Activist Latina Lesbian Publishing Part 1

Activist Latina Lesbian Publishing: esto no tiene nombre and conmoción

tatiana de la tierra

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.

From 1991 until 1996, two Latina lesbian magazines, esto no tiene nombre (this has no name) and conmoción (commotion + “in motion”) were published. I was one of the founders and editors of both of these periodicals. For the sake of herstory and with the intent of exposing and analyzing the reality and implications of publishing these magazines, I unearthed three boxes that contain the archives of esto and conmoción.

The files are messy and incomplete. The story that unfolds will be detailed with the raw materials that created it, including documents from the archives and the magazines themselves, as well as interviews with key people and my own perception and memory of the events, geography, politics, and “characters” involved. This is not an impartial narrative, though I do intend to be as factually accurate as possible and it will be easy for the reader to discern between fact and interpretation. I don’t expect that everyone who was engaged with esto and conmoción will agree or even appreciate my point of view. Still, I was at the center of these publications from the beginning until the end, and I am the holder of the archives.

I think this is a story that needs to be told—we really did create history with the act of publishing. We left documents behind, we added to our body of work, and we did so, in my opinion, with a rawness and vibrancy that had not existed to date and has not been repeated since.

This story begins in Miami, Florida, circa 1991.

I remember reading a classified ad in New Times, a weekly entertainment paper. It went something like: “Latina lesbians, let’s get together.” Close to twenty of us congregated one Saturday afternoon in someone’s hot and crowded living room. We voiced our need to be together as Latinas and as lesbians, to have barbecues, to have positive reinforcement for our existence. We wanted to be able to talk in Spanish among our own. Many of us did not connect with the white lesbian organizations and were deemed invisible and/or undesirable by our own families. Some were in the closet. We passed around a piece of paper and put our names and numbers on it. It seemed like the Beginning of Something Good.

We never met again.

Las Salamandras de Ambiente

Months later, I heard about a new Latina lesbian group that was started by Angie and Ena. The word spread and soon Everyone made the scene, including many of the same ones who attended the other meeting. It was obvious to all of us that there was a great need for a Latina lesbian organization. As far as we knew, such a group had never existed in Miami. While there had always been a teeming Latina lesbian presence in the gay and lesbian bars and probably on every street in Miami, there had not been an official, public declaration that united sexual and ethnic identity. The weekly meetings were being held in a room in a warehouse district that had been converted into “women’s space”. By the time I got there, the group had been meeting for several months and was due for a party. I phoned every lesbian on the list from the original classified ad meeting to tell them about the party.  One of them, Margarita, offered to pick me up and I agreed, not realizing that it was a Date.

The party was a smash. It took place at Ena and Isabel’s large, fancy house in Hialeah. Salsa music blasted, ham croquetas and pasteles de guayaba were eaten up, Spanish was spoken, and everyone was decked out to the hilt, Latin style. I think all of us knew that the group was really happening, that it would be long-lasting and fruitful. I got a ride back home from someone else, as Margarita terrified me. She was a loud, obnoxious, Cuban old-time butch who was so forthright in her sexual energy that I didn’t know how to respond to her.

Soon after, the group had a name—Las Salamandras de Ambiente. “De ambiente” is Latin queer code for “in the life”. And salamanders were, according to research conducted by Vanessa and Patricia, amphibians whose reproduction was female-centered. Female salamanders hatched eggs without any male intervention and, thus, were “lesbians.” In addition, they were blessed with the mythical ability of being able to live in fire. Thus, salamanders were not only lesbians—they were hardy survivors. The name was happily adopted. Later, Vanessa and Patricia discovered that their initial research was flawed and that the “lesbian” reptile was a close cousin to the salamander. But it was too late—Las Salamandras de Ambiente had already been baptized by all of its members.  Angie designed the group’s logo, two lusty salamanders encircling a palm tree within a triangle.

Las Salamandras truly reflected the diversity of Miami’s Latin community. Members were from all over—Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. We were all immigrants and fluid in Spanish and English. We were of working and middle-class extraction, mostly mulatas and light-skinned, from twenty to forty-something years old. We were students, teachers, accountants, counselors, saleswomen, massage therapists, bank tellers, federal employees, musicians, writers, and housewives. Typical of Latinas, we were family-oriented. The Cuban Salamandras were fierce anti-comunistas. Overall, I would classify the group as “conservative.” This was not a flag-waving rebel-rousing ensemble at all, and was not ever linked with any social movement or “activism” beyond existing as a publicly-recognized Latina lesbian organization.

In practical terms, Las Salamandras was a support group that met every Thursday evening at 8:00. We rapped about coming out, about family and lovers, about who we were. We met in each other’s apartments at times, though once the group got settled, the meetings were held at the Metropolitan Community Church and, once it opened, at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Miami Beach. The true “support” that Las Salamandras offered anyone was questionable, but if you could measure a group’s success by the parties, Las Salamandras was over the top. We had parties in each other’s homes, at rented halls, at the Unitarian church, at clubs, in celebration of New Year’s, Halloween, Valentine’s, or Whatever—and not one of them was a dud.

Most of us in Las Salamandras were true Miamians—we were born in another country but, in the United States, Miami was our only home. I had lived in Miami most of my life and had completed my undergraduate degree in Gainesville, north Florida. Before moving back to Miami, I had  traveled throughout the U.S. Several other Salamandras had relocated from Boston and a few other cities in the northeast. I mention these distinctions because there were noticeable differences between the Miami natives and those who had also resided in other metropolitan cities. Miami Salamandras, it seemed, viewed lesbianism in practical and narrow terms. To be able to live in a fashion that allowed lesbianism to co-exist with being a functioning member of family, society, and the work force was the ultimate goal. Parties on weekends were a plus. But being a lesbian did not include challenging the social construction that kept lesbianism a private matter or exploring beyond the Miami shores. And Miami Latinas, due to culture and geography, were alienated from the Anglo gay and lesbian “community” and its corresponding national concerns and internal politics. I saw Miami, in a sense, as an island unto itself.

