Niccolo Abel Roditti

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Niccolo Roditti, who was born in 1996 in Guayaquil, Ecuador and moved to the U.S. at age three, is the Assistant Director of the LGBTQ Youth Center of Durham, part of the LGBTQ Center of Durham. Niccolo discusses conflicts and other intersections of queerness and traditional Ecuadorian culture. In addition to describing the experiences of queer people in Ecuador versus in various parts of the U.S., they explore their own simultaneous navigation of their queer and Latine identities, especially in the context of their family. They came out to their parents and later their extended family despite facing homophobia/heteronormativity and machismo, as well as the pressure to maintain the image of a “Catholic, traditional Ecuadorian family”. Connected to that, Niccolo talks about collectivism in Ecuadorian culture, and in queer spaces. They also discuss how socioeconomic status relates to queer Latine experiences. Additionally, Niccolo examines the presence and representation of queer and Latine people in a number of spaces and contexts, including educational institutions, media, the traditionally gendered Spanish language, and drag, in which they perform.



Myri Prause: Today is the 3rd of April, 2023. My name is Myri Prause. I am interviewing--

Niccolo Roditti: Niccolo Roditti--

MP: --at the LGBTQ Center of Durham. First of all, could you introduce who you are, and what you see as the most important parts of your identity?

NR: Yeah, so… hi, my name is Niccolo Roditti; my pronouns are they/he; and I am a non-binary Latine person, and also neurodivergent. I guess those are the three salient identities that are really important to me. Obviously, they seem important to the rest of the world too, because those are things that you now are expected to hear, or is a more generalized norm in terms of what to say to someone about who you are.

MP: Could you tell me about how you moved with your parents from Ecuador to the U.S. when you were three?

NR: Yeah. Being born in Guayaquil, Ecuador…don’t really remember much [laughs]. But what was interesting was that moving from Ecuador to the United States at three was really because of what was happening in the United States was opportunity from Bill Clinton’s policies of immigration allowing there to be applications passed from mother to daughter, which was my mom’s case. My dad didn’t come with us initially; he actually came four years later--

MP: Okay.

NR: --because his application was stalled. But again, we left because of the financial institution collapse of Ecuador / political instability, and a lot of teen gang violence. All of that in Guayaquil led to the decision of coming to the United States.

MP: Have you talked with your mom at all about how it was for her to come to the U.S. initially with you but not with her husband?

NR: Yeah, I think that goes into the context of their relationship, and my mom being kind of a Type A person. She was adaptable to it because she was very much “I want to do this in my way”, so I think, in that sense, she was more of the go-getter in that relationship. For her, it felt natural for her to come here, and to make it feel like it was her job to do everything. That woman, she is a role model. She learned English while she was working at an airport job, and just had a dictionary. She would work three jobs, and then started temp jobs in some financial institutions, and then my dad eventually came. My mom really worked her way up, learning English, doing some jobs, and then setting up some ground for when my dad came.

MP: How did your life eventually lead you to here, the LGBTQ Center of Durham? What has your life been like between when you moved from Ecuador and now?

NR: That’s a really good question. I think Rhode Island was interesting, where we first moved, because I went to a charter school primarily, and I was learning English. And so now, reflecting back on that time, I think it was a really good time when I learned a lot about acceptance. I went to a charter school that really had a lot of principles about equality. The assistant director and the director were queer. A lot of that stuff was just normal to me, but not necessarily in the forefront.

Coming to North Carolina, it’s kind of its own story as to what leads me to here. I grew up in Charlotte, graduated, was closeted. That made me not want to leave the state but to go somewhere else. NC State was affordable, and I knew it had a good reputation. There, I already had this thirst for wanting to know “why?” for things. A lot of times, it was injustices--growing up, not knowing why certain things were the way they were. At NC State, I did International Studies and Psychology. I really loved learning how all those things melded into what I wanted to do, so I worked in immigrant rights, I worked in foreign policy stuff with Latin America. I was interested in always being able to figure out “how can communities do better?” That led me to doing AmeriCorps after I graduated, and that was in Durham. That’s when I really fell in love with Durham, and the work that Durham does, as an org. I would say that I have such a knowledge of how Durham works, with non-profits and city governments. I taught in laundromats--literacy to Black and brown kids, through Book Harvest--and I did stuff with Student U. Overall, I was getting really good knowledge of what community looks like, not just for my age but for the actual communities I was helping.

Unfortunately, the pandemic happened. My main job I was doing at that time was with the Domestic Violence Center, doing education prevention with youth. And all those things made me apply to Vanderbilt’s Master’s program for Community Development and Action. I got in; I left [Durham]. And then two years later, after I graduated, I came back, because my boss--and this is what they say: networking is so important--my boss now was a coworker of mine when I left that center. And because he knew I worked really well with youth--we already had that work style--I was referred to apply to the job. It honestly just fell into my hands, which was great.

MP: Speaking of Vanderbilt, in our previous discussion you talked about some of the differences that you see between the acceptance of Latinx people and immigrants, and also LGBTQ people, in Tennessee versus in Durham and other parts of North Carolina. Could you talk a bit about that right now?

NR: I think that’s one thing that--first, it’s just so interesting how norms work. If we were not in the South, and we had less of the geography of the South, then all those--no one knows what Durham was; North Carolina and Tennessee probably would be clumped together. Similarly, with the hate bills; on a state level we’ve had our own introductions of bills that are really anti-LGBTQ. What’s interesting though is that, I think, North Carolina’s history--and this is probably just me being a North Carolinian--each region has really rich history. I think that’s because it’s on the east coast; it’s older; there’s not a huge mountain range that blocks you to get to the next state. All that to say to that there’s been more time here; there’s been more diversity here first. If we think about the immigration population, there’s a huge boom now of Latin folks going to Tennessee, like you would see in the mid-2000s in North Carolina--and you’re still seeing here. All of that to say that I think that all influences how fast culture has gone. Again, you see that with more time, more acceptance here, more established communities that have done the work.

