Johanna Toruño & Amy Quichiz: What We Want Young, Queer Latinx People To Know
October 14, 2019 originally published in Bustle
Seven-year-old me would love the queer woman I am today: dipped in self-confidence, and deeply in love with myself and us. Despite rough patches, growing with you for almost two years has helped me become the woman I am meant to be. I started Veggie Mijas, my collective for plant-based women of color, because you believe in me — and I know the world on social media sees that transparently. You have inspired me by being so unapologetically queer, Latina, and bold — and I am proud to accomplish my dreams with you.
As a child, I never saw a relationship like ours be displayed as normal, nor a happily ever after. Being queer was always thought of as “a phase.” When I was 7, my parents and I passed queer folks coming from the Pride Parade in Jackson Heights. They laughed, and my mom said, “Con esa gente nunca se involucré” — I shouldn’t hang out with people “like that.” I remember being confused by her statement, but excited by seeing women holding hands and kissing on the street — it gave me butterflies in my stomach, and I didn’t know exactly why. It wasn’t until I was 11 that I started learning terms related to queerness. I started identifying myself as bisexual.
During dinner, my mother would ask me questions like, “Any cute boys in class? Do you like anyone?” not having the slightest idea I already had a girlfriend. Once I went to college, I finally had the language to tell my parents who I was. When I came out as bisexual in 2014, my mother started crying — saying she would never be a grandma, that she feared what our family members would think.
Coming from a household where I felt like I had to hide for so many years of my life, I couldn’t hope to convince my parents that I wasn't in a “phase.” I tried to avoid talking about my love life during my breaks home from college. I couldn’t tell my mother about my girlfriends even though I used to tell her everything. I started to have depression.
But things had the capacity to change. My junior year, my mother called me crying because she'd had to kick her best friend, who was visiting from Miami, out of the house for saying I was going to "turn everyone bisexual." My mother, her voice trembling from rage, told me she told her off. "I don't have the language for it, but I told her you are beyond accepted in this house. You are loved for who you are." My mom asked me, "Amy, is this how the world treats you because you are bisexual?” This was a turning point for my family.
When it came time for me to tell my mom about you, after we met at New York City's Pride Parade two years later, my mom beat me to it. She said, "I know you and Johanna love each other. I see it in the way you look at each other. It's OK to tell me."
Seven-year-old me would have never imagined I could be so loud about my sexuality, and be so visible. When people message us on Instagram, saying that we have helped them come out to their families, that they can see what a healthy queer relationship looks like, or that they finally asked out the cute girl they’ve been crushing on, I feel blessed that I get to share this with such a beautiful, radical, and revolutionary woman like you. When we get these messages, I think of how I wished we had this when we grew up.
I wouldn’t have questioned myself so much. I was always so scared of being bullied, getting harassed, having straight men think it was a performance for them, and even fearing violence against us. I am still scared for all those reasons. It is not always safe to be who we are so freely, but I am in my own world with you. The world needs to know how much I worship you, how much work I am willing to be in this relationship, and how we continue to make this choice together, every day.
Even though we didn't have examples of queer, Latinx relationships growing up, we're that couple I needed to see at seven years old. We are going to be the queer latinx/indigenous ancestors that the next generations will look up to. We are everything this world tries to erase and yet, we get to see the beauty in the reflection of brown women that came before us.
My seven-year-old-self is so proud of me for loving my complete self, and allowing myself to be so profoundly in love a world that still does not want to accept us. I want the generations that come after us to know that it is more than OK to be yourself, to be queer loudly. I want the next generations to know their love is real, it is resilience. I want the next generation of Black and brown Latinx folks to know we are the ancestors they can come to whenever they need help, guidance, love, and home.
Sometimes, I can’t believe seven-year-old me grew up to be an artist who uses public space to tell queer stories — and through that work, I would meet someone as radically empowering as you. Meeting you has changed every perspective of love I learned in my traditional Salvadoran household. Novela after novela tried to teach me that love looks like men and women continuously struggling to find their happy ending, even though women suffered for it much more often. I wasn’t raised with queer love flowing abundantly through the channels of my TV or radio or anywhere. I noticed then and I notice it now.
When you don’t see yourself in most things your friends and loved ones connect to, you begin to wonder if something is wrong with you. Then, one morning, when I was 13, I saw t.A.T.u.’s video for “All The Things She Said” on MTV as I was getting ready for school. I felt a ringing in my ears and swore the earth moved underneath me. I bought t.A.T.u.’s album and played every single song. I listened like I was listening to worship for the first time in my life and felt the relief when I didn’t have to change the pronouns while singing along. Through their songs, I learned the word for who I was — lesbian.
I also knew my family couldn’t find out. I hid the CD underneath a Christina Aguilera album inside the stereo in case my stepdad checked what I was listening to. I saw how the world wanted me to be ashamed for loving women the way I did. But I was outed a few weeks later and felt the weight of a conservative school on my shoulders. I decided if I was going to be judged for who I was, I might as well be exactly who I am unapologetically: I shaved my head, I held my girlfriend’s hand proudly in the hallway, I honored parts of myself at an age I wasn’t prepared for.
But I didn’t know about love. And I didn't know how much not knowing about love would affect me until I met you when I was 27, my golden year. I found myself running into corners without language to express that I had found something I wasn’t willing to mishandle. I picked up All About Love by bell hooks and felt seen for the first time. I learned that growing up without examples of a truly loving partnership was not a unique experience. I also realized that in order to be in love, I would have to learn how to love as a practice — something that takes time to build, while we unlearn toxic notions of love.
I often say that meeting you was a perfect alignment of the planets. Our queer ancestors pointed us to meet at Pride among the rainbows — on the foundation of survival and radical action they built for us. I couldn’t have prepared for what finding love in your hands would bring to me, the reflection of myself I see in you. Through being in your presence, I've had to reconcile with the seven-year-old girl in me who didn't have the language to deal with things that were too difficult. Every day spent with you builds a blueprint for what love can look like between women of the diaspora — that love can be gloriously seen and embraced for all its contradictions.
Our love defies the notions our cultures try to enforce, and relishes in the fact that it looks nothing like what we are told love should look like. I remind myself that I was made in God’s image just as I am — every curve on my body, every inch of my skin. When folks message me saying they can’t wait to find a love like ours, I pray that they see that it takes courage to dismantle the systems in place that are meant to invalidate us. I can’t wait to pass down the tools we've learned to do this, and instill this practice of radical love in others.