Those of us who had lived elsewhere, though, had participated in or at least been exposed to a wider gamut of lesbian culture, including women’s bookstores, music festivals, feminist politics, and lesbian herstory and literature. By 1991, I had been “out” for eight years and had gone through my own worldwide lesbian awakening. I was a barefoot traveling lesbian in search of an exotic secret society. I had participated in several Latin American Lesbian Feminist gatherings, beginning with the first one that was held in México in 1987. And I had attended women’s gatherings in the U.S., including numerous women’s music festivals. For years, I had been negotiating my identity within all of these spaces. The lesbians I encountered at home in Colombia and in Latin America were often educated and wealthy daddy’s girls that I could not easily identify with. Besides, I was a Latina from the U.S., which put me in a different class altogether. I had been influenced by angry white separatist feminist vegetarian dykes who danced to the goddess’ tune, which didn’t help me blend in with  South American sisters.

In the U.S., on the other hand, I was eventually alienated from the whiteness of mainstream culture and allied myself with women of color. I had read and connected with some of the defining literature of the eighties—This Bridge Called My Back, Loving in the War Years, Chicana Lesbians, and Compañeras, where I had my first poem, “De ambiente,” published. I had also written articles about Latin American lesbians and had begun to compile lists of international Latin lesbian organizations. I was a natural networker and collector of Latina lesbian culture—flyers, books, music, photographs, posters, anything.

I had been Desperately In Search of Latinas for many years, no doubt a search for my own self. After having internalized the ethnic and linguistic self-hatred produced by this country’s racism and hatred of Others, I was ready to embrace my own. I don’t think this was mutual, though. As I have felt my entire life anywhere that I have ever lived, I also felt alienated from Las Salamandras. I was more Americanized than most, and less fluid in social customs and graces. I could not even speak in public at the time without turning red. And worse of all, I could not dance. I did have nerve, though, and I was creative and persistent, as well as a budding writer, all qualities that led me to join the group’s newsletter committee. It was the only place where I could possibly find a niche.

esto no tiene nombre

The first issue, dated September 23, 1991, was a basic black-and-white 18-page homegrown publication that was photocopied at Kinko’s and sold for $2. We printed 50 copies, and then reprinted another batch. It debuted the evening of yet another sensational Salamandra party. We called it esto no tiene nombre, revista de lesbianas latinas en Miami (this has no name, Latina lesbian magazine in Miami).  We, literally, could not come up with a name and, on the editorial page, we wrote, in bold letters, “Necesitamos un nombre” (“We need a name”).  Of course, we liked the pun of not having a name, of not being able to name lesbian desire. It insinuated love in the closet. “Esto no tiene nombre” is also an expression of something being beyond words. It was the title of a Puerto Rican comedy TV show that aired in the seventies. And it was charming, in a way. We could rationalize many things about being poetically nameless, and actually, we did just that. The name grew on us and it was there to stay.

But esto no tiene nombre was a source of conflict from the first. The headline on the cover asks, “Debut y ¿Despedida?” (Debut and Farewell?) This was also a play on words—it was the title of a song by Puerto Rican singer Lissette. Yet it posed a pertinent question. A few Salamandras were concerned, even before we published anything at all, about the content, the editorial control, and the role that the publication would play in the community. They wanted a simple newsletter, one that would inform about the group’s activities, and they wanted the final copy to be approved of by the group as a whole before anything was published. But those of us on the editorial committee wanted a magazine, one that would include as many voices as possible. We wanted to publish anything any of us had to say. We solicited writings, graphics, and ideas from the group, and these, compiled with our own writings and vision, were the raw materials for the first issue.

On the cover, in Spanish, we published the first editorial, one that acknowledged the conflict that pre-empted esto. “We understand that this is an internal struggle and part of the process of growth in our community. The editorial committee has decided to publish this first volume so that each woman can formulate her own responses.” We defended freedom of creativity and expression and asked, “Is our community ready for our magazine? . . . Who has not enjoyed a clitoris, a nipple, a woman’s kiss? It would be hypocritical and a form of internalized lesbophobia to exclude these images when they are the basis of our expression.” The rest of the newsletter included brief pieces, written by nine Salamandra contributors. It included lots of (bad) poetry, a few very short stories and chronicles, a cartoon, a recipe (for onion rice), advice on natural pesticides, video and book reviews, news and announcements, and “Cuéntame,” an anonymous interview that I conducted and edited. The majority of the content was in Spanish and most of the contributors were on a first-name-only basis.

The first issue of esto caused a commotion.  There was immediate dissent about what we had published. At question was how Las Salamandras were being represented (one had written a first-person narrative about her experience with the group); the graphic use of language (we decided to publish an orgasm in every issue—poetry or prose that celebrated our sexuality); and the “Cuéntame” interview, where a black Latina talks about her preference for black women and boasts in crude detail about bringing her lovers to orgasm.  Her language was strong. It was real. It was us. And by publishing her words, we were being true to our editorial policy, which reads, in part: “esto no tiene nombre publishes materials by Latina lesbians that reflects our diversity and ruptures the stereotypes that have been nailed upon us. Our objective is to create a forum for words and images that contribute to the fortitude and pride of our community” (2).

But Las Salamandras did not appreciate our inclusive philosophy. Heated discussions ensued. We met in Caridad’s apartment, where Salamandras fumed about the trash we were publishing. Our response was—if it bothers you, write a letter to the editor; let it be a debate among us. We saw esto as a forum for discussion within our community. We worked earnestly to produce the second issue of esto, despite the controversy. This time, though, we expanded beyond the local network and invited lesbians from Latin America, who we met when they came into town for an international environmental conference, to contribute writings and to help us spread the word.

