Words by Pioquinta
One of the histories that people often overlook is that of the queer and trans community in the Rio Grande Valley. Alexandra Nichole Salazar (she/her) aims to change that. “I started my podcast in 2016. I started it as a way to archive queer and trans stories from the Rio Grande Valley and other Borderlands because people found an interest in it and wanted to hear more stories from the borderlands.”
Alexandra is the host of the podcast Jotxs and Recuerdos. She is a Ph.D. student at UT Austin in the Latino Studies Department whose research archives the stories and oral histories of queer people and queer kinships from the Rio Grande Valley. We spoke with her about her mission of archiving and elevating the queer community in the RGV.
Alexandra recalled a story from her undergrad years at New School in New York, “I just finished reading a lot of queer Latinx theory from Gloria Anzaldúa to José Muñoz. And I would like queer theory of color or, you know, queer authors of color, like James Baldwin and Audrey Lorde and things like that. And I found myself in this place of, well, what do I wanna do next?” She continues, remembering a one-woman show by Marga Gomez called Lovebirds, about a character from San Francisco called Polaroid Philly who takes pictures at gay clubs in the 90s and early 2000s. Over the time of taking pictures, the character begins “losing that essence of what it meant to just take a picture at that moment.”
Alexandra explains, “I was transported to thinking about the Polaroid pictures I have of my parents. I was raised with queer parents in the Rio Grande Valley, a hyper femme diva mom, and a trans mask dad. And they would take Polaroid pictures at 10th Avenue, a club that no longer exists in the late 90s and early 2000s, specifically on Sundays, when it was cumbia night.”
Those memories ignited her research on the queer stories that are a part of the history of the RGV. “Not seeing yourself represented or hearing yourself in these dominant spaces creates a sense of loneliness, a sense of not belonging, a sense of that there is no history; so there’s no longevity, there’s no future, there’s no past, there’s no present,” Alexandra shared, “I decided I will change that narrative. And so I began documenting [and] the first two interviews I did were of my parents.”
“So when I first started, my goal was to, and it still is, create an archive of Queer Valley stories and histories, right? And then, in that, I wanted it to be a resource for people who are queer and from the border, or who are queer and who can resonate with it,” Alexandra continues, “I also really wanted for people to just like realize that the valley is queer and that there is a long history we have [and] existing is not new.”
Alexandra shared that throughout her experience giving lectures about queer Valley history, there are often students from the Valley who are overwhelmed with emotion, learning that the RGV has a history of queerness that they were never exposed to before. “I always have one student in that room crying who is from the Valley saying, I’ve never seen this before. I didn’t know that the Valley had a queer history. I didn’t know there were gay people in the valley. I didn’t know that we could live this long. I didn’t know that we could live like this. I didn’t know that we could be parents, that we could have kids. I didn’t know that we could love like this. I didn’t know that we could exist like this. So, I hope that also that’s what the podcast does too.”
In Alexandra’s words, queer people are not one-dimensional figures. “We’re queer and undocumented. We’re queer and environmental activists; we’re queer and have HIV; we’re queer and parents; we’re queer and messy.”
At the moment, Alexandra is currently working on creating a potential category or series of bi-lingual episodes surrounding the experiences of queer parents in the Valley. She hopes to include Spanish to offer listeners resources to help their loved ones understand their journeys.
Alexandra often asks her podcast guests, “What does queerness mean to you?” So we asked her the very same question, to which she had to say, “I think, like for me, queerness allows for a lot of things, right? It allows you to love and be loved and feel loved and love yourself. I believe that it’s a place of radical love and radical potential for change. […] Being queer is like, it’s beautiful, it’s sexy, and it’s also scary, right? I do think that it’s this juxtaposition, this place of contradiction, this place of beauty, but also like horror and this place of safety and unsafety.”
Be sure to follow & listen to Jotxs y Recuerdos!