When I went to Tennessee, also, the geography doesn’t help. The regions here are so interconnected within two to three hours. Over there, there’s only three major cities, and they’re all three hours from each other. And then Chattanooga, which is at the bottom. I think that isolation allows there to be these pockets of great acceptance, like there is here, for LGBTQ folks, and Latine folks, but when you go into the rural areas, it’s such a well-known thing--if you go thirty minutes outside of the city, it’s completely different. In Tennessee you will get, very much, stares. It’s really uncomfortable. I remember, once, I went hiking during the pandemic, an hour and a half outside of Nashville, and it was like a scene from a movie. You know when you open the door, and everyone does that, like, ‘skrrt’ back, and looks? It was so interesting to feel that, because--you get stares in North Carolina, too; I’m not gonna lie. But that type of--these people are acting straight out of a movie, in terms of how uncomfortable they felt, just with the presence of us. It was really strange. And there’s more of that over there, as you see, with everything going on. But again, I think that goes with institutional history: education there; what does that look like? what is its history before? all that. And why those three cities are completely different; that’s another thing. Nashville is really an interesting place in terms of where it’s set. I think geography and state history has a lot to do with why they’re different. Because the similarity is just that they’re southern and there are queer people there.

MP: Somewhat connected to what you just said, you mentioned earlier that, for a while, you were closeted. Can you, if you’re willing to, talk about when you decided to come out of the closet and how it was to make that decision? And what it felt like afterward?

NR: Honestly, I think this is interesting because, for me personally, being neurodivergent with ESL stuff as a kid, I think to me it was a blessing even though it caused a lot of struggles. I was learning about a lot of things, and while doing that I was able to grow up and use television and media as a way to learn a lot of norms. Like I said, in Rhode Island, I was--not sheltered, but I was just taught in a different way. There wasn’t a lot of issues being presented to me. I also was dealing with a lot of emotional strife at home, with my family.

So, as a kid, I was just growing up, soaking in a lot of information, and then when I came to North Carolina I was bullied a lot in the sixth grade, which was the point of, also, self-awareness for me. I was being told that--being younger, I was a year younger from my age in school, and so my voice didn’t drop. I was also the smartest kid. I was put in an all-boys class--it was a test they were doing where, of the three different levels of class instruction you could be in, I was in the middle, and anyone who was not honors or not standard was put in an all-boys, all-girls, or standard, as a test to see if that made a difference. That also made it worse, because I was in a room full of all boys, and I was the smartest kid, and also feminine, and therefore taking up space in a way that other people were like, “okay, you’re queer”, and I was like, “what is that?” So, I think because I came from it as a place of other people telling me a lot, I was freaked out. I now felt like there was a mask being put on that I didn’t really understand why. And at the same time--by that time I already knew there were norms about not being feminine from my dad. And not really understanding why, but knowing that he didn’t like that.

I think there was a lot of these--again, not understanding what was going on, but in eighth grade, “The Real World: D.C.”, that season there was a hot guy, and he was bi, and I was like, “holy shit, this person is telling me that they like women and like men.” And it fluctuated in the show, how he was really into women in the beginning and then it turned into him really liking men. I think that justification of…it doesn’t matter what spectrum or what day you like--just knowing that this person was involved with two different genders at that time. I was like, “that was really cool.” So, from there, I was able to start watching MTV more; I watched a lot of shows like Teen Wolf, which had a lot of queerness in it. Internally, I was building such a big repertoire of media and culture, of what queerness meant to me. But I knew that there was this line of threshold that I didn’t want to cross as a high school student, because I knew that it could have led to me being kicked out, or it could have led to my parents not giving me as much freedom as I had as a kid, or financial support. So, I waited, and knew--it was so interesting, I had this plan, knowing that I had to go to grad school, and there was a point where I would finally live my life. And then, once I went to college, I already had come out to a group of kids in high school, because I joined theater my tenth-grade year. That really helped because, I think coming out to a few amount--and I also went to a very person-of-color-heavy high school, and queer-person-of-color-heavy high school. I now realize that was a privilege, knowing what the education system is like in the United States. It was really, really a blessing to go to a place that was completely accepting of my brownness and also of my queerness. It was really awesome. But again, there was this four-year period of…I was very involved; my parents thought it was an extracurricular; everyone in the school in general--there was not that much homophobia; trans folks were already socially transitioned and were living as any other student in every grade.

So, going to college, I didn’t realize that there was all of these, like, “oh, I have been living this inconsistent life”, and the closetedness really was hard. I didn’t realize how much it was weighing on me because I had such a great high school experience. I came out within a semester at college, so once it was on my mind again--I used to get really afraid of the consequences, and I think in college I was able to realize there was a distance, and I knew that my parents really needed a certain distance. I think, intrinsically, I knew my timeline, into when I needed to come out in a more safe way. And I came out through email [laughs]. Everyone was like, “that’s so insincere!” and I was like, “you don’t know my parents. They are so dramatic as people that they’re gonna appreciate that they didn’t have a chance to say whatever they wanted, on their mind, when they initially found out. Later on, like a month later, they were like, “you were right.” So, that’s how I was able to transition out of being closeted into being open at NC State.