The second edition of esto was twenty-pages long, dated January 31, 1992, Volume 1 number 2. It was printed on lavender paper, also at Kinko’s. The cover had an image of Argentinian rockers Sandra Mihanovich and Celeste Carballo dreamily gazing into each other’s eyes, as well as the cute Salamandra logo. The graphics, created by Patricia, were light-years ahead of the first edition. Esto had a clean-cut and orderly look now, with a table of contents, an editorial and contributor’s page, letters to the editor, news and announcements, two ads, seven poems, and wide-ranging content. Among the highlights were Amy’s essay on death, an interview with a Costa Rican lesbian activist, Vanessa’s take on the Latino “disease model” of lesbianism, Patricia’s witty crossword puzzle (that required knowledge of Latina and lesbian history and culture), my review of two lesbian sex videos, and the Cuéntame. There were eleven contributors this time, including a poet from Costa Rica and one from Puerto Rico.

Again, esto caused an uproar.  And, again, it was the sexually explicit material that generated controversy: Margarita’s “orgasm,” my reviews of the videos “Bathroom Sluts” and “Dress Up for Daddy,” and the anonymous “Cuéntame” interview, which denounced feminists and praised tribadism. While these pieces did not even take up two full pages in the publication, they were the focus of a debate that quickly escalated in intensity. Some of the Salamandras felt we had betrayed the group’s morality, and they screamed for censorship. We were staunchly opposed to censorship and supported the free expression of ideas and experience by Latina lesbians on any topic. And we were not just free thinkers; we were true lovers of literature and were writers ourselves. We regarded our roles as editors with utmost seriousness—we believed that publishing had the power to transgress invisibility, that we were creating and representing our community along the way, that expressing lesbian sexuality was good and fun and healthy, and that what we were doing was meaningful. We saw internalized homophobia as the real crux of the matter. Several of Las Salamandras were offended by the word “lesbian” on the cover. Many were not “out” publicly and did not intend to be.

But those of us at the core of esto were of a different breed. Margarita, who had come to Miami during the Mariel exodus in 1980, had walked the streets of La Habana arm-in-arm with her female lovers in a country where being homosexual was a crime. She lived by laws of her own making. She was, according to the biographical note that we published in every issue of esto, “an anti-communist, a Christian, and a lover of women, sexuality, and communication.” She was also Eurocentric and thought President Bush and Pinochet were the greatest, and one of the strongest characters anyone could ever imagine knowing.

The rest of us were bleeding-heart liberals, though. Patricia was a Cuban/Puerto Rican with leftist tendencies who had a Bachelor’s in Political Science. Vanessa, her partner, from Puerto Rico, had studied economics at MIT in Cambridge, where the two had met. Vane and Patri were well-read in lesbian literature and well-versed in lesbian and liberal discourse, including identity politics, class issues, and environmentalism. They had been involved with the politically-active lesbian community in Boston, including the Women’s Community Center and lesbian organizations on MIT’s campus. They had attended conferences on pornography and on race and ethnicity among lesbians. When we first met, Vane and Patri lived in a house in South Dade, set smack in the middle of a field of tomatoes. They had back-to-the-earth values and envisioned living off the land. I shared many of Vane and Patri’s world views. And like Margarita, I lived by my own rules. We were, each of us, strong-willed, outspoken, and independent. The four of us were the creators of esto no tiene nombre, and even though we were not in complete agreement about the world, we were able to accept that there would be disagreements.

“There’s an agreement to our morality in the group.”

Las Salamandras were not willing to accept the disagreements, though, and more screaming matches took place. On Sunday afternoon, March 8, 1992, a special meeting was held at the Alice Wainwright Park, practically across the street from Madonna’s lavish Miami home. We tape-recorded the meeting and I later transcribed it. Among the verbatim excerpts from this meeting: “There is no need to use derogatory language.” “I don’t want these words in a magazine I share with my friends.” “You think I can show this to my mother? Where do we draw the line?” “If the idea of this group is to give lesbians a positive image, how are we doing that here?” “I don’t have a penis. I don’t fuck.” “What happens in the bedroom shouldn’t be published.” “You can open up much more with tenderness and sweetness, not by trying to scandalize people.” “With all the empowering things to write about, I don’t see a place for pornographic reviews.” “A pornography book, is that what you want?” “Is this going to be Playgirl? On Our Backs?” “There’s an agreement to our morality in the group.” “Would you like your family to look at those words? Is that how you want to be represented?”

During the meeting at the park that Sunday, it was decided that a greater number of Salamandras should become involved in esto’s editorial process. But by now, outsiders were getting in on the debate, including a Cuban lesbian minister from the Metropolitan Community Church, Mari Castellanos. Many members of Las Salamandras also attended Mari’s sermons; some were her “groupies.” The Latina lesbian moral majority now had their own Oral Roberts. The official editorial committee consisted of Vanessa Cruz, Patricia Pereira-Pujol, and myself. Margarita Castilla took charge of the accounting from the beginning and was part of the core group. Her name appears in the editorial box as of the second issue, along with Sylvia’s name, who never did anything that I can recall. In fact, suddenly, people who never had any interest in publishing joined the editorial committee. The “real” editorial committee was joined by six others, including two esto contributors and four moral police agents. By March 9th, the new, expanded committee had approved sixteen official editorial policies. The Newsletter Committee Document has the word “woman” and “women” scratched out and replaced with “lesbian” and “lesbians.” The policies are presented here as they appear in the document, misspellings and all:

Majority rule; No quorum required; The committee is open to any latin lesbian that is in agreement with the editorial policy; The editorial policy is open to discussion and change; All writers must be lesbian; All writers must be latin with the following exceptions—letters to the editor, collaboration with other latin women; The writings may not be oppressive; The writings do not contradict the purpose of the group as stated in the articles of incorporation; The writings do not include profanity or vulgarity for it’s own sake or for the purpose to shock or when it is demeaning and oppressive; The writings may be in spanish or in english with the exception that the Editorial Notes presented on the inside cover of the News Letter be written in spanish; There will be no translations of the writings; Preference will be given to issues related to latin lesbian; No editorial changes without the agreement of the author, except for changes related to grammar or syntax; The editorial committee will aspire to present a balance view as to form and content; Authors will have copyright privileges; and Pseudonyms are allowed, however, the Editorial Committee must know who the person submitting the writing is. The right of the person to be anonymous will be respected in all cases.

