Maybe that is the only solution we have. But what will that mean? will Teachers get fired, leaving the already short staffed school even more undersaffed?

I often question my teaching at Viña del Mar. To be honest I think teaching English is a waste of time. The students need to work on strengthing their own language in the classroom. Plus most of the students wll never use English in their life. Maybe we should have been using our time instead to work on the system.

I guess as the school year wraps up I think what we have been able to provide a more positive classroom experience. The kids weren´t yelled at or abused (once while we were teaching one of the teachers next door proceeded to beat a child to the ground with a ruler. parents suggested we take pictures if this ever happens again) and asked to be creative for t least one classroom period a week. Maybe that´s the biggest contribution we could have done.

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Por fin estoy escribiendo un post sobre la escuela en Estero de Plátano. Probablemente la parte más frustrante de mi trabajo en la comunidad es la injusticia felicitada por el deficiente sistema educativo.

Recientemente mi compañera y yo decidimos que deberíamos tomar la asistencia de los profesores. En cerca de 3 semanas de nuestra grabación de la asistencia, alrededor de 3 días registraron una lista completa de los profesores. Eso significa que sólo 3 veces en casi un mes los cuatro profesores aparecieron para trabajar junto. No estoy muy familiarizado con las políticas en el Ecuador con respecto a aparecer, pero me gustaría pensar que esta pobre  asistencia no se permitiría. Pero ese es el problema. ¿Quién se entera? nadie informa al distrito, nadie llama a los maestros. Así Jacqui (mi compañera) y yo decidimos hacer precisamente eso.

Después de pedir a algunos de los miembros de los Padres de familia lo que ellos pensaban que se debe hacer, decidimos plantear la cuestión en una reunión. Comenzó con uno de los padres diciendo que estaban descontentos con la asistencia. Esa fue mi señal para anunciar lo que hemos grabado.

Los profesores, por supuesto, estaban a la defensiva, se molestaron, y faltaron de respeto.

Parece que  no se declaman a menudo los profesores,  y cuando finalmente lo son, se sorprenden. Gritaron a los padres que estaban tratando de hacer una copia de nuestras sugerencias para encontrar una solución, incluso causando uno de las madres a salir, no ha ayudado a llegar a una solución. De hecho, ha dejado una energía rancia en la escuela, cuando cada vez Jacqui y yo enseñan.

Pero, ¿qué podemos hacer? hemos pensado en escribir directamente al distrito trayendo algunos de los padres que llamen a la acción. Tal vez esa es la única solución que tenemos. Pero, ¿qué significará eso? Los maestros se quedan despedidos, dejando a la escuela ya poco personal aún más sin profesores?

A menudo me cuestiono mi enseñanza en Viña del Mar. Para ser sincero, creo que la enseñanza de Inglés es una pérdida de tiempo. Los estudiantes tienen que trabajar en el fortalecimiento de su propia lengua en el aula. Además la mayoría de los estudiantes nunca usará Inglés en su vida. Quizás deberíamos haber estado usando nuestro tiempo trabajando para arreglar los problemas del sistema.

Como el año escolar concluye, creo que lo que hemos sido capaces de proporcionar una experiencia más positiva en el aula. No gritamos ni golpeamos a los estudiantes (una vez mientras estábamos enseñando a uno de los maestros de al lado, una profesora procedió a golpear a un niño al piso con una regla. Padres sugirieron que tomamos fotos si algo así sucedió otra vez) y se les pidió que ser creativos por lo menos un período de clase a la semana. Tal vez esa es la mayor contribución que podría haber hecho.

Tagged: minerva fellowship

22nd February 2014

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Ni agua, ni luz. Y ahora?

The past couple of weeks have been particularly stressfull for a couple of reasons: a disasterous meeting with teachers and parents, people getting sick, and even the death of a newborn baby. But lets not dwell on these issues for now. Lets take the time to appreciate the fact that most of my readers have been able to shower comfoably today. That there likely has been reliable electricity around. Both of which have been scarce in Estero de Plátano recently.

It started with the water. After the pump got messed up somehow from the water system, the community has had to take other means to get water to wash and bathe in. Most people have decided to bathe in the river. It´s wonderful and you almost never do it alone because the neighbors accompany you and you get to play around with kids! The only problem is after the water went out, people have been getting sick. Luckily it has rained enough so I could bathe with rain water because I am getting skeptical that a shared bathtub isn´t helping the community health especially with a bug going around!

Electricity has also been sketchy this week. So, with no water and no light the communinity has to figure things out. But when it rains well you have to sit it out!

All this has me thinking about th upcoming Ecuadorian elections on Sunday February 23. Most of the campaign parties claim they want the same things. Drinkingable running water, and better electricity. With all the growth that has been goin around the coast of Ecuador, I hope basic needs will be enhanced. I think only time will tell. Galera, the next town over has been out of water for about a month and there are rumors that they will be getting water soon. Mabe that means Estero is next. Until then, we have to make due with what we have.

Tagged: minerva fellowship

22nd January 2014

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Aydame con un deber!