MP: Thank you for sharing that. There are a lot of follow-up questions I could ask at this point, but I’d like to go back to your parents. You mentioned that a lot of your ideas about norms regarding masculinity, and femininity, were very heavily influenced by your father; and when we talked before, you mentioned specifically that your father was a link to Ecuadorian norms and especially machismo. Could you talk about that?

NR: Yeah, that’s a really good linkage that you had in terms of our past conversation, especially with my brother, and how I see it now more, how it’s totally real. With me, I think it’s interesting that my dad didn’t necessarily want to come here. It’s interesting how you see a culture within a person who’s very privileged and saw a lot of privileges within that culture. Coming here, and seeing a child who is representing a lot of mixture of cultures and schooling and language, as a kid, and him being like, “this isn’t okay, that’s not okay, this isn’t okay.” I think what’s interesting was that that made me feel very isolated as a person, because I knew I wasn’t necessarily a White American, but as I got older and more people started doing things like him, especially the Latin guys, it got harder to be around them. I was a skater kid, an emo with a bunch of Latin skater kids, from like 6th to 9th, 10th grade. But then the norms of being macho, and not going to the smart classes, and not necessarily taking school clearly, or getting involved with a bunch of older folks who may be doing drugs, or whatever the case is; each one had their own situation. My paths and who I was in terms of how I represented myself and also the ways that I thought about education, the way I wanted to succeed, did not match up the way masculinity was being presented to so many Latin men of color. My dad, I think, represented that.

There’s been a healing of me reclaiming that through my own queerness, and my queer family I have that’s Latin--my chosen queer family. I think that’s interesting because my dad’s representation really was a denial for such a long time, but re-finding that for myself now, and seeing that my dad is going through his own change in his own masculinity, and that my brother has a healthier version of my dad’s masculinity, you see that it’s more reassuring now than what it was. I think, before, it was definitely a big obstacle in feeling completely whole within my queerness and Latinidad, which a lot of people still have a struggle with. Like my cousin: she’s the same age as me, and she hasn’t been able to leave Charlotte; she has two kids; and she’ll say that she still feels this big resentment toward Latin culture because of the experiences she had, too. And me realizing our only different experience is that I’ve left Charlotte, I’ve found my queer chosen family, and a lot of them are Latin. So, it’s interesting also to see how my cousin has been stuck in her own ways of feelings toward the culture, and a lot of that also dealing with masculinity and how it has denied her, as a Latin woman, certain things too. Yeah, machismo is definitely a big part of feeling identified, which I think we’ll go into later in the interview. That’s probably why it’s really hard to figure out “what does queerness look like in Ecuador?”, because everyone’s trying to adapt to the norm, which is still pretty rigid and centralized on masculinity.

MP: Thank you. Going off that, can you talk a bit more about the norms in Ecuador, and, based on your experience--I know you don’t remember living there, I assume, before you were three--but, I think you mentioned you did visit Ecuador--

NR: Yeah.

MP: --and so, based on that experience, how would you describe to someone who has not been there the difference between norms in the U.S. and in Ecuador?

NR: Yeah. I think, also, Facebook has helped, because my dad has a huge family, and so I think, to me, it’s like I’ve always lived there, because I’ve seen all the different families and how they’re all in different classes of economic status. And I would say that, in general, the norms--it’s really centered around family, going to school and then getting your own job; a lot of it is based off things that you should do to establish a good life for yourself, or what is seen as a good life. That involves, usually, a private Catholic school, because public education there is not as funded as it is in the U.S., or there’s a lot of cracks in the systems, or it’s viewed as low-income; there’s a lot of classism involved with that. I think as soon as you say that, you’re like, “Catholic school, bingo! There’s a huge religion portion to it.” And the schools that they’re going to. There’s also a dual-language thing now. Private schools don’t have to be just Catholic anymore; there’s English/Spanish dual enrollment schools there. So, there’s other types of private schools there now, in Ecuador. And I think that’s one thing that’s interesting, that when my cousins have been growing up, they’ve been seeing the change, and have been told what it’s been like. It’s gotten very Americanized over there, but not necessarily the family stuff. So, I will definitely say, again, family is first. And maintaining the image of the family. That means putting on masks, or sacrificing parts of yourself. I say that to say that it’s so interesting that--Facebook again is a good example--Ecuadorians, specifically my dad’s Ecuadorian family--there’s maybe sixty people I’m talking about when I say “my dad’s family”--

MP: Oh, wow.

NR: Yeah, and he was the youngest of ten. All of his older brothers and sisters had children that were his age, so their children are my age, and some of them already have children. So, a lot of people are on Facebook, and there’s still a lot of--one is that my dad says “maricón” all the time. It’s such a slang to say the f-word in Spanish, just like we say, “hey, bitch.” Even as he says it, it doesn’t--but that is…let’s just start there. And a lot of feminized words in slang are still used, like when your wife is telling you something to do. My dad is the one who always held these masculine tropes. He would be like, “oh, don’t be a mandarina!”, don’t be a mandarin orange. Basically, being squishable. Don’t let your woman assert over you. It’s interesting, because my dad as a person, definitely in jokes and the ways that people navigate it--he was funny, but it was always, “let’s poke around the image of what you’re doing that isn’t Ecuadorian, and let’s make fun of it.” That is a lot of things that are family-bound, but also, in general, that’s what humor is like in a lot of families, which is why there’s so much resentment in the kids. It’s this “let’s poke fun at what isn’t us”, because there’s a strength to that. But also, when your kids become more than just what you’ve imagined, that’s when it gets this weird, tricky part. I see that with certain of my cousins that don’t have the best relationships with their parents, some who’ve left Ecuador and now live in the U.S., and others who maintain those norms.