Two policies were rejected by the majority: “There will be a qualitative standard of good taste and form in presenting the writers views;” and “Writings giving exposure to pornography be not allowed.”

The final note that appears at the bottom that:
A test of how the approved editorial policies would work was performed by having committee members vote on whether or not the article “Video-View:  Las Putas y Los Papis” would be included in a News Letter issue if each of the committee members would apply the approved editorial policies. The article was accepted by a vote of 6 members voting yes to include the article and 4 members voting no.

I remember Vanessa saying that she trusted the process; the members of the editorial committee would come to understand what it meant to publish and they would either naturally eliminate themselves or grow. But of the ten people on this committee, only four were there as “moral police,” and they were outnumbered. They cried foul.

Several days later, Las Salamandras held a meeting behind our back. I was tipped off by a friend. Before the next Thursday night group meeting, and in anticipation of what was to evolve, Vanessa, Patricia, Margarita and I decided to withdraw from the group. That night, March 12, 1992, we were presented with the following petition, signed by almost every Salamandra, including new “outsiders” and many of the original Salamandras, who were our friends, or so we thought:

To: Editorial Committee “ESTO NO TIENE NOMBRE”
We, the undersigned, individually and collectively agree to the following:
1.    The content of the newsletter ESTO NO TIENE NOMBRE continues to be a source of conflict which greatly distresses all of us. Therefore, we hereby, demand that this newsletter be discontinued, and/or the presumed sponsorship of SALAMANDRAS DE AMBIENTE be withdrawn from any such publication until such a date when the proper mechanisms are set into place to insure that said newsletter is representative and respectful of the consensus, philosophy and standards of this group.
2.    We consider that the problems that have ensued from the newsletter are symptomatic of a lack of clarity regarding the position and purpose of SALAMANDRAS DE AMBIENTE and the lack of any structure designed to implement such position and purpose. Therefore, we call for the creation of a task force to study this issue, to design a model and to present and propose their conclusions to the membership at large by a specific date. Said task force will be constituted by volunteer members who are endorsed by a 2/3 mayority of the membership to be selected at our next business meeting.

Salamandras: 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.

off our backs or On Our Backs?

We didn’t take what happened lightly—it was as an ugly scenario, to be stabbed in the back by our own familia, and it was deeply painful, and never to be forgotten. Vanessa and Patricia completely shut Las Salamandras out, while Margarita and I occasionally went to meetings and parties. Despite what had happened, Las Salamandras was our main connection to the local Latina lesbian community, and we still had friends among the group. But it was the end of an era.

Getting kicked out of Las Salamandras expanded esto’s horizon. The way they did what they did—behind closed doors—and that they penned a petition that intended to silence us fueled our conviction in publishing; it served as inspiration to continue with esto, and it strengthened our bond. By then, Margarita and I were locked in a steamy and passionate relationship, and Vane and Patri were as solid as partners can be. The four of us were in love with each other, and we had a mission: this, which has no name.

We continued with the immediate task at hand—to publish the next issue of esto. The Spring 1992 edition, Volume 1 number 3, came out about six weeks after our rupture with Las Salamandras, and it was markedly different. We ditched Kinko’s for a real printer and had a print run of 200, which cost us $150.  The final product was a 20-page glossy magazine with a full-sized black-and-white photograph of an alluring woman in the woods who looked you right in the eye. (Years later, I was to discover that she wasn’t even a lesbian.) The contributors were all local, and the contents were similar to the previous issue.  The layout, though, was much more sophisticated, with labryses, lesbian symbols, and kissing women scanned into the background of selected pieces, as well as a variety of fonts, gray and black boxes, and just the right amount of white space. But the real difference was our focus. “Miami” was dropped from the official name, which was now, simply, esto no tiene nombre, revista de lesbianas latinas.

There were still remnants from Las Salamandras, though, in the letters to the editor section which was entitled “en nuestras mentes” (on our minds). Mari Castellanos, the moral-majority-Cuban-lesbian minister, wrote (in Spanish), a letter that begins by congratulating us for our wonderful, professional-looking magazine and then continues to praise and attack every single one of our contributions. About the controversy, she wrote:

What confuses me about the magazine is that at times I don’t know if I am reading off our backs (a national feminist magazine) or On Our Backs (a pornographic lesbian magazine). Tatiana’s fascination with pornography intrigues me. It is not my place to determine if it is appropriate or not. This should be determined by the group as a whole, by consensus. This magazine belongs to all of us, right? . . .I don’t think this is representative of the values of the group. Oh, the tyranny of minorities!  For some people, vulgar language represents a progressive wave against the established order. For others, the use of obscenities only indicates a lack of vocabulary. This definitely does not respect the sensibilities of many and imposes criteria that causes unnecessary friction. To impact society, one needs cutting-edge ideas and valiant positions, not vulgarity. (4)

I responded (in Spanish) by deconstructing several of the offending “vulgar” words, all of which were used within the context of the lesbian sex video reviews that I had written: “singar” (to fuck); “puta” (slut); and “dyke.” I defended sexual vocabulary, sexual education, and sexual liberation. They were futile words, though. We would never agree.

The back cover of the magazine announced esto’s new venture—“la estupenda esto-peña” (the stupendous esto-club). This was to be a cultural event, to be held the third Sunday of every month, that would feature poetry readings, art exhibits, and the like. It would be a fundraiser for esto, as well as a literary/artistic link to the local Latina lesbian community. In the end, though, the esto-peña flopped, as would any of our local efforts. While we did have supporters in the community, most of the “out” Latina lesbians were somehow associated with Las Salamandras, and a significant number of these women were faithful church-goers who abided by the moral ambiance of the moment. So while we did have an audience for our events, it was a small one in comparison to the multitudes that decked out for parties. “Literature” did not draw crowds. And there was an undeclared yet palpable boycott of esto by Las Salamandras, symptomatic of a mutual bitterness that would last a lifetime.

