Gabby Rivera, Marvel Comics’ first queer LatinX writer, spoke at Texas State University on Wednesday, Oct. 18 as a part of the school’s Justice Speaker series. Rivera’s segment was titled “Queer LatinX Joy” and held in the LBJSC ballroom.
The presentation focused on amplifying awareness of self through connecting with identifying components that are often stripped from minority groups at a young age. Rivera is the author of the Marvel comic “America” and the young-adult novel “Juliet Takes a Breath.” Both works have received critical acclaim for their LGBTQIA and person of color perspectives.
Rivera began her keynote by recalling her grandparent’s migration to New York and how they were forced to change their names and forgo their culture to find work.
“My grandparents experienced good ol’ American racism,” Rivera said.”Last name sounded funny, hair a little too curly, skin a little too brown, accents a little too thick.”
As a queer LatinX woman, Rivera admits that much of her identity was stripped away during her youth. With parents that refused to teach Spanish and gave very basic American names to alleviate as much discrimination as possible, Rivera felt a disconnect from herself, her family and her community.
“The core aspects of who I am was something that I couldn’t share with my grandparents,” Rivera said. “I didn’t know how to talk to my grandpa about the politics of race and LGBTQIA in Spanish, especially when we’ve barely gotten past what he wants for breakfast.”
Monica Richerson, a female cisgender panromantic asexual English senior, attended the event and related to Rivera’s pain.
“My grandparents had to make those choices with me and my brother,” Richerson said. “We don’t speak any Spanish and I am very pale-skinned, so it feels like we don’t belong in that community. I can count on one hand the number of conversations that I’ve had with my grandfather. It was nice to relate to someone about that disconnect and pain. I like that she’s using “America” to tell a different kind of Latina story.”
Richerson is the president of Lambda of Texas State, a LGBTQIA organization that works to raise awareness and support for community members.
“It’s so easy to replicate systems of oppression that have put us in this situation, so we need to be talking about gatekeeping in the LGBTQIA and POC communities on campus,” Richerson said.
Skyller Walkes, associate director of Disability Services, helped organize and attended the event.
“Gabby brought forth intersectionality in the most perfect way as a queer LatinX woman who shared some of her mental health struggles with the audience. There’s no doubt (she) adds to Texas State’s conversation,” Walkes said. “We are multi-faceted complex individuals of a beautiful mosaic and it’s time we start talking about it nonstop.”
Apart from the language and generational barrier that Rivera faced with her family, she also faced discrimination in her cultural community because of her sexual identity.
“I hated thinking that I couldn’t be myself in my own neighborhood…with my girlfriend, holding her hand,” Rivera said. “I hated thinking that I had to go outside of my community to be myself.”
Marvel’s backing of Rivera has given her a platform to be open about her identity and break down stigmas that hurt not only her but entire communities of historically oppressed people.
“As long as big corporations like Marvel continue to support and develop talent from all sorts of identities, a more authentic and rich set of stories will be provided for everyone,” Rivera said. “Let’s tell all the stories about gay folks but let’s remember to not kill them at the end of the movie.”