It´s 7:45 pm. I had just had my dinner and I was laying on the couch half asleep when a young mother asks for me. ¨Andre, puede ayudarme con un deber?¨ Excitedly, I accept to help her with her homework assignment. We walk over to her house and learn she is to write a mock ¨Solicitud¨ an official document requesting something. I have writtern officios and solicituds before in Estero de Plátano and believe that this is an actual helpful homework assignment. As we walk up the stairs to this young woman´s house, being carefull because there is little light, i notice that her dad is home. Her parents welcome me in their home appreciative of my help. after getting the greetings out of the way and respectfully accepting whatever they have to offer me, we began to work.

At last weeks meeting with the Grupo de Jovenes, I had been talking about getting the group to be leaders in the community, and to take charge of projects in the town. I have full confidence that with a little push from us, they can get what they want out of the community. In this meeting I asked what they wanted for the community and write it down on a peice of constuction paper. Jacqui will then use her great artistic skills to paint these desires on the back wall of the biblioteca. The youth want an internet cafe (Cyber), a park, better (more reliable) teachers for the school spanish books in the biblioteca, and more including a pizzaria, better men (jajaja!) and a better discoteca.

When I asked this young student (part of the grupo de jovenes) what she was soliciting, she responded books in the biblioteca. GREAT! I thought. Immediately her father, a very politically active man in the town took charge and told her how she should write the document. Essentially this man is always writing officios. I realized that I wasn´t needed. (Although the student was more eager to have me help her rather than her father) 

I know the town is perfectly capible of getting what they want without us volunteers. Except they aren´t confident in themselves. And I can understand. Being in a place that is easily looked over, strategically ignored, does not make for an optomistic enviornment. I am reminded of my struggles in the Bronx, New York. A place that has great potential but is essentially ignored. Fortunately if you look hard enough, there is optimism. There is hope. That is what I want to give to Estero. To share with the community that change is possible and they, not volunteers, are the ones that can obtain it.

Now that this student has hand-written a mock document asking for more books in spanish, I will type it up, and send it to different organizations. Also, since they are learning to make these documents at school I will help them write more, always being encourging, to get things they want in the community.

Our time here is almost up. But the grupo de jovenes will still be there, they can make sure that the small projects get done.

I am hopeful and optimistic.

Tagged: minerva fellowship

10th December 2013

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Lots of activities!

There are days that you feel you aren’t doing anything and there are days that feel like you have too many activities on your plate. These past couple of weeks have been very busy which is exciting! Here are some of the projects and activities that we have been working on!

1.       People have been coming up to me to help make oficios (official documents that usually plead for collaborations, donations or actions to foundations and associations or even the government). I have been happy to help make about 3 so far! I usually try to get the people asking me for this help to come up with the letter on their own, and I help fluff it up and type it on my laptop!

2.       This year I came up with the idea to have a thanksgiving meal for the “grupo de jovenes” (as they like to be called as to not exclude high school students who do not receive the beca from Yanapuma). They loved it! I bought the food, and even though I wanted to help cook, they refused to have me help much further siempre esta ayudandonos! (you’re always helping us!) They just wanted me to relax and enjoy the arroz con pollo that they made. YUM! It was their first thanksgiving being that the holiday isn’t practiced in Ecuador, but they loved the idea of giving thanks.

3.       We got the electricity running in the computer center (this probably deserves its own post it was an interesting process). However there are only 3 computers functioning. Not enough to serve an entire community eager to learn computación. Also, the fact that there is no internet brings some of the people to believe that there is no purpose for the centro de compos other than playing games. I am hoping to get the grupo de jovenes to take initiative and make oficios to different organizations and internet/phone companies for this cause. There is already a group interested in doing just this! Also before we open the computer center we have to make it organized, otherwise the kids will destroy more of the computers by fighting and not sharing (I had to shut down the computer center the first night we opened it because it was so disorderly)!

4.       I was asked to go to the university in Esmeraldas to receive desks for the elementary school. I was honored to be asked to help in this task! We were able to get 50 new desks constructed by students studying mechanics at the university. A huge help. It was also my first time going to the University in the city of Esmeraldas, thinking about having a trip to the university with the grupo de jovenes, funding that project might be tricky though. We shall see!

We have been doing a lot! Unfortunately due to camera and computer issues I have no pictures to show. Hopefully I can get my camera repaired or replaced soon. But funds are low as some of these activities have been costly!

Tagged: minerva fellowship

10th December 2013

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My Queer experience in Estero!

Many of my readers have been asking and waiting for my post about being queer in this small community in Ecuador. This post will attempt to answer some of those questions. I also hope to use this to help myself understand how I am feeling. Most of us on my side of the rainbow will know that these self-reflective posts can be overwhelming, stressful and have the tendency to make us all feel alone. So I will write this post with that in mind.  Please note that as a man, my experiences will be different from that of a woman who may be going through similar queer struggles. Well… here goes!

“Soy gay y que” is the slogan of a hard working and outrageous ice cream seller. The seller often sports a lavish wig, tight dress and pillows to define his curvaceous body (namely to give himself a bigger, almost satirical butt). He works along many coastal cities and cantons in Esmeraldas, Ecuador and it’s always a happy site for me. Unfortunately, I can’t distinguish if the whistles and catcalls from various men and women are to insult or provoke him.