Technically, Las Salamandras had never truly sponsored esto. Margarita had fronted the money for the first issue, and since we had no publishing funds to begin with, we had started selling subscriptions, $10 a year for four issues, since the first edition. By the time esto had been kicked out of the group, around twenty members of Las Salamandras had subscribed. (Margarita, Vane, Patri and I had also paid for our own subscriptions.) Margarita had already started the subscription list on a spiral shorthand pad, and she had been keeping a ledger for incoming funds and expenses as of February 6, 1992.

Esto No Tiene Nombre, Inc.

It was clear to us that in order to pursue our vision our efforts would have to have a national focus, not a local one. I had always envisioned a national magazine to begin with, and this turn of events paved our path. We didn’t know much about distribution, publicity or publishing, but we did know that we needed money to do anything at all. Our plan for esto entailed establishing an existence as a legal entity and associating with an organization that had tax-exempt status so that we could apply for grants. We wanted to be independent, though, with the ability to manage our funds and activities. I consulted with Brenda Stout, an accountant who knew the gay community well, and she put us in contact with Brian Geenty, the director of Lambda Community Center of Greater Miami, Inc.  Soon after, Brenda helped us fill out the Articles of Incorporation and Brian, via Lambda, became our fiscal sponsor. Lambda had tax-exempt status but was not active at the time, so it was a perfect match. We hoped to eventually establish tax-exempt status for esto, but since this took a long time, we began by forming this alliance. The terms were simple. We would write grants and if we were awarded funds, Brian would receive them for us and hand them over. Subscriptions and any other funds would be directed to Lambda Community Center and the funds would go directly to esto.

We mailed the Articles of Incorporation for Esto No Tiene Nombre, Inc. to the Florida Department of State on May 12, 1992. On May 20th, we received a letter requesting that we “provide an English translation for the corporate name.”  We complied and on June 9, 1992, ESTO NO TIENE NOMBRE, INC., “the English translation of which is ‘This Has No Name, Inc.’,” became “a corporation organized under the Laws of the State of Florida.” The four of us were directors, and Vanessa was the registered agent. Soon, Esto No Tiene Nombre, Inc. had an independent bank account.

Becoming a legal entity was frightening. It was a defining moment for us. We didn’t know a thing about corporations. But then, we didn’t know a thing about publishing, either. We just did it by examining the ways that other publications seemed to do things and considered that our starting point. Then, we talked about it and came up with our own version. Thus, we created the editorial policy, call for submissions, table of contents, contributor notes, photo releases, and everything else. We made decisions by consensus, which was not always pretty, as we differed in ideology and in our approach to the actual work involved. Still, we worked with great mutual respect.

I remember one dispute about selection of material. Our policy was to publish anything by any Latina lesbian, regardless of point of view, unless we considered the writings “oppressive.” In the beginning, we were desperate for enough material to fill the pages, so getting published in esto was practically a done-deal for anyone who contributed. We did not have much quality control at first, though we did edit and doctor up shoddy writing when possible. Then came the poem “Como una mujer… como una rosa” (like a woman, like a rose):

A woman is like a rose: With her soft and delicate lips… there is nothing like a woman,  only a rose.
The rose is like a woman: With its satin petals so delicious to touch.
The woman is like a rose: With so many mysteries of nature. (Vol. 1 No. 3)

There it was, the Latina lesbian cliché from hell. We hated it. I didn’t want to publish it. But Margarita was adamant about being true to our all-inclusive policy. After much yelling, policy prevailed over quality. It was not the first “bad” piece of writing that we published and it wouldn’t be the last, but it put our values to test.

We collectively called ourselves “las publicadoras que hacemos todo en esto” (the publishers who do everything in esto), yet our fields of responsibility and interest were well-defined. I was the networker, the one who maintained the mailing list, whose job it was to Find Stuff to Publish from any Latina lesbian, anywhere in the world. I was also one of the writers in the background; I grew up as a writer with esto no tiene nombre. Vanessa was the other writer in the group, a great writer, actually, sharp and creative with wonderful style. She typeset the materials that we all selected as a group, and edited most of the pieces. I don’t know where she learned to edit, but she was an excellent editor, with a Zen sensibility in knowing where, exactly, to cut. Patricia was the graphic artist; she taught herself Pagemaker and grew more skilled with each edition. It was impressive to witness her skill as a graphic artist evolve, issue by issue. Also worthy of note is that Vane and Patri didn’t own a computer at first; they used the Macintosh computers at Miami-Dade Community College for the first four issues. And Margarita kept the books, collected the mail in her private mailbox, sold subscriptions, and proofread the writings in Spanish.

Grants and Golden Opportunitie$

After incorporating, we directed our attention to the next task at hand–grantwriting. None of us had ever written or seen a grant proposal before. While we were serious about publishing, writing grant proposals added a new dimension to our commitment. The process forced us to reconsider our vision, to search within for the words that fully portrayed our intent. The proposals would also put us in the view of a different audience—people who would consider our vision and the products that resulted from it, and who would decide if our project was worthy of their funds. We were not aware of local funding sources and so we prepared ourselves to be assessed on a national level, most likely by individuals far removed from our island in mayami (Miami). We wondered if foundations would understand the unique situation of lesbian immigrants who existed without the support of national organizations, publications, centers, editorial houses or gatherings, of if they even cared. We knew that 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 we also thought that it was our best alternative for taking esto on the high road. And we knew we were ahead of our time and hoped that astute people would see this and would want to support us.

We had heard that Astraea, the National Lesbian Action Foundation in New York City funded lesbian organizations. We wrote our first proposal for Astraea, from where I extract the following excerpt:

The goal of Esto No Tiene Nombre, Inc. is to foster cultural exchange and all forms of expressions by Latina lesbians. We intend to serve as a vehicle for the dissemination of ideas and information about and from Latina lesbians. We feel it is important to have a space to explore who we are, what we do, what we want, what we think and where we are going. We want to establish a dialogue among ourselves without fear, censure, or having to justify ourselves in order to talk about what is important to us. With esto no tiene nombre we want to open minds, provoke discussion, create controversy, break isolation, celebrate the diversity of our communities, provide space where there is none and nurture a passion for our roots.

