Successful, radical zines require badass visionaries.
Enter tatiana de la tierra.
A self-described combat femme, poet, publisher, activist, and back-talking zinester, de la tierra was a verifiable badass. Born in Colombia, 1961, and relocated to Miami, Florida at the age of seven, de la tierra already knew she was on the Other side of all things normative. That’s where she excelled. Growing up, she learned English, developed her passion for writing, and used the published word to both grapple with and celebrate her complicated identities as an immigrant, someone fat, femme, dyke, and chronically ill. During the 90s, de la tierra founded, edited, and contributed to the transnational zines esto no tiene nombre (“this has no name”) and conmoción (“commotion + with motion”). de la tierra was an instrumental part of the zines’ writing collectives — both founded for and by Latina lesbians — that would change the landscape of lesbian-feminist publishing.
esto, and its successor, conmoción, were vibrant, healing spaces for readers. The zines addressed heterosexism, racism, coming out, decolonizing history, HIV-AIDS, assimilation, sex, and naturally, dyke drama. They featured a variety of work including an interview with Chicana scholar Cherríe Moraga, think pieces by Terri de la Peña, Amy Concepción’s queer(ed) history of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a profile on the performing artist Carmelita Tropicana, and the work of scholar Juana María Rodriguez. Rich, bold, sexy material is found throughout each issue. But more than what can be read, esto and conmoción, offered solidarity, resources, and community unlike any that had before. esto and conmoción, as inclusive, consensus-based, and multilingual (Spanish, English, and Spanglish), the publications broke silences around that which often has no name: lesbian desire in Latinx spaces and Latinx expressions in white gay spaces.
Zines matter to marginalized folk because they offer alternative, non-hierarchical spaces of healing, resistance, and knowledge. They respond to wider cultural and institutional ills with creative, radical, and celebratory fragments of truth. For queers, women, gender non conforming folk, and POC (none of which are mutually exclusive) they creative and force open what is never offered in wider society: accurate, multiplicitous, and contradictory representations of lives lived in the margins. Zine culture resists and replaces the heterosexism, racism, ableism, and xenophobia around us with creativity, celebration, and survival strategies.
Flash forward to 2018 and tatiana de la tierra’s bilingual lesbian-feminist poetry manifesto For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology / Para las duras: a lesbian phenomenology is being published as a Sinister Wisdom Sapphic Classic. de la tierra’s poems “Lesbian Literature” and “Literatura lesbiana” are below:
lesbian texts are passed from hand to hand and mouth to mouth
between lesbians. they are located on the skin, in the look, in
the geography of the palms of the hands.
lesbian literature exists in pieces: in flyers, newsletters,
magazines, chapbooks, bathroom stalls, notes, novels, e-mails,
love letters, on tiny scraps of paper.
lesbian literature also exists in texts that don’t seem to have
anything at all to do with lesbians or literature: a customer copy
of an American Express receipt, dinner for two at Café Aroma;
a torn pack of Trojans that once housed bright red lubricated
condoms; a box of Celestial Seasoning’s raspberry zinger tea;
a matchbook cover with “Lario’s” on the outside and “call me
soon, baby” on the inside.
lesbians live in houses with writings on the wall that indicate the
way to lesbianism. these texts abound but they are offered only
to lesbians; this is why lesbian literature seems scarce.
lesbian literature is the unwritten bestseller that all lesbians are
reading, all the time: it consists of our every moment.
los textos de las lesbianas se pasan de mano en mano y de boca
en boca entre ellas mismas. se ubican sobre la piel, en la mirada,
en la geografía de las palmas de las manos.
la literatura lesbiana se encuentra a pedacitos: en volantes,
boletines, revistas, paredes, poemarios, notas, novelas,
correspondencia electrónica, cartas de amor y desamor,
pedacitos de papeles.
la literatura lesbiana también se encuentra en textos que
aparentemente no tienen nada que ver con literatura ni con
lesbianas: un recibo de American Express de una cena para dos
en Café Aroma, los rastros de la envoltura de un preservativo rojo
lubricado, el cartón de té de moras, un talonario de fósforos con
“Lario’s: Comida cubana en la playa” en la portada y “llámame,
querida” por dentro.
las lesbianas viven en casas con escrituras en la pared que
alumbran el camino hacia ellas mismas. estos textos abundan
pero no se ofrecen a los demás. por eso es que parecen tan
escasas las letras lesbianas—porque existen dentro de y para
la literatura lesbiana es una novela con gran éxito de venta que
todas las lesbiana leen todo el tiempo.
The way de la tierra describes accessing lesbian literature, in pieces, hand to hand, mouth to mouth, reveal the alternative modes of production and distribution of queer writing collectives like esto no tiene nombre and conmoción. It also explains why most people are unaware of de la tierra’s work, or why there is a disproportionately small internet presence on de la tierra, her academic and creative work, and the zines. Finding publications like esto and conmoción is often difficult, meaning that tatiana de la tierra’s work of amplifying queer, Latina voices is not done.
I worked on the Sapphic Classic edition of Para las duras along with Sinister Wisdom editor Julie R. Enszer, and immersed myself in the zines. All the while, I realized the importance of enduring access to lesbian-feminist publications. Younger queers need community and intergenerational knowledge. We need to know about people like tatiana de la tierra and writing collectives like esto and conmoción. More than twenty years after the last issue of conmoción in 1996, we are still turning to zines, making our own, looking for others piece by piece. They help us feel holistic, actualized. They help us bear witness to each other’s lives and to, of course, make a commotion.
A full set of esto no tiene nombre and conmoción can be found in the archives of Chicano Studies at the University of California in Los Angeles, under the care of tatiana’s literary executors and close friends Olga García Echeverría and Maylei Blackwell. Para las duras
For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology / Para las duras: a lesbian phenomenology will be released in April, 2018. The new edition features an introduction by Maylei Blackwell and Olga García Echeverría, a foreword by spoken word artist and author of Mean Myriam Gurba, an essay by tatiana’s mother, Fabiola Restrepo, and my own historical essay on esto no tiene nombre and conmoción.