MP: Once again, there are a lot of questions I could ask at this point, but I’d like to go back to Catholicism, which you mentioned has a lot of influence in Ecuador. And you were also just talking about a sort of image of a proper family. How do you think that Catholicism has influenced what that image is, and also the acceptance of LGBTQ folks in Ecuador?

NR: I think the image one in Catholicism is definitely there. We can talk about the queerness one, because it’s just not talked about. It’s still these very big institutional dogmas in Catholicism where it’s like, “it’s not right.” Those who maybe are sixty-plus, that generation will not even--if they weren’t already accepting, there’s not that much room for them. The people my parents’ age, in terms of LGBTQ, that’s where it depends on how religious we’re talking about. Right now, it’s kind of the same as the U.S. But when it comes to just in general, I recently have come out to my whole family on Facebook, and even my parents were shocked. It was the complete opposite of what they thought would happen, but I think it’s because I waited and I had the language and words to describe what I was doing. That was a big shock, for a lot of us. The whole thing of protecting the image and the family was so big that my parents brought that anxiety into me, of like, “this thing will break your dad’s relationship with his whole family.” It’s so interesting how the norm becomes its own fear. It’s its own monster because you go to church, or--my parents, we never went to church; we only went to church when I had communion and then confirmation, which was in eighth grade. Or when they fought. It goes back to this image of--even if you aren’t the most religious person, for some reason there’s this whole thing of like, “well, the closer we want to be to this image of who the good family is, we’re gonna be the closest to Catholic ideals.” I think, because my parents really, really wanted to showcase that, because of a bunch of stuff that was not that at home--knowing how radical and open my parents were, I now really am starting to process why they were like that. They were chasing this image that involved a lot of Catholic, homophobic understandings of life…that didn’t necessarily influence them at all, but for some reason with me--and now I’ve really understood--it was this mixture of, yes, some overall LGBTQ…internalized homophobic ideals, really clouded in masculinity, but that mixed in with this chasing of what an ideal family looked like, and my mom needing to comfort my dad’s machismo in that ideal. It led to them being like, “your queerness is an issue, because we won’t focus on it but when things are bad we’re gonna focus on it, because we need to as tight-knit of a family, as tight-kit of this Catholic, traditional Ecuadorian family, as you can be.” But I think, in general, you’re seeing a lot of families starting to just not give a shit about that anymore, quite frankly. And I think you’re seeing a lot more interesting things pop up. I don’t know if there’s a word for it; just more interesting, because I think things are becoming more real. You’re seeing a lot more truth coming out now in a lot of different families.

MP: Going off that, you said that your parents--when you came out to your whole family on Facebook, what they thought would happen was different from what did happen. Could you explain what exactly did happen? People, you seemed to imply, were more accepting than your parents had imagined they would be?

NR: Yeah. And also, again, this goes back to the--everything’s so intertwined, and it’s such a huge ( ). Being an immigrant, I know that job status is everything. And a lot of times, the classism will be its own barrier to validate your experience. It doesn’t matter, you can be a millionaire and have a homophobic Latin parent: they will love you and praise you to the ends and beyond if you are a hard worker and you made that money. They will at least learn how to stay in connection with you. However, if that happened, and let’s say you work at Little Caesar’s, they’ll continue to focus on how, “well, your life is not in order, so maybe this has to do with it.” Or, “these things have to do with it.” I think, me coming out when I did, I knew getting this job would help me come out in general. Because I’m like, “what are you gonna say? I’m the associate director of an LGBTQ youth center. I do drag for my job.” I was like, “woah, this is the time to do it.” We had a National Coming Out Day queer social thing that I started--there’ll be one in the end of this month--and it was so interesting, I think, because it was part of my job, it was to youth, it was to this community-ness. It appealed to all the things that Latin people love, and also goes to show that Latin people are very, very much resistant to change. That’s really it, this resistance to change, which, historically, when you have a mixed race of a bunch of colonized folks and indigenous folks and colonizers, all within the same area, and descendants of enslaved folks--all of that, there’s a lot of resistance to change because that land has changed so much. That’s its own evolution that needs to happen in Latin culture. You don’t realize how much, really, there is acceptance in these communities. It’s just the education and the exposure to experience, which is why, I think, we got what we got--because there’s a new experience; they all loved me; they got someone who understood how to explain what needed to be said about my identity, and why, and how it helped my mental health. I knew certain things that would help my Latin family be like, “well, if this was something that made this person feel so ‘life and death’, or made them feel so bad, and look, this person is now announcing who they are, but with a job that is telling them that they can do this…” To them, I think, it was the right exposure of, “oh, in this whole status update I’m affirmed by the outside world that his job is okay. Like, people want that there. People are paying people to do that.” And there was also this, “oh, this person is publicly putting their face in drag on Facebook, and non-family are commenting, being like, ‘yes, you look so amazing!’” I think who I am and my role right now, and the people I have supporting me in life, all allow there to be multiple experiences that Ecuadorian people were to say, “oh, this is actually okay.” It was helpful for me to realize--I knew that was gonna happen, but the fear of change that my parents instilled in me, thinking that wasn’t gonna happen--but no, a bunch of them just said, “we love you. This is great! This is nice.” Some of them started following my Instagram drag account, and I was like, “don’t do that. Unfollow me, please. We don’t need to do that.” But it was really cool; there was not any hate at all. Not one bit. So that was a really good, interesting thing to happen.

MP: To go off what you said about the focus on success--specifically economic success, having a good job--within families that have immigrated to the U.S. from Latin America, how do you think it would have been different for you if, say, hypothetically, you had come out to your family but you were not also the…what is your position?

NR: Assistant Director.