Astraea believed in us—they awarded esto $1000 in 1992, and $1000 in 1993, and $2500 in 1994. Through Astraea we found out about other foundations that supported gay and lesbian non-profit organizations, and we applied to a few of them. Thus, we were awarded $700 from Open Meadows Foundation on October 6, 1992, and $800 from RESIST on October 23, 1993. These funds would turn out to be absolutely essential to esto’s evolution, one that would lead far away from Miami.

“Selling” esto

Expanding our network to the point of establishing a national and international presence within our community required lots of legwork and outreach. I was more than happy to take on this responsibility—making connections and converting them into tangible, useful parts of a whole is one of my innate abilities. Key to making esto an organic part of the national Latina lesbian community was to go where the Latina lesbians were—sprinkled throughout white lesbian enclaves in the U.S. and concentrated within Latina lesbian organizations.

In addition to routine publishing expenses such as postage, photocopies, office supplies and such, grant moneys permitted us to invest in other areas that we previously could not consider. The expenses were relatively small at first, but they were critical. We placed subscription ads in Lesbian Connection, for instance, and a call for submissions in Poets and Writers. We paid for an exhibit at the National Latina Lesbian and Gay Conference, held in Houston in 1992. I contacted Latina lesbian organizations such as Lesbianas Unidas in Los Angeles, Mujerio in San Francisco, Ellas in San Antonio, and Las Buenas Amigas in Manhattan. Where possible, esto subscription flyers were sent to everyone in each group’s mailing list, either directly by us or by the organization itself. I sent flyers to lesbian and gay organizations, archives, and publications in the U.S., Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

It wasn’t all about money, though—it was about following any lead that could generate national visibility for esto. We needed material to publish, and we needed an audience for the final product. I had an innate love and understanding for the media since I was young—I had been the features editor in my high school newspaper. I knew that editors appreciated the offbeat, that they had the means to make items of their interest visible, and that, through them, the word would eventually spread. I used the media in any way that I could conjure. I traded my writings, mostly columns, for advertising for esto in publications such as Outlines in Chicago and The Fountain in Miami. I established exchange subscriptions with many gay and lesbian periodicals—from Sojourner to Calyx to the Washington Blade. I contacted bookstores and asked them to place our flyers on their bulletin boards, or to sell esto via consignment. I sent sample copies of esto to women’s presses, such as Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, Naiad, and Firebrand, and requested that they place us on their mailing list.

I even went on national television myself, for The Cause.  The first time was on Telemundo’s magazine format Contacto show for a segment called “Cuando su hijo es gay” (when your child is gay). I got my mom to go on the air with me. (There we were, the Radical Lesbian and her Accepting Christian Mother.) The stipulation was that the producers had to mention esto no tiene nombre and publicize our contact information, which they did.

And when I was arrested in front of the Colombian consulate in Coral Gables on March 9, 1994, an act that attracted media attention, my immediate concern was how to keep the reporters away from me and use them in favor The Cause. I was the sole counter-demonstrator in a throng of Cubans who were threatening to boycott Colombian products because Colombia was negotiating the sale of petroleum to Cuba. Thousands of Cubans were protesting when I showed up with the Colombian flag, a “Free Cuba” T-shirt, and a “Down with the Cuban Embargo” sign. The crowd attacked me, I fought back, and the police whisked me to jail. It was a highly-publicized rally and all the local news stations were there. The melee was filmed for the world to see. This became, unwittingly, my 15 seconds of fame. The image of a dueling Tatiana made it to Canada, Mexico, Colombia and back. And since my arrest was the only authentic event of the protest, reporters ambushed me for interviews. I declined—my views on Cuba would not get me anywhere—and offered to give them interviews about Latina lesbians instead.

A few Colombian reporters took me up on it. This is how I ended up on Colombia’s national television show, El Noticiero de las Siete and on other national Colombia media: El Tiempo, a newspaper; Revista Semana, a weekly news magazine (my interview appears right after a piece on Princess Diana, to my aunt’s shock); and Caracol, a national radio station. The interviews didn’t generate subscriptions, but they hopefully had positive effects for queer visibility in Colombia. They also brought me out to all my Colombian relatives, an after-effect I had somehow overlooked. But my strategy was flawed; I was terrible on screen, very self-conscious and liable to spontaneously say the wrong thing. One day, I finally decided to Just Say No to television. (For an in-depth account of the arrest, see De la Tierra, “Jail for Beginners.”)

My biggest and most successful campaign in reaching Latina lesbians took place on the phone. I would somehow get the phone number of Some Latina Lesbian Somewhere in the U.S., and I would call her. I wanted to know who the local Latina lesbian writers and artists were, where Latina lesbians congregated, what organizations they were involved in, who was good at what, where local information was published, who had the central mailing list—anything that could possibly lead to my being able to obtain either contributions of writings or graphics for the magazine, or new subscribers. I don’t know if I was good on the phone or just persistent, but I know that I stayed on the phone for as long as my unknown Latina lesbian victim would permit. Maybe they complied just to get rid of me, but I was able to establish many connections this way, and to get my foot in the door of some of the Latina lesbian organizations (all but Las Salamandras, of course, who wouldn’t agree to sending esto subscription flyers on their mailing list).  Eventually, since the world is indeed as small as they say, I would meet some of the women, in person, whom I had previously spoken to on the phone. Making the scene at conferences and gatherings here and there was another one of my methods of “selling” esto. (Unfortunately, though, esto was never able to fund any of us for travels.)

Personal contact is the most powerful way to engender trust and commitment to a cause from people. Others can always sense when you truly believe in what you do; the enthusiasm is contagious. I was very focused on soliciting materials for publishing and on selling subscriptions. I would do Anything, even Unwise things.

