Activist Latina Lesbian Publishing: esto no tiene nombre and conmoción Part 2
conmoción, revista y red revolucionaria de lesbianas latinas
That wasn’t the end, though. Maybe I should have stopped, but I couldn’t. By then, I was too obsessed, too invested. I had made too many connections, had gathered too much material, had raised too much money. Just as esto was in the process of reincarnating, we received the largest grant ever—$8,300 on May 3, 1994 from The Funding Exchange’s Out, A Fund for Lesbian and Gay Liberation. We were also awarded another $2500 from Astraea on April 14, 1994, and later, $2000 from the Chicago Resource Center on June 30, 1995 and $1000 from Mama Cash, from Amsterdam. If ever there was a time to think big, that was it. And think big I did.
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!
The fine print in the editorial box reads, “conmoción is an international Latina lesbian vision that uses the published word to empower and terrorize, to destroy and create. we publish, support and develop any type of activity that leads to the betterment and greater visibility of Latina lesbians.” And it lived up to its name. I was “la editora que echa humo” (the editor who emits smoke) and Amy Concepción, Cuban writer and good friend, was the associate editor. We formed a national editorial advisory board composed of Latina lesbian leaders and academics who helped us make connections within their community, solicit material and who would be there should we run into glitches. We wrote grants and obtained the blessings, via letters of recommendation, from writers and academics who believed in our mission, including Cherríe Moraga, Luzmaria Umpierre, Lourdes Torres, Osa Hidaldo, Mariana Romo-Carmona, Marcia Ochoa, Terri de la Peña, Carmen Corrales, and Juana María Rodriguez. We circulated calls for submissions, signed contracts with eight distributors, doubled the print run, and took off. And we got Patri to do the graphics and Margarita to contribute poetry and proofread in Spanish. Our base of support was possible because of esto—conmoción was a continuation and expansion of esto’s vision, pure and simple.
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 U.S. 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 was had information about where telarañeras were performing and publishing and gathering.
Telarañeras: word weavers. Christened after fine and intricate spider webs as well as for “red”, or “network”. Those of us with a matrix of letters that squirm and squeal until they give birth to an urgent word. Those of us who envision text like sculpture, palabras like eagles, grammar like notas musicales, sentences like trains, paragraphs in the palm of our hands. Telarañeras, we prefer our words twisted and tongued and too too tough.
The first issue of conmoción, forty pages published in 1995, was devoted to activism. Carmelita Tropicana sings with a clenched fist on the cover; Rosita Libre de Marulanda reveals childhood experiences that led her to founding La Liberación de la Teta (Titi Liberation) in New York City; Cherríe Moraga talks cultural activism; Achy Obejas is her writing-is-an-act-of-revenge self; Luzmaría Umpierre’s tells her story about homophobia in academia; Carmen Vazquez’ speaks of liberation; and I rant with my “a Latina lesbian activist’s survival guide: o, mejor dicho, activism de-mystified, de-glorified & de-graded” (which was later published in Latino Heretics). There’s also poetry, tributes to activists who’ve passed on, a survey of Latina lesbian journals, news about encuentros, reviews, essays, Cuéntame, a Spanish translation of “100 Simple Things You Can Do to End the Patriarchy” and the beginnings of the telaraña. And then there’s “La esquina de Erotiza Memaz,” a perverted Dear Abby creation by Las Buenas Amigas from New York City that glorified lesbian sexuality.
The second issue of conmoción was 48 pages of erótica with Isabel Rosado’s cuntal artwork on the front cover and Marcia Ochoa’s bare-ass wonder photograph on the back. Inside you’ll find Erika Lopez’ strap-on cartoon, pics of breasts, vulvas, rear ends. There are writings and poetry on stripping for a living, dildos and feminism, sadomasochism, cybersex, and Doralisa Goitía’s “The Colors of Transmission,” which begins with a screaming statement, “PROMISCUITY IS A MOTHERFUCKER AND THE RESULT IS HIV.” There’s vaginal poetry, cunt stories, love letters, Loana DP Valencia’s lunar cuento, “Bajando la luna” (“Drawing Down the Moon,” which subsequently won Best American Erotica of 1995), and omu’s kinky “alfabeto incompleto” (incomplete alphabet). It was an openly sexual edition of conmoción, one that celebrated pleasure for the sake of pleasure.
The third issue of conmoción, which focused on identity, was published in 1996. It would be the last, as production and distribution costs had skyrocketed, several of our large distributors had filed for bankruptcy and, thus, never paid for issues of esto or conmoción sold in bookstores. And I was in poor health, fighting for my life. A group of lesbians from San Francisco were guest editors for the final issue. They selected and edited most of the material but they didn’t make a magazine out of it. After my health crisis was over, I published the last issue, 52 pages of writings and art that directly spoke of who we are.