MP: Assistant Director. What if you were in a bad situation? What if you were struggling, and in that sort of situation you came out to them? How do you think they would have taken it then?

NR: There was a five-year conflict that answers to this, with my mom specifically. She really needed to see that, because she fought so much for her own success that she’s in this category of the hardworking immigrant that is like, “I need to see what I did, but even more beyond, because I gave you these opportunities.” A lot of adults are like that, and I think that goes to show that, sometimes, out of their own resistance to feeling what that comes from, or maybe not having time to figure that out, it’s usually projected onto us. Again, it’s this threshold mark. If you haven’t had it, there’s not gonna be as much active listening about your identity as you want. They may listen to you, but as soon as you hit too much about your problems as an individual, and they know that you have a shitty life situation, they’re shady, they’re gonna be like, “well, why aren’t you doing something about it?” They’re gonna be like, “well, we can’t even talk about you and your relationship.” Or, if you got misgendered at the street, they’re like, “well, you can’t pay rent.” The more that Latin folks are realizing it is okay to be who you are and still want to acknowledge and honor certain collectivist principles, there are certain things that do impede each other. I think that’s one of those, that, without essentially thinking of yourself through them for your job, it’s this failure. And therefore, anything that you feel is beyond that, they’re like…that reciprocity has been disconnected, if that makes sense. They’re expecting this; therefore, they can’t give you what you need as an individual, because they all feel like, as a family, they were not given what they were expected. That’s reality, which is why you’re seeing a lot of these norms shift and change. And they are hopefully becoming more case-by-case, and less generalizable about what Latin families look like in terms of lack of acceptance because of class being a huge issue, or success.

MP: Thank you. You mentioned collectivism as part of Ecuadorian and, more broadly, Latin American culture. In the context of, on one hand, to some extent, in some families, non-acceptance of queer folks, how do you think that it could be valuable to maybe bring those collectivist ideas into American culture?

NR: That’s a really good question. My parents are also really young, and I think it’s helpful that I got really young parents who had a lot of traditional ideas around collectivism, and spirituality. I got some things that felt like very older ways of doing things, and a lot of strict, rigid ways of, “this is what you need to do to do this.” My brother didn’t really get that, and so I see how an individualistic mindset has really helped him feel more confident in who he is, but now he lacks certain skills that make him really scared for the future. He knows more of who he is; he’s more assured of that. But now, he’s like, “I’m eighteen. I’m graduating high school. I haven’t had as much experiences about what to do for finances, or how to figure that out. Or a job, for bills.” He’s now entering that world where, for me, I definitely feel like I’m bringing that with my friends now, realizing not everyone got the experiences that I got that helped me get to where I am now, as in my job. I got a lot of life skills really fast, and I think that’s something that you get from collectivism, because someone is there, not to hold you, but if you fall, it’s not like you’re just in one straight line. Someone may just be behind you because they’re doing something else, so there’s a way for people to catch you. And I see that in the way that my parents, with two other families, were able to really help each other, as the adults of the family, and juggle different things at different times, because they knew that the reciprocity was so important for survival. It being so understood was how it worked so well, and putting a cog in all of that is queerness just being new. Not necessarily because it’s queer, but because it was introduced as something new that isn’t necessarily for everyone. It can be, but those ideals have already been there. The ideals that you see in a lot of queer chosen families are in a lot of collectivist norms. It’s just because it wasn’t made internally; it was made externally and brought in. That is really a “what are you doing?” type of scenario. I think that’s where it butts heads: introducing new things from the outside into internal collectivist practices of a family.

MP: So, when you say “from the outside”--ideas of queerness being brought in from the outside--are you thinking of Anglo-American culture, or…?

NR: Just life. I think American culture is so--I think a good way of saying this is that indigenous folks had queerness. A lot of it was just centered around two-spirit-ness. But that’s been lost. I think in Latin America there’s a lot of people who’ve had ancestors who had queerness internally honored, but that has been reshaped and morphed for so many intentions to look more around class, and stability. Before, there was a lot more spirituality involved, before colonization. But then again, I am a product of colonization, and so this is only speaking to indigenous folks. So, I say… “outside” is that there’s so much mixture within Latin America that the main ideal is what unifies them all together: that family-ness, that survival-ness. It’s why it’s such a vast amount of countries yet there are so many similarities within culture. Because we’re talking about such a family ideal, and how it has so many imp--like, ‘tip of the iceberg’-type situation. Queerness just may not be in there for so many families, because they had to grow that very intentionally to have certain things, and because Anglo-Americans so much back then, or even Mediterranean colonizers, brought these kind of principles from religion about--heteronormative principles and internalized homophobia. And I think that, being mixed in with collectivist principles that were already there, and other stuff--that was one of the main mixes. Religion was so important as a way to dominate folks or keep people in line. That is just one of the unfortunate consequences of all of the mixtures that happened in Latin America: the survival of Catholicism is there, and therefore the socialized homophobia that follows it.

MP: Okay. Focusing more on the U.S. now, how do you think that you, and other queer Latinx folks, especially those who have immigrated from Latin America, approach their identity and their self-expression differently in different spaces?

NR: I would say that representation really matters. Again, it’s so interesting how you having diverse experiences as a diverse person becomes privileges when you meet other diverse people who didn’t have that. As a queer Latin person living in North Carolina, being able to tell you that most of my chosen family comprises of queer Latin people, I was able to recreate these beautiful collectivist ideals, but with queerness involved. Not everyone gets that. And I didn’t have that for a long time. This is three or four years where I’ve had--and thinking in that mode, I can say that I’m able to operate in any way that I want to, because I’ve learned that, but my identities definitely were separate, because it was easy to come off as one single thing. Usually, ‘one-dimensional’ means that you were less seen.