Once, I got a phone call from a Cuban lesbian who lived in Miami Beach. She had gotten my phone number from the Telemundo show and she wanted to know more about esto.  Smelling a Possible Subscription Sale, I volunteered that, next time I was on South Beach, I could stop by her place and show her the magazines. One day, that’s exactly what I did. She cracked the door open a bit and checked me out before unhooking the security chain. I walked in and she locked the door, snapping each of the seven deadbolts into place. That’s when I noticed that, even though it was the middle of the afternoon, there was no natural light in the house; incandescent bulbs lit the place. The windowpanes were covered with aluminum foil. Each piece of furniture was draped with a white cloth. The woman herself was wearing a housedress akin to a white sheet, and she said incomprehensible things and shook and looked quite kooky. I pretended that everything was normal, showed her the magazines, and counted the minutes until I could find a way out. She never did subscribe.

“Ask me for your hunger, in Spanish”

We published a total of nine issues of esto no tiene nombre, 182 pages, half an inch thick, with the collaboration of 68 contributors. The volumes are slim; they average twenty 8 1/2” X 11” pages each. It doesn’t seem like much; esto was small, by any standards. Yet it was significant—each issue carries its weight proudly, adds pages to the Latina lesbian archives of the future, to the herstorical records of the recent past.

As part of the “research” for this paper, I got in bed with all the issues of esto no tiene nombre and read them all over again, cover to cover. I’m not sure why I did this, but I read them in reverse order, beginning with Volume 3 number 1, published in 1994, three years after the first edition. I am not an objective reader—each magazine reminded me of the writers and artists who contributed, of the particular circumstances behind the scenes of each edition, of the political topic of the moment, of my love life, my friendships, my health, my dreams. But if I can possibly extract the personal associations that I have with each issue, I can make some general observations about esto.

There are noticeable changes from issue to issue. The first major shift begins with the fourth edition (Volume 1 Number 4, Summer 1992) which has an image of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess, on the cover. Miami is suddenly replaced with Aztlán—Chicanas make themselves at home in esto. I remember not knowing much about Chicanas until we started publishing their voices. I had read some of the literature, and had even traveled to México, but Chicanos were still mythical beings who existed very far away from Miami, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Suddenly, we were publishing writings about the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed, pesticide poisoning and Chicano farm workers, Chicana Lesbians, Chicana herstorians, and Chicana artists.  Puerto Rico and the northeast also moved into esto—contributors from Boston, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and San Juan joined us. And many of the new contributors brought new languages to esto—English and Spanglish. We gave Spanglish an official recognition in this issue’s editorial. We wrote (in Spanglish):

. . . Our policy is to publish articles in the language that they are submitted. We think we should leave it where people are at. Our Latina lesbian community includes women in the US as well as in Latin America. We cannot say that English or Spanish is the “official” language of our community because this would exclude many. And if the question is being P.C., neither is more correct than the other; both are colonizing languages. In our daily conversations we usually mix both languages. Some things can only be expressed in English or in Spanish: How do you say “empowerment” in Spanish? How do you say “amar” (to love) in English? As Latinas from the US and Latin America come together, we will naturally move towards speaking Spanglish. ¡Qué viva el Spanglish! (4)
It’s from this issue onward, I think, that esto really rocks. Soon after, we had the coolest covers—a photograph of two women in the nude, one with her back to the camera, the other’s pubic hair in full bloom (Volume 2 Number 1); a handsome Cuban butch in a white guayabera (this was Margarita) flirting with a high-heeled femme on a street corner in South Beach (Volume 2 Number 2); Aztec lesbians bathed in golden moonlight (Volume 2 Number 3); a Nuyorican salsera at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Volume 2 Number 4); and a cosmic earth momma emerging from the trunk of a banyan tree (this was me) (Volume 3 Number 1).

If you read esto no tiene nombre, you’ll learn about a few of our icons—Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Frida Kahlo; about some of our published writers—Nancy Cárdenas, Rosamaria Roffiel, Terri de la Peña, Mariana Romo-Carmona, Carmen de Monteflores, Cherríe Moraga, and Sara Levi Calderón; and about our realities and concerns—identity, desire, politics, international gatherings, building coalitions with women of color, fears, feminism, language, and being in sisterhood with each other.

I have a few favorite pieces from all these pages. I dig Maria Cristina’s poem, “Pídeme tu hambre…en español” (Ask Me for Your Hunger in Spanish), an erotic play on the accents, diphthongs and peculiarities of the Spanish language. Rosita Libre de Marulanda’s “La niña, la puta y la Santa María” (the girl, the whore and the Santa Maria) analyzes Cristobal Colón’s journey to the Americas, concluding that the ship named “La Pinta” was really a Puta (whore) in disguise. Teresa Mendoza’s poem, “She,” honors butch masculinity in a way that only a femme can. There is an insightful interview of photographer Roberta Almerez, “A Mistaken Minority with a Wonder Bread Identity Tows the Thin Line Between Art, Pornorgraphy, and Living Happily Ever After,” made all the more interesting by the fact that she interviewed herself (!) under a pseudonym.  (We didn’t know this at the time. Rebecca García created some awesome cartoons of “la mujer ideal” (the ideal woman). I love Amy Santos’ poem, “Biology,” and Margarita’s poem, “Fuiste mía en ese instante” (you belonged to me in that instant), and every single thing Vanessa ever wrote. I also like my mom’s contribution, “El regalo” (the gift), about her acceptance and appreciation of being the mother of a lesbian. (“El regalo” was subsequently reprinted in other books and magazines, most recently in Conversaciones.)