Virginia Benavides’ photograph of a witchy woman dancing in dark waters extends across the front and back cover of the identity edition. Intriguing artwork reigns, including Dina Bursztyn’s ceramic Totem Poles to Scare Lesbophobia, Laura Aguilar’s powerful self-portraits, and a funky androgynous collage by Elisa Galdo. There are thought-provoking essays, such as Juana María Rodriguez’ “Pensando en identidad” (Thinking on Identity), Theresa Becerril’s autobiographical “Guns, Tetas & Me,” Carmen Corrales’ stunning “Amando a Cuba” (Loving Cuba), and Patricia Meoño Picado’s analysis of Latin soap operas. Also included in this issue is a conversation between three boricuas, Susana Cook’s trans-lesbian poem “I Dress Therefore I am,” Maria de los Rios’ story “The Language of Pain,” and the “100% Latina Lesbian Checklist,” which poked fun at the red “100% Latina lesbian vision” logo on all the conmoción covers and made it impossible to be 100% anything
conmoción was just a magazine. What made it so special is that it was us on each page. It took 84 contributors from 38 cities to fill 140 pages. And gauging by subscriptions, sales in bookstores and letters to the editor, lesbianas Latinas were grateful. Given that conmoción was distributed predominantly in the U.S. and Canada, we were surprised to receive correspondence from lesbians in Cuba, Guatemala, Chile, México, Argentina and Colombia. From the content of the letters it was clear that there was a need to connect with sisters across continents. And for Latinas living in the north, the impact was intense. As Brianna wrote in a letter to the editor published in the third edition, “The specific subject matter combined with such diverse writings evokes a feeling of sisterhood that gives me encouragement and hope in finding a community that I have been needing for a long time. You have shown me that my sisters are out there and that I am not alone in my experiences and feelings” (7). In another letter published in the second edition, Ana Montero wrote that conmoción “shows that Latina lesbianas are coming out of the infamous closet to kick some ass with our own politics without waiting for the gringa dykes to give us space to speak our mind” (6). conmoción was a place where we could do the twist with our tongues and end up smiling regardless of the words exchanged.
It was impossible to continue publishing without money, though. In addition to the distributors that never paid for selling the magazines, grant proposals were rejected by foundations such as the Council of Literary Magazines, Ben and Jerry’s, Digital Queers, The Sister Fund, National Association of Latina Lesbian and Gay Organizations, Womankind, and the Kimeta Society. I tried to obtain funds for la telaraña in 1997, which had never received its own funding. But both Astraea and Chicago Resource Center rejected the proposals.
Besides running out of money for publication, I ran out of steam. I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus in 1990. Mostly, I lived as I pleased. But I did have a life-threatening flare up in 1995 that forced me to reconsider what I was doing with my life. Living on the edge had taken its toll. I loved publishing but it was a thankless job that I didn’t get paid for. I was not surviving physically, economically or even creatively. After much soul-searching, I decided to start anew—to break up with Gloria, my Colombian lover, get away from Margarita, get away from my family, and end conmoción. I did all of the above and in 1999, I had my MFA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. Soon after, I was on my way to becoming a librarian at University at Buffalo.
And the Number Is? Shoddy Record Keeping
It’s difficult to summarize the fruits of esto no tiene nombre and conmoción because, even after combing through the archives for weeks, the records are shoddy and incomplete. Margarita kept track of the funds until January 21, 1994. The last subscriber she entered in the shorthand pad was #166. I know that there were more esto and conmoción subscribers. But with Lambda Community Center of Greater Miami, Inc. as our fiscal sponsor, our accounting tricky. I gave Brian the receipts, and he gave us the money. I was not a consistent record keeper. The paper trail was all over the place—on pieces of paper jammed into folders, with esto records, with conmoción records, with Lambda Community Center records, in the computerized address list, (which “disappeared” several times due to electronic glitches) and, who knows where else. All I know right now is that I don’t even know exactly how many subscribers we had. The mailing list had more than 2000 names in it (not all subscribers). I recall mailing around 300 copies of esto (not all subscribers; there were many exchange subscriptions). From letters in the archives written by subscribers who didn’t receive their issues, it’s clear that our distribution was flawed.
Distribution was a nightmare, no matter how it was handled. I thought that if only we had Real Distribution, we would be sailing. We had been selling esto via consignment at a few bookstores and by a few individuals across the country. But in almost every single case, we were never paid, or we had to chase the bookstores down for a few bucks, and it wasn’t even worth even the phone calls. Inland Books became esto’s first distributor in 1992, and Fine Print soon followed. conmoción was distributed by a slew of companies, too many of them—Small Changes, Desert Moon, Fine Print, Golden Lee, Armadillo, Book People, RPM, and Doormouse (from Toronto). Most of them paid up; the largest ones didn’t. I didn’t even have the energy, in the end, to continue chasing after them all. Still, the distribution did result in esto and conmoción having national visibility. The magazines were in bookstores all over the country, and they sold well for “fringe” publications.