Going to that, I think about my friends that I met in Nashville, specifically one friend. She’s a queer Latin woman of color, and I was really shocked when she said that me and my roommate were the first two other queer people of color she ever met, because she’s from Iowa. And I was like, “what the hell are you”--no, not Iowa, Idaho! Like, an hour outside of Boise. I was like, “okay, you’re near an urban area”--and she really lives in Oregon, but it’s rural Oregon, because it’s next to Idaho. But she’s like, “oh, my town--half of it is Mexican.” Because she’s Mexican. So, I’m like, “oh, my god.” Just hearing her story and seeing how she evolved within the two years that I was in Nashville, I saw what I was able to get in a more incremental way, throughout life. Just seeing how it was freeing for her to be around us. I remember her crying in moments. Like, she had a really toxic relationship with one of her best friends from Idaho who actually moved--this is such a messy story. They both moved so that the friend could go to the Vanderbilt program that I was in. Quickly realized that this person was subjected to a lot of norms that made her feel disempowered, because she doesn’t navigate or communicate in the same ways as the friend that she’s not friends with. Part of that realization was seeing me and my roommate at the time. I look back at her, and her experience, and my experience, and it’s so weird to see that be so innate in people. And seeing that kind of splitting of who I was, as an identity, really left when I hit 21, 22. They were that age when they came, so it was interesting how when you graduate college, if you didn’t get that same experience in college, is when you start really recognizing all of who you are. I think there’s less norms, because you’re still kind of in a bubble. I realized that this person’s identities were trying to become one, yet people or outside stuff, norms, were the cause of her feeling so disconnected from her Latin identity for such a long time, because the queerness was an accepting part that she found in high school and in college, which usually meant a White queer space that she had to either adapt to or get used to.

MP: Going off that, and looking a bit more at the intersection of queer identities and Latinx identities, what do you think about the term ‘Latinx’ itself? I know there’s been a lot of debate around it, at least in mainstream media in the U.S., and I’d like to hear what you think about that.

NR: Yeah. I’m so fortunate for my grad program because it’s allowed me to reflect. I’m like, “let’s just put some logic into the conversation.” I would love to get people in a room where it would magically solve everything, but… ‘Latine’, obviously, is another one, because it recognizes the language for what it is, and provides a solution internally. I think ‘Latinx’ provides a solution that’s not external, just hybrid. There are Latin people that made that here. Yes, it involved a lot of non-Latin people in academia, but that doesn’t mean that Latin people were not involved in that. I am all for all of them, but that’s something that I think is contextual. I think the reason why some people don’t like ‘Latinx’ is because that wasn’t their experience; and their experience of external words being put on them might make them feel very combative. I think it’s just really understanding why people get defensive, and learning ‘what do you give to those folks, in those moments, to release them from that?’ At the end of the day, we still all know what we’re talking about. ‘Latino’, ‘Latina’, ‘Latin’, ‘Latinx’, ‘Latine’; we all know what we’re talking about. Yet there is such a huge rift, and it’s just--because we already talk so much about validation, it’s just them making sure that this one thing that made them feel seen, and connected to so many people, and history, is being shifted or changed. Again, going back to the whole resistant of change deal. It’s not necessarily because they just hate it; the exposure has not given them the comfort that they feel they need all the time so that they feel safe. And then it goes to the words.

MP: Yeah. Also, what do you think, and what experiences have you had, regarding, more broadly, the way the Spanish language is gendered?

NR: It’s so interesting, because it’s my first language but I had to relearn Spanish to be an interpreter and be able to do professional translation and interpreting. It’s so instilled, as a language. It’s so hard for me to sit here and dissect. There should be a dedicated fifteen minutes to every forum, or workshop, or panel, dedicated around unpacking that. Getting people outside of the biases of like, “well, that’s just the language.” My brain’s like, “I don’t want to do more work; that’s just what it is.” However, it’s been really easy for me to add that “-e”, instead of the “-o/-a”, for certain non-specific pronouns, like “amigo”. And also, because it sounds cool, like “amigue”. You’ll hear Latin organizers use the “-e” in other gender-expansive ways. I definitely have used it a lot more when folks who have come in here are Spanish-speaking only. But again, that’s not all of the time, and I’m telling you specific times when I use certain things and when I don’t, and most of the times it’s just gendered.

It’s really, really hard when you’re talking about trans people, especially to my parents. I switch to Spanglish, because it’s a lot easier to bring in trans inclusion, or transness, without it feeling like someone is thinking they understand what you’re saying, but, because it’s gendered Spanish, we don’t know what they’re actually thinking. If you say “they” in English, you have a much better chance of them being like, “oh, we’re talking about a gender-fluid person or non-binary person. If you do that in Spanish, it just stops the whole conversation. If you’re like, “elle”, which is the gender-neutral word of--it may really jitter someone up. They may be like, “we’re not even just talking about gender anymore; now I’m just confused.” I think that if someone knows Spanglish, it’s easier to interpret queerness, which goes back to the ‘Latinx’ thing. I think Spanglish is really what is driving a lot of these pushes for new gender expansion. Not to say that Latin America’s not doing that on its own, but I think the gendering is interesting.

I would like to hear someone from Latin America talk about it, but even then, what I hear most about from trans folks is they poke fun at it. You hear a lot of them using it for comedic jokes, or to throw shade back at someone. The same things we hear about queer communities here. You kind of find a different way, whether that’s not actually changing the language…maybe you poke fun at it through using it. I think that’s what you see too.