Then there was a great compilation of news and gossip about groups, publications, individuals and international political and cultural happenings that we published in each edition. Compiled by myself and/or Patricia and/or Lori Cardona, this section was filled with tons of tiny bits of information about Latina lesbians and gays in the U.S. and in Latin America and México. Valuable for reflecting the political climate and issues of the time, this section had a variety of incarnations and, thus, various names: “Estamos en todas partes” (we are everywhere); “Eventos, anuncios, noticias y publicaciones” (events, news, announcements and publications); and “lesbianas y gays latinos pa’qui y pa’lla” (latina lesbians and gays over here and over there).

But my favorite thing about esto no tiene nombre is “Cuéntame, una charla anónima” (“tell me,” an anonymous interview). I love to do interviews; many of my earlier writings were features based on interviews. I like to dig in, to ask very personal questions about deep fears and desires, to expose humanity. The Cuéntame allowed this because it was anonymous—no one knew who I interviewed. I manipulated text to conceal the identity of the person interviewed. A few of these women were well-known in their respective communities, and some were anonymous even to me. A few of the interviews were conducted via telephone and recorded with a tape recorder from Radio Shack, similar to the one Linda Tripp used to record Monica Lewinski (though I had permission).

I am amazed, to this day, that so many women trusted me with their intimacies. Each Cuéntame takes me back to each woman—the one who’s married with children and always has a female lover on the side but won’t call herself a lesbian; the one who allowed herself to come out with the help of booze and became an alcoholic; the one who hates herself for being fat; the burned-out suicidal activist; the 22-year-old virgin who was turned on by feminine women; the one who used a white woman for sex and then dumped her for a Latina as fast as you can burn a tortilla; the one who thinks lesbians dress poorly; the one who drives fast cars and is afraid of women; the one who can barely restrain herself from coming when she climbs on top of a woman. Perhaps these interviews say as much about me as they do about the women I interviewed, since it was my questions that led to their responses.

In any case, I think esto was pretty damn cool, and I know that I am not alone in this sentiment. We had a small but faithful audience of lesbians who subscribed and gave subscriptions to their friends. We received letters of appreciation and pleas for lesbian connections from all over, including Latin America, México, Cuba, and Europe. We had national distribution via Inland and Fine Print as of the fifth issue. We had grant moneys that continued to flow in and support our vision. We had contributors on every coast. We were filling a void with esto; we were fulfilling our mission.

Hurricane Andrew and the Eye of the Hurricane

But it wasn’t all rosy behind the scenes between those of us at the core of esto no tiene nombre. It was difficult work, we all had full-time jobs and, worst of all, we were lovers. Each of us was volatile, passionate about publishing and differed in opinion on process and strategy. Even so, those were some of the greatest times in my life, because in between the disagreements there was a lot of love, respect and a collective twisted sense of humor. But when Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida on August 23, 1992, we became part of the rubble. Vane and Patri were left homeless and moved to Miami Beach. Soon after, they separated, after eleven years of being together. My childhood house in Leisure City, where I still had a bedroom and many possessions, was destroyed, and my homeless family plus dog moved in with me. Margarita and I, already on shaky ground, broke up after she left me for a woman who had gotten her phone number from television, a result of my appearance on Telemundo. The four of us continued to publish esto even after our relationships fell all around us, but eventually, the beauty of publishing was not stronger than the hatred we came to have toward each other.

Hurricane Andrew hit right after Vane, Margarita, and I attended the Third Lesbian-Feminist Latin American and Caribbean Encuentro (encounter) in Puerto Rico. One moment we were making international lesbian connections, selling subscriptions and conducting interviews, and then we were in shock, our lives uprooted, the future uncertain. Although some of the contents could be found strewn throughout the fields of South Dade, Vanessa and Patricia’s house literally disappeared, even the walls. Las Salamandras gave a hand to lesbians affected by the disaster, including Vanessa and Patricia, but bypassed me and my family. Along with much of South Florida, we all went into a deep depression after Hurricane Andrew. I lost the house that was my home for twenty-one years, and I lost my privacy and the home I had all to myself at the time. We wrote an editorial about the devastation, which was published (in Spanish) in the issue of esto that followed the storm:

The hurricane buried our books and memories, destroyed our refrigerator and sense of security, and drenched our mattresses and our souls. Andres left us unrecognizable pieces of our lives, destroyed our love and our nerves, stole our electricity, money, fine clothes, and the junk we had already forgotten about. He downed our telephone lines and our spirit, ripped out trees and roots. After Andrew we were ruined and miserable, with the heat of a summer without fans stifling our hopes. We looked at the rubble. We identified the photographs and porcelain figures that remained intact, the computer that still had its memory, the estos that remained dry, and the loves that remained in a state of transformation.  We nourished ourselves with our own tears, hysteria, depression, bureaucracy, anger, and pain. Lesbian friends helped us. We bought beds, food, and underwear. Miraculously, esto no tiene nombre, revista de lesbianas latinas, takes shape again, inspires us. Life continues without being the same. We live knowing that walls crumble, that the illusion of security is history, and that we know nothing at all. (Volume 2 Number 1, 4)

It wasn’t just the Hurricane that killed esto no tiene nombre. The end was gradual, like a cancer diagnosed in its early stages that kills you just the same. And we tried several times and in different ways to address the issues. In a nutshell, the problem was the combination of the workload required for producing esto, and the personalities of those of us at the core. I was doing too much of the work, and I was a bitch, all business. My focus was the end result, not the process. No one appreciated my badgering, and no one worked fast, or hard or long enough as was necessary to keep up with the production schedule. We tried bringing in people to work with us, to smooth things out, such as Lori Cardona, but by then our cancer had run amok. We were uncontrollable. Vanessa and Patricia finally pulled out, and Margarita and I invited Amy Concepcion, who was Margarita’s ex-lover, to join us. Amy was a wonderful co-editor, but then Margarita and I could not work together any longer.

Margarita wanted esto to end—she thought I was steering esto from our original mission because I was trying to make it too much like other national magazines. She didn’t like my editing style. (True, Vanessa was a better editor.) She thought I was too creative. Amy and I wanted to continue with esto; Margarita demanded that we cease publishing. She won.

Continued on “Activist Latina Lesbian Publishing Part 2″