Poet explores art as activism/activism as Joy

Editor’s Note: This is the first in our semi-regular series of articles by Brandi Amara Skyy exploring our queer art through interviews, profiles and stories of Queer Creatives.

Growing up in South Texas, I was taught that dance and song heal the soul; food and family are always a reason to celebrate, and words and stories are balms to ease our aches and pains. These everyday occurrences filled with extraordinary beauty and magic became the roots and values of my art making.

As I was deciding which artist to interview to kickoff this new series on queer art and queer creatives, I kept returning to these roots. And when I saw that my friend and fellow Texas Woman’s University alum Edyka Chilomé was going to be at Deep Vellum Books promoting and reading from her new book, El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems, I knew immediately that she and her work were where this series needed to begin.

I first met Edyka at TWU when we both were getting our master of arts degrees in multicultural women’s and gender studies. While our paths diverged after college, our art and activism often intersected.

Since graduating, Edyka has shared her poetry on Tedx stages, Lincoln Center in New York, on NPR and at the Texas Democratic Convention. While my work has always centered on queerness, drag and my LGBTQ community, I have always been drawn to Edyka because she and her work focus on the other third of me; the third, that in my own internal ranking of identities and ‘isms,’ always fell behind “queer” and “woman.”

Edyka’s work centers the voices of Mexican, Latina, Chicano people that are often drowned out, overlooked, pushed into “other” and “non-white” labels — or just flat-out erased. These — our gente — are not just the nucleus of her work, but her reasons for it.

“I come from a movement culture from Latin America that honors its cultural workers, memory keepers, artists as necessary and important for social change,” Edyka says. “Both of my parents were/are migrant activists and organizers in their own communities. As a U.S.-born child of migrants, I saw the need for deep healing after so many generations of war and revolution.

“My art is how I hold the line for the heart of my family and my people.”And these are a people who, under this current administration, are being herded and branded like cattle, thrown in cages, blanketed in foil, and left to die — very real situations, with life-and-death consequences. How, then, can something as abstract as art impact and change a travesty like this?

The answer lies in this idea of art as “hold[ing] the line,” where “the line” is equivalent to space: holding space, creating space, launching these and centuries of enslaved voices into privileged, white, heteronormative spaces.

Art as holding a line also means drawing a line and becoming a barrier, a wall, a border, as forces of racism, and extermination move in. This is a thread that is woven throughout all of Edyka’s activism and work.

“When I choose to intentionally be witness and give testimony of my community’s pain and resilience, I am adding to the survival of our consciousness and memory. Choosing to make art in this moment is me actively resisting the erasure of myself and my people by an illegal settler colonial state [the United States] that has always and continues to attempt genocide against us and the natural world.”

But art is also more than just a border.

Edyka continues: “As a queer woman of color with roots in the global south I recognize for one, my existence is resistance in this world. When I love and live in joy, I am healing all the trauma of my ancestors and am blessing my future generations.”

Emotions of joy and love in our current state of political unrest and enslavement of our people seems contradictory. But Edyka, and the work of other artists that I will profile later in this series, remind us that joy — like anger — is necessary to our cause, to our resistance — and to our sanity.

“I am excited for this book, because I was called to explore joy as a form of political resistance,” Edyka said. That’s “something I feel like we must remember as we are constantly inundated with some serious emotional turmoil.”

And while joy as a valid and viable form of activism may seem like a new way of protesting and resistance, it’s not. Octavia Butler used her joy in writing science fiction as her platform for activism. We, as a queer community, use our joy as activism in the form of Pride, floats, rainbows and music and dance down the street every June in celebration and testament to our long-fought (and still fighting) journey.

With her new chapbook of poems, Edyka Chilomé is now part of lineage of art makers and activists who are exploring joy as activism — and as a potential release. As excerpted from the prologue of El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems: “I have felt the essence of freedom, and I have found that it is joy. I believe it is through the labor of joy that all things are possible.”

You can find out more about Edyka and her work at edykachilome.com. Celebrate the release of El Poemario del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Poems tonight (Friday Aug. 30, from 7-9 p.m. at Deep Vellum books, 3000 Commerce St. For information visit DeepVellum.org.