MP: Yeah, that’s really interesting. You mentioning how you’ll use the term ‘Latine’, or adding “-e” or “-ue” onto words, especially if there are only-Spanish-speaking people who come to visit the Center--could you talk a bit more about what the LGBTQ Center of Durham, and specifically the LGBTQ Youth Center, does to support the community?

NR: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Unfortunately, when there is not someone who is bilingual / has done interpreting in nonprofit settings, there’s a lot of educa--professional experience that really provides an advantage to implement that here. I think, before me, the Center did a really good job of trying to translate captions for posts that weren’t long; because of the algorithms and that BS, certain lengths of posts would not capture as much people on the feed. But there would also be copies of Spanish translations for the World Fair, HIV testing…the services that we do either routinely or once a month were always translated. If you don’t have an interpreter on staff, whether that’s its own thing or someone that has the capacity to interpret for the staff, like me, then you have to look at it as a money--it’s a budget. Language justice then becomes a budget line. I think because here, they never had that many clients, but now there’s specifically one Spanish-speaking client, from Colombia, who needs interpreting, so we’re able to offer that. It’s cool to know that--no one was denied offerings here because of it--but that now there’s more access that can be had. I would say that there’s just more access.

And I do have connections to Latin folks in different orgs, but I say that all to say that I think a good community will have a succession plan. So, leaving “what does language justice for this org look like?” Right now, it’s actively being done, because we’re figuring it out. But eventually, I would want to write down the things that you can do, to have more of…language justice written down, and have people know “these are the steps to do”, “this is the people to contact”, “this is the org that does interpretation that also does queer events’ interpretation. Those types of things. But for now, it’s definitely me providing those services for Spanish-speaking people.

MP: Looking more broadly at language access, what do you think the state of language access is in Durham and in North Carolina?

NR: I think language access is really, really apparent in city government structures in Durham. Everything is at least bilingual. Actually, if I look closer, there’s other languages there being represented, but everything is very bilingual, even in the community health centers. I think Durham has a lot of really good reputations for language access for Spanish-speaking clients. Now, when we leave Spanish-speaking clients and talk about language access in general, North Carolina--now, I’m understanding my own privilege, because I speak both of those languages. When I went to San Francisco for a conference, I was like, “woah, language access requires so much money. And it can be a lot more.” Like, at that conference, they had Spanish translation, and they had American Sign Language translation, and Spanish Sign Language translation, on top of interpreters for smaller communities. It was interesting: even if there’s only one queer person that may come from one specific country in Durham, that person exists. And it is unfortunate that we’re not at the place where every center can be equipped as a polyglot, or a Rosetta Stone, to answer folks. I think, in that sense, Durham is a lot like other places that are not as big as San Francisco, where a lot of this money for combinations and services and accesses being put into--we’re not New York; we’re not LA, Atlanta, so you see community initiatives, and I think there’s a lot of that here with Spanish-speaking--I think you see that legally with Spanish-speaking, in general. You go to other places and it is a little bit more robust, or you go to other places and it’s way less. Rural areas are way more impacted by this. But there is also a push to support rural workers who are predominantly known to only speak a certain language as well. There’s a lot of work being done. Is that enough? Probably not.

MP: Thank you. Going back to Ecuador, I’d like to ask--and this may get into a lot of what you’ve already said, so don’t feel like you have to repeat anything--but how do you think that your life might have gone differently if you had kept living in Ecuador?

NR: Yeah, so I think the mask would have still been on [laughter] past a certain point. I don’t think I would have come out at eighteen. But then again, you might see the same thing you see here, where friends are a huge support for that queer acceptance. And that’s helpful for me to know; maybe I could have found a good friend group. I wouldn’t know on that end. If I had to grow up there, I probably would have been miserable. Knowing also that the banks were closing, who knows what my parents--that’s what they were in, so who knows what our financial situation would have been? My possibilities would have been severely limited. I would have had to stay in line, because there would have been not as much of diverse experiences. At least in the U.S., I had access to media, to TV, to school, to so many different groups of people, because I also went to diverse schools, that I was able to realize there’s way more ways of living. I think that was helpful, for me to know that I will have my own chance to do that. I don’t know if that was my saving grace, and I don’t know if that would have been apparent for me in Ecuador. I think it would have really been like, “I don’t know if this can be enough.”

MP: You mentioned media just now, having access to more media in the U.S., so that made me want to ask: what are your thoughts about representation in media, either in the U.S. or in Ecuador, of people who are queer, and Latine, and also neurodivergent?

NR: I think it’s really important. Especially the last one. I think neurodivergence is so taboo in so many different cultures, just to talk about it, and even feel empowered about something that’s deemed a disability. That being said, I feel like that’s its own forefront, and is really starting to come up, but still lagging. When it comes to queer Spanish Latine identities, I think it’s so important because it’s affirming in a way that you never think of. I would not have come out, being non-binary, if it wasn’t for the show “We’re Here.” Do you know that show? It’s on HBO.

MP: I honestly do not. Would you like to explain it?

NR: Yeah, it’s three drag queens from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”: Shangela--just so everyone knows the context--Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen, and Eureka did it. It’s like “Queer Eye”, but not. They would go to different rural towns throughout America that are super conservative, and would help queer folks there throw on a drag show and get in drag for the first time. It’s been such a diverse show. Season Two or Three, the one that recently came out, there was one specific episode about a queer, non-binary person coming out to their parents. I never would have thought--again, fear of change; I’m still an immigrant, so it goes down to me--as quickly as it was, seeing this two-minute scene, this whole idea of, “oh, I can’t come out” completely went out the door.

MP: Oh, wow.

