Kansas City Writer Seeks To Finally Unite His Queer And Latino Cultures
Miguel M. Morales has been a writer his whole life, but he began to make it more than a hobby after joining Kansas City's Latino Writers Collective seven years ago (he recently finished a two-year term as the organization's president).
Morales says this summer's shootings at the Pulse nightclub "disrupted" his life in ways that will probably always affect his writing.
"This summer, in particular, has been very troubling, very violent — just one instance after another of violence, shootings, and massacres," he says.
It was a tipping point, he says, after two troubling summers in the nation's communities of color. His response was to write about it — and to organize an event where Kansas City's LGBTQ writers of color could share their responses.
The Pulse shootings were in Florida. Why was it important for you to organize a Pulse-related event in Kansas City?
"That Sunday morning, it was the first thing on the news. I know there were people who were getting ready for church, there were mothers cooking menudo. And they hear this broadcast on TV, and they were like, ‘That could have been my son, that could have been my daughter, that could have been somebody I know – an uncle or brother.’ It was in Orlando, but it could have been in Kansas City. It could have been in Topeka. It could have been in Wichita.
"Also, I don’t think a lot of people of color, especially queer people of color, are used to seeing violence about them reported on the media. So when I saw the reports that there was a shooting in a gay club in Orlando and it was Latin night, I thought, oh, one or two people got shot, and it's kind of weird that it's on CNN and MSNBC. And then the number went up to 20, and then it was 40, and then it was 50. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this really is a massive event beyond the scope of me and my community – but specifically targeted to me as well.’”
You said the shootings disrupted your life. Can you explain how your life will never be the same?
"I live in Kansas City, which is a really unique geographic location where you can be a queer person separate from your ethnicity, but then I can also be Latino separate from my queerness. If it was San Francisco or New York, I would have a community that overlapped: I would have a queer Latino community where I could find support. But that doesn’t really exist here in Kansas City. So for me, that moment of Pulse really irradiated with me and said, ‘You don’t have that kind of community here, so you need to figure out a way to bring those parts of you together.’
Have you written poetry in response to the Pulse shootings, or have you found that many of the themes you write about already fit?
"Initially when this happened, I had to write. That was my outlet. I was very angry, I was upset, and I was crying. And I thought, ‘Let me just put these thoughts on paper, because I don’t want to just go on social media and just rage and yell and scream and be mean.’
"What I decided to do was just wait for the names to come out, because that’s what really pulled me into it: I thought, ‘They’re going release the names of the dead people and they’re all going to be Spanish surnames. Each person, one after the next, they’re all going to be Latino and I don’t know if I can take that.' So over the course of three or four days, they slowly leaked out the names and I would just put them on my social media with ¡PRESENTE!, which is something you say in Spanish to mean: We see you, we acknowledge you.
"So that happened for three or four days, and then during that time I thought, what do I want to do, how do I want to process this. And then I just started putting words on paper and doing some writing, and I probably have ten or fifteen poems in various states."
Do you have one you could share with us now?
Sure. One of them is called “Nombres,” which is “Names” in Spanish.
I know these names,
These Latinx names.
I know these names with the
elle sound of the double l's
and that those names will be placed
on altars for Dia de los Muertos.
I know these names with
the sliding ñ sound
that will be on prayer cards
handed out at funerals.
I know these names
with the rolling r's that will be said
during rosaries and novenas.
These names sound like mine,
like those of my cousins and uncles,
of my siblings and friends.
Yes, I know these names.
Yet, I know these names
are not their only names.
I know there is an Angelito,
a Juanito, a Miguelito,
a Frankie, an Eddie,
a Dee-Dee, a Drew, a Javi,
a Gryffindor, a novio,
a corazón, an amor,
a tío, a tía, a mijo, a mija,
A mamá and a papá.
Yes, my heart knows these names
they are familia.
Kansas City's LGBTQ writers of color share work inspired by Pulse from 4-7 p.m. on Saturday, August 13 at the Mattie Rhodes Art Center, 919 W. 17th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108, 816-221-2349.
C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.