There was something worse than not getting paid, though. Our print run of esto was very small to begin with (200-500), so the issues were precious and I was guarded about sending them out. We had an agreement with Fine Print that unsold issues would be returned. At that point, Fine Print was the main distributor of esto, and they had what amounted to esto’s archives. They destroyed our archives. Today, there are very few original copies of esto no tiene nombre left; I do not even have an original set right now, although there are a few in storage in Miami. In fact, there are very few traces of esto. According to the WorldCat database, esto is only listed in the library catalogs of University of Arizona and University of California at Berkeley.
conmoción, though, is another story. By the time conmoción was published, the media and distribution machinery was already in place. And even though only three issues were published, conmoción had a print run of 1000; most of the magazines were sent out to distributors. conmoción just got around much more; there was more to go around. And conmoción had a bipad number—one of those computerized string of numbers that you find in a bar code on products, issued on December 29, 1994, by the Council for Periodical Distributors Associations, bipad number 87175. Though not required, many distributors preferred titles with bar codes. It was part of playing the game Big. As a result, WorldCat lists nine lender libraries for conmoción: Cornell, New York Public Library, University of California at Riverside, California State University at San Bernadino, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of California at Berkeley, Michigan State University, University of Michigan Library, and University of Texas at Austin.
Traces of This, Which Has No Name
Considering the current proliferation of information via databases and Internet search engines, esto and conmoción barely ever existed. On Google, “‘esto no tiene nombre’ +latina +lesbians” results in 10 hits and “conmocion +latina +lesbians” yields 20 hits. The listings lead to bibliographies, resource listings, syllabi, contributors, articles, and reviews. The scant results place esto and conmoción in the almost-forgotten past, in the poetic days of snail mail. The online revolution happened without us. I didn’t have e-mail until 1995 and I learned how to use the Internet, design web pages, and do research on academic databases just the other day in library school. I became a librarian because I knew it would give me the technological tools that I needed to do what I most love–publish.
I think Margarita was right—I was trying to do too much, thinking too big. I understand now the value of keeping a vision only as large as can be managed by those involved. conmoción was too ambitious. It was practically a full-time job. It needed paid staff, a real office, high-tech equipment. The grant funds allowed conmoción to grow as it needed to, but they didn’t go far enough.
esto no tiene nombre and conmoción were tiny, unique publications, Latina lesbian megaphones. I feel fortunate to have been an integral part of their making. 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. I spoke with Patricia while writing this, to get her point of view, to help me fill in some blanks. While talking to her on the phone I thought of how much I still love her, how I wish we could still be doing it. You can never go back. My childhood home, intact in my mind’s eye, was destroyed in the hurricane. esto and conmoción, vivid and vibrant in my memories, are forever gone.
Of that era, Patri said, “It’s a shame that moment didn’t come at a time when we were more prepared, when we had more time to dedicate to it.” And then she said, well, “Everything is as it should be.” Maybe. Today, Patricia is a science reference librarian at Florida International University and I am a reference and instruction librarian at University at Buffalo. I haven’t spoken with Vanessa in years but I hear she is fine, working as a nutritionist in Miami. Margarita and I continue to love each other from a distance. Amy and I talk every once in a while. Gloria, the lover I broke up with, is a friend and a part of my family. Las Salamandras split up in 1994, before conmoción even began. I got an e-mail from one of them just the other day. I realize now, five years after cutting off family, friends and magazines, that you can never truly free yourself from what you most love. Whenever I go to an event with Latina lesbian presence, esto no tiene nombre and conmoción are always riding on my shoulder.
Lovers and friends come and go, but magazines last forever.
27 de abril de 2000, buffalo, nueva york
revised 1 de noviembre de 2001, buffalo, nueva york
1. Mari hit the clit right on. Turns out that I was a budding pornographer, but I didn’t know that at the time. Much of my published writings to date are of the erotic variety. See De la tierra, “Dancing with Daisy.”
2. Many of these phone interviews became quests for Latina lesbian herstory. Eventually, I researched Latina lesbian organizations in great detail and wrote about them. See De la tierra, “Latina Lesbians in Motion.”
3. After this writing, I found three more boxes of esto and conmoción materials in storage in Miami. The boxes contain an assortment of flyers, correspondence, fiscal papers, and copies of the magazines. Patri and I plan to send copies of esto and conmoción to selected libraries and archives with the intent of increasing public access to the magazines.
4. I became a librarian because I needed a survival mechanism and it seemed that I was already very “librarianish.” I also wanted to find ways to use the tools and position of a librarian to continue with my brand of activism. I now work behind the scenes. Besides doing reference and bibliographic instruction, I examine subject headings for queer Latin texts, write book reviews, compile a comprehensive bibliography of Latin lesbian and gay materials, and scout out queer Latin titles in book fairs. I am also beginning to write and publish within the profession and hope to bring greater visibility of Latina lesbians and gays to this field. See De la tierra, “Latina Lesbian Literary Herstory.”
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De la tierra, tatiana. 1999. “a latina lesbian activist’s survival guide–o mejor dicho, activism de-mystified, de-glorified and de-graded.” In Latino Heretics, ed. Tony Diaz, 64-66. Normal, IL: Fiction Collective Two.
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de la tierra, tatiana. “Activist Latina Lesbian Publishing: esto no tiene nombre and conmoción.” Aztlán 27: 1 (2002): 139-178. Also published in I Am Aztlán: The Personal Essay in Chicano Studies. Ed. Chon A. Noriega and Wendy Belcher. Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2004. 141-176.