NR: Because I was like, “oh, this is so easy. This person doesn’t know how to speak Spanish that well; their parents don’t know how to speak English that well; I don’t have that barrier.” And they’re way more feminine-presenting than I’ve ever been, but still saying, “I’m non-binary; this is who I am; this is part of transness” was really, really powerful. I actually started crying. I was crying just because I didn’t realize how I never saw me on camera, and seeing all those identities at the same time was mind-blowing. That everything is possible. And them having some more exposure be on that person; having to talk to them; because they were also nineteen, so they were getting combative. So, I was able to see, “okay, Niccolo: I can see how your defensiveness of--yes, it’s okay to be defensive, but is that gonna help the situation? No.” I think all of those things were important to understand. There was a dynamic of it being human, and family, and having an external support system saying, “hey, we hear you. This is really hard on them too.” And having someone getting to ask them questions about their queerness, and the parents having to hear someone else being like, “I am listening to you.” I think that was all so important for me to come out. I think I came out like a week later--

MP: Oh, wow.

NR: To my parents.

MP: You talking about that show made me think back to how you said that you yourself do drag. First of all, was that show influential also in you starting that? And what has the experience been like for you, doing drag?

NR: Yeah, I’m glad…we should talk about drag. Drag, I think, is another reason why I blended both my Latin identity and queer identity. And neurodivergence. I have ADHD, and I have symptoms of borderline personality disorder. However, that shit is expensive to get properly diagnosed, and so I only have a diagnosis for ADHD. However, being also spiritual and Ecuadorian, I think that there is a such a divine opportunity to see through being categorized as someone who has personality challenges. Also, understanding that I am non-binary, and realizing that there’s so many ways of looking at it. I think drag really unlocked that for me, because I was able to create and transform myself into this completely feminine person that is me but feels completely empowered and, in all senses, the way--the air is very thin; it just feels light; it feels breathable. When I’m in that suit of a person, I am me but I feel so powerful.

I think that I knew what drag was my senior year of high school. I would have known earlier, but, again, ESL. My first year of theater, they kept talking about “Drag Race”, and I thought that they were talking about NASCAR. I’m just like, “well, I’m not gonna entertain this conversation”, because I’m like, “how the hell are these three people, who I know are gay as hell, talking about that?” Then, one day, I kept hearing them talking about this person named Shangela, and I was like, “that does not sound like a NASCAR driver.” So, I looked it up, and I was like, “oh, this is drag queens.” Watching “Drag Race” was really helpful because there was so many different types of people. And then “We’re Here” only started probably three years ago, and that was even more wholesome, because I was able to see that anything is possible. It wasn’t just ten contestants going to a show, it was “we’re going to rural areas that are actually scary, and we’re gonna support either people there that are trying to create safe spaces for queer people or are queer themselves.” I think that was really empowering, and good to feel. And I think that being when I was really starting my drag was helpful to know that “you’ve got this. And everything else comes next.” And knowing these people were so empowered by being in drag for the first time is a reminder of how much that can do for a person.

MP: I think that’s all the questions I’d like to ask. Is there anything else that you would like to share?

NR: No. Oh, well, I guess my drag name is Kali Fuchis. If you don’t know Kali Uchis--

MP: I do know Kali Uchis. [laughs]

NR: Yeah, and then ‘Fuchis’: do you know what that means?

MP: I don’t; could you explain that?

NR: Yeah, it’s Spanish slang for ‘stinky’. So, it’s camp. Just like most drag names are camp. It’s a play on Kali Uchis. So that is really fun. I’m glad to end on that note. I think my name is really, really fun, because when there are queer Latin people in the audience at a drag show, everyone is really silent because they’re truly trying to figure out what the hell my name is. They know Kali, and they’re trying to figure out--they know most drag queen names are punny, so they’re like, “what the hell is that?” But then you hear these moments of laughter, deep laughter; they’re like “that’s so stupid!” And it’s like “yes”, because that slang is so specific to you as a baby. It’s used when a kid is outside for a really long time, or doesn’t want to take his shower. It’s specifically for a little kid. So, you don’t hear that again; no one’s gonna be like, “oh, that trash stinks--”--they’re not gonna say that trash is fuchis. You would laugh because you’re like, “that’s for a child”; it’s supposed to be for a baby only, or a young toddler. So, hearing it out loud, you’re like, “what?” It’s so affirming for me to know that other queer Latin people are here, and in the audience. And that, I think, usually helps boost my energy when I’m about to perform.

MP: That does make me think of one more question. What do you think about the importance of not only focusing on the struggles that queer, Latine, neurodivergent, et cetera people face, but also the joy in their lives?

NR: I definitely think that’s really important. I would say the top things right now in a lot of queer Latine people are: listening to really good music, trying to clear your debt [laughs], and going out and dancing. I think, a lot of times, there’s such a big push to just dance and to have fun, and to talk, and to be in community. And I think all of those things are so important for people to realize. People are obsessed with Bad Bunny, they’re obsessed with Kali Uchis; we’re seeing it worldwide. Just knowing that we do all the things that everyone else does, but also knowing that, like, potlucks is a great big thing that is a Latin thing. Like, one of my new drag daughters has been obsessed with getting people over to do a potluck, and they did it, but they want to keep doing one. It’s a big thing, once you get into that rhythm of having community, to either expect someone else--, or expect at some point for there to be a gathering. And I think that’s always really nice, to know that we’re getting that back even though we’re not with our families anymore; that we’re doing that within the queer Latin gatherings, and that there’s just so much laughter happening.

MP: Thank you. I think for real this time, that is my last question.

NR: Mhm! Thank you so much.

MP: Yeah, thank you so much for talking with me!

NR: Yeah, of course!


Transcriber: Myri Prause
9 April 2023