 It’s hard to believe that my time in this beautiful, small community is almost half-way up. I have gotten to know many people and with that, begun to understand the rich culture of this particular community. When people ask me if the community is homophobic (I will use this to equally apply to transphobia and biphobia for reasons I will write about below) I would say yes, but it’s different. For example, the ice cream seller does well at his (I will use he but I must admit I do not know this person’s preferred gender pronoun) job by using his sexuality (and in his case gender identity) as a gimmick. This does not mean that queerness is accepted by the community. The word maricón (equivalent to the US term faggot) is used daily in many forms for different reasons by kids and adults. (Think “that’s so gay” in the US.) Unfortunately, every time I hear the word it feels like a bit of my soul is being attacked. This often makes me feel unsafe to be open about my sexuality.

Before coming here, I was told by a former fellow that the community is very “forgiving” and tolerates different people. After all, there are two openly queer folks that live in my community. That wording in itself is very problematic as no one wants to be forgiven or tolerated for who they are but rather accepted and loved, unconditionally. From my interactions with these two queer people in town, I gather that they find it hard to live here. One often talks about the town being very ignorant and on one occasion she* tried to explain the differences between being gay, bisexual and transgendered which she learned while living in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city. But, many think these terms are one in the same. (I must point out that even in the United States, I have found people with more exposure who refuse to acknowledge differences in these identities.)  

Much of my undergraduate research has been on Queerness in Latin America (specifically the Caribbean). Theoretically, I was prepared to tackle traditional patriarchal understandings of queerness, particularly the notion splitting male homosexual identities into a “passive” and “active” sexual position between men. Forgive me if I direct this to a more scholarly path but to those interested please read Stephen O Murray’s, Latin American Male Homosexualities to start (and if possible direct me to more current texts!) Murray claims that an assimilation of a globalized understanding of male homosexualities have allowed people to venture away from the “top” (active) and “bottom” (passive) identities. This allows for more men in Latin America to identify as gay. My experience has showed me that there hasn’t been that assimilation of the globalized understanding of male homosexualities in this particular community. Therefore, here, in the there is still a top-bottom dichotomy distinguishing bottoms as gay. (Note: I don’t believe in this dichotomy. It seems to be some sort of system attempting to normalize and make people comfortable, which I am not interested in!) 

 I was once showing pictures of my family to some friends in the community when a video of my brother dancing Salsa with his boyfriend popped up. Half of me wanted to shut the computer off (because I didn’t want to out my brother), the other half was curious to see what the reaction would be. I introduced the video as my brother dancing salsa with his boyfriend, and after treating the moment as nonchalantly as possible, I was asked which of the two was “the gay”. I pretended that I didn’t understand that they were really asking who was the top and who was the bottom and said that they are both gay and in a happy relationship. After a brief awkward moment, the women I was talking to tried to joke it off and ask when my brother would come visit so they could try and sway him. After adamantly claiming that my brother had no interest in women, I felt comfortable telling them that although I have a girlfriend, I too have had relations with men. Unfortunately they thought my girlfriend had directed me away from homosexuality… not what I was intending.

Interestingly enough similar things happened when I showed pictures of my mom and her partner. “This is my mom and her girlfriend” I said and after a brief moment of trying to understand what I had just said, they brushed it off complimenting my mom’s good looks and how young she was.  Again, I must point out that in the United States, I get similar reactions (sometimes more direct disbelief) when I share that my mom is a lesbian so this isn’t much different.

One of the worst incidents for me was when a traveling circus arrived to town. Everyone was excited about this event as the kids and adults were sure to enjoy the night of humor. I was unprepared as the clown started by using the term maricón at least 20 times in the first 10 minutes. I tried to ignore it but when the clown used it to explicitly denounce homosexuality I had to leave. I was furious for many reasons. I have always been vocal against this type of hate-speech, my friends know this too well as many times I had to walk away and call out guests from different events at my own college, when I sensed homophobia.

When people ask me if I feel safe here, I say yes. Although I am sure some people are aware of my queerness (for example, I have been walking around with my toe-nails polished and I openly hang out with the only other openly queer members of the community), I have never felt threatened. When I experienced hints of homophobia I can easily correlate it to worse examples I have experienced back home. So when people ask what it’s like to be queer here, I say it’s tough, but it’s not particularly worse than in the United States.

I still hope that I can be a resource to queer youth here in this small community, but that can only happen once I directly come out and express that I am there for them. For that reason I have decided that I will be more open. One thing that I have done was explain to certain people that “maricón” was a very bad word and that it is offensive. I even told a little girl, after warning me that my painted toe nails could turn me into a maricón, that I could paint my toe nails if I wished and girls could do whatever is traditionally separated for men to do as well. I also told her that the term she used was ugly and not to use it. Some people have learned to not use that disgusting word around me which makes me feel more welcomed and safe.

I hope this answers some questions! Sorry if this post is too long, jumbled indirect, but this needed to be written down. I couldn’t include everything but if there are more questions please, don’t be shy!

Tagged: Minerva Felowshipqueer