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Celebrating tatiana de la tierra And The Latina Lesbian Zine Culture Of The '90s

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tatiana de la tierra was a print-based activist, feminist dyke, and bilingual writer. During the '90s, tatiana founded, edited, and contributed to the transnational Latina lesbian zines esto no tiene nombre and conmoción. The zines, publishing work in English, Spanish, and Spanglish, featured contributors from all over the US, Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe. They focused on feminism, multicultural identities, queer desire, colonialism, racism, and sexuality. de la tierra received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso and a Masters of Library Science from University at Buffalo in 2002. de la tierra also authored the queer, bilingual poetry collection For the Hard Ones / Para las duras, as well as academic articles and a variety of chapbooks. In 2012, tatiana de la tierra passed away in Long Beach, California.

esto no tiene nombre:

“this has no name”: the way a look says desire, the way love
spirals into DNA, the way dancing happens with one finger, the way that sisterhood travels, the way in which we walk with certainty even when there’s not a word to stake a claim. ¿Qué quieres? What is your desire? esto.”

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Originally founded in 1990 as a newsletter and creative outlet for Miami’s first Latina lesbian support and social group, Las Salamandras del Ambiente, the editorial committee of esto no tiene nombre included tatiana, her then-lover Margarita Castilla, and the long-time girlfriends Vanessa Cruz and Patricia Pereira-Pujol.

The group would go on to publish nine issues in total of esto, each volume slim, controversial, and navigating “identity, desire, politics, international gatherings, building coalitions with women of color, fears, feminism, language, and being in sisterhood with each other."

From the start, esto divided Las Salamandras in two: those, like tatiana, who wanted an open, unrestricted space to publish writings, graphics, ideas, photos from as many people as possible (and who had also agreed to publish one orgasm per issue), and those who were outraged by esto’s erotic and political content. After a few unsuccessful mediations, Las Salamandras delivered a petition to the editorial team, calling for the revista (“zine”) to either disband or break from the group entirely. They broke, and though tatiana did continue to socialize with Las Salamandras on occasion, she did not forget that her own community tried to censure her voice. In her recollections, tatiana looks back on Las Salamandras as “lizard-like lesbianas who can’t take the heat. They stay low to the ground and hump hidden in the shadows of shame. Salamandras are the riff-raff of the race, Christian comemierda pets of the right wing machine, pious pendejas who become skittish in the presence of potent sinvergüenzas."

The break did, however, expand esto’s vision, and left tatiana even more confident of the collective’s capacity to speak beyond the needs of any one social club, or even any one city. The collective needed to think bigger, to shift its focus to an international network, una telaraña (“web”) de  word weavers and activists. With the support of the Lambda Community Center of Greater Miami, Esto no Tiene Nombre, Inc. was officially recognized by the state of Florida (after providing an English translation for the name) in June of 1992.

This change in legal status marked a significant shift in esto’s direction, as the group then had the ability to apply for and receive grants — something none of the women had any experience in. Moving through the grant process challenged the women to articulate their vision to an audience far removed from Miami and evaluate them in terms of money. There was a lot riding on their applications, as tatiana recalled:

wonder[ing] if foundations would understand the unique situation of lesbian immigrants who existed without the support of national organizations, centers, editorial houses or gatherings, or if they even cared. We knew we were outside of the mainstream of everything white and gay and everything heterosexual and Latino, and that venturing into these territories was inherently risky.

But they knew esto was ahead of its time, and soon secured the support of various foundations including Astraea, Open Meadows Foundation, and RESIST. 

The editorial team called themselves “las publicadores que hacemos todo en esto” or “the publishers who do everything in this/esto." tatiana coordinated the mailing lists and calls for submission, and regularly submitted her own poetry, Cuéntame interviews, and essays. With her talent for media, tatiana also focused on garnering a national presence by trading columns for advertising, establishing exchange subscriptions with other gay and lesbian periodicals, connecting with bookstores, and sending sample copies to women’s presses — including Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, Naiad and Firebrand. Meanwhile, Vanessa wrote, typeset materials, and edited; Patricia focused on graphic art and design; Margarita kept the books, sold subscriptions, and proofread material in Spanish. Decisions were made by consensus and not always easily, but tatiana reflected:

the early days of esto no tiene nombre were the happiest time in my life. I had a vision, I had hope, and I was not alone. There was a lot of love going around then — sexual love, spiritual love, friendship love, literature love, publishing love. Perfect love.

