On September 24, Adelante, the Latinx student organization in Kenyon, welcomed Gabby Rivera as the keynote speaker for Latinx Heritage Month. Rivera is a Puerto Rican-American queer author and author of the Marvel’s America comic book and novel Juliette breathes. In her opening keynote on Zoom, Rivera spoke about her experience as a queer Latinx writer and her journey to fatherhood.
Betania Escobar, Adelante’s co-chair and event moderator, spoke about the experience of bringing Rivera to campus. “I felt so lucky, honestly, to just be in this virtual space with her and to be able to co-moderate with her as well,” she said. “It was so cool and I felt very comfortable.”
In 2016, Rivera released Juliette breathes, who imagines the experience of a 19-year-old Puerto Rican girl learning to “love her homosexuality” and “discovering a deeper connection to her Puerto Rican identity,” according to Rivera. In writing the novel, Rivera rejected the literary tropes common to novels by featuring female-identifying, gender-non-conforming, and tall protagonists. “It starts with this idea that you must hate yourself and wish you weren’t like that. I don’t do that, ”Rivera said.
Following the success of her first novel, Rivera was invited by Marvel Comics to write the screenplay for America, who featured the first queer Latinx superhero in a Marvel series: America Chavez. “She’s one of the strongest characters in the Marvel Universe,” Rivera said. “She opens portals in other dimensions, which means she can go anywhere. For so many black and brunette women and just for people in general, there are boundaries in our path… but America Chavez shows us how we can get where we want to go.
Growing up in the 1990s in the Bronx, Rivera noted that she lacked examples of queer joy. “There is no media that shows happy homosexuals,” she said. “There are no TV shows with homosexuals and families. We don’t survive the end of the movie. Rivera decided to put her feelings into words and began her writing career at the age of 17.
Rivera’s discussion of Latinx identity in his work resonated with Escobar as someone who identifies as both queer and Mexicana-Salvadoreña.
“I appreciate her doing these stories about loving yourself and every part of your identity, even if it contradicts other parts,” Escobar said. “She centered her talk around these three words: queer Latinx joy. … I remember her saying that homosexuality was her power, and we see it in her works.
Escobar also explained how the colorism and erasure of black and indigenous ancestors – central themes of Rivera’s speech – also arose in discussions among members of Adelante.
“I liked the fact that she complicated the term Latinx in her speech and made sure to say ‘Who is’ Latinx’ for? Is it for people who identify as Latinx who have lighter skin, who present themselves as heteronormative, who come from specific countries? Who is it not for?
Rivera’s presence also reaffirmed Escobar’s commitment to Adelante to be an inclusive space for all Latinx students.
“I really wish Adelante was a place of comfort for Latinx students on campus, and a place where all the different parts of our identities can be celebrated and openly discussed,” Escobar said. “This is why it is so important to have [Latinx Heritage Month]. … It is so important to have these moments of joy and community with each other.
Another recurring theme in Rivera’s speech was looking to the future. “Puerto Rican gay kids deserve to be in the future,” Rivera said of his BB Free character from his ongoing comic book series. “I want to see big, happy brunette girls doing magic from here and forever.”
Escobar stressed the importance of recognizing cross identities and promoting a campus that actively supports students who identify as queer, Latinx and non-white.
“It is important to mention that we do not have a Latinx advisor in the [Cox Health and] Advice center, ”Escobar said. “I’ve heard members say, ‘Where’s our Latina counselor?’ She said. “Kenya needs to do more work to support students of color as a whole: Latinx students, black students, indigenous students, queer students… not only to organize these wonderful events where we try to center our community, but where we make sure that we care for everyone in these communities year round.