"The early days of esto no tiene nombre were the happiest time in my life."

conmoción:

“commotion” (conmoción) and “with motion” (con moción), a powerful combination that alludes to social disturbances, earthly tremors, and all kinds of tumult. conmoción is a fury, a fervor, an endless fuck, a tempest you don’t wanna tango with unless you’re conmocionada, too!


From the momentum of esto no tiene nombre, tatiana — “la editora que echa humo” or “the editor who emits smoke” — and Amy Concepción formed conmoción in 1995; like esto, conmoción evoked allusions of their mission with a sense of humor.

Surrounding this new project was a national editorial board of Latina lesbian writers, leaders, and academics, including Patricia Pereira-Pujol, Lourdes Torres, Lesley Salas, Juana Maria Rodriguez, Maria Luisa Masqué, and Terri de la Peña — all committed to expanding conmoción’s pull in their communities and beyond. The following garnered from esto springboarded the newer revista’s success; the group was soon received multiple grants, signed contracts with eight distributors, and doubled the print run. Of this expansion, tatiana wrote:

Besides being larger than esto and involving more people in the process, conmoción was constructed to have direct interaction with Latina lesbian groups and also with writers. La “cadena conmoción” was focused on news about our groups and gatherings in América Latina and the US La
telaraña, the Latina lesbian writers’ web, was created as part of conmoción. I edited a separate newsletter, el telarañazo that supported emerging Latina lesbian writers. el telarañazo had information about where telarañeras were performing and publishing and gathering.

Three issues of conmoción were published between 1995 and 1996, featuring 84 contributors from 38 cities, reaching Latina lesbianas in the U.S., Canada, Cuba, Guatemala, Chile, México, Argentina and Colombia—a readership which speaks to the momentum and necessity of their words. telaraña or “spiderweb," website and el telerazo newsletter shared information about gatherings, performances, and writing opportunities in Latin America and the US.

The first issue of conmoción explicitly dealt with activism, featuring a conversation with Cherríe Moraga, an interview between Amy Concepción and her activist self, and Carmelita Tropicana on artistic production as a weapon. Slightly longer at 48 pages, the second issue celebrates sexuality and pleasure, featuring the cuntal artwork of Isabell Rosado on the cover. The third issue, released in ‘96, explored identity.

The topics which galvanized their contributions continue to be salient: the circulation of counter-hegemonic histories, coalition building, sex positivity, racial and ethnic inequality, nationality and belonging, survival. With recent and ongoing conversations on interlocking matrices of oppression, and a generation increasingly identifying with intersectional feminist politics, the revistas’ enduring relevance (and indeed the relevance of all zines and independent publications) is only increasing.

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This excerpt from the author's essay “Esto no tiene nombre and conmoción: revistas for the hard ones,” published in tatiana de la tierra’s Sapphic Classic edition of For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology / Para las duras: Una fenomenología lesbiana. For The Hard Ones will be published in April 2018 by Sinister Wisdom and A Midsummer Night’s Press.

A full set of esto no tiene nombre and conmoción can be found in the de la tierra archives at the University of California, Los Angeles. de la tierra’s poetry collection, For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology / Para las duras: Una fenomenología lesbiana (April 2018), features a foreword by spoken word artist and author of Mean, Myriam Gurba, and an introduction by de la tierra’s friends and literary executors Olga García Echeverría and Maylei Blackwell.

top image: detail from For The Hard Ones

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Sara Gregory is a gender nonconforming, queer-aligned lesbian and works for the lesbian literary and arts journal Sinister Wisdom. Gregory’s thesis, “La palabra publicada para apoderar y aterrorizar: the Creative Resistance and Third Space Practices of tatiana de la tierra,” focuses on author and activist tatiana de la tierra, co-founder and co-editor of two Miami-based Latina lesbian publications. She has been published in The Fem, Sister Wisdom, Ms. Magazine Blog, and featured on Huff Post. Email them at sara.gregory91@gmail.com

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