FEATURE: JAS MARGARITA TOBON ON DISCOVERING HER IDENTITY AS A CREATOR
AVANZAMOS FOUNDER JAS MARGARITA TOBON DISCUSSES HER NEWFOUND IDENTITY AS A CREATOR WHICH HAS BEEN BIRTHED FROM HER WORK AS A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZER AND COMMUNITY BUILDER.
Credit: Jas Margarita Tobon | IG: @jasmargarita |
Jas Margarita Tobon, Founder of Non-proft Avanzamos
Affirm Noire| June 4, 2021
The real-life, day-to-day issues that queer and trans BIPOC folks face are absolutely nothing to be taken lightly. As necessary as it is for me to be part of larger ideas, national conversations and movements, and the effects of those “better world” ideas, individual justice, joy, and wellness takes precedence. (Truthfully, I could always do more. But there’s this necessary act of self-preservation that I’m finding balance in still.) Through art, through family (blood or chosen), through cultural touchstones like food or generational greenthumbs -- joy is a radical act. It’s a necessary act. May we always be radical!
I recently came to the realization that I’m a Creator. A storyteller. A visionary. Mostly of and by community-building efforts through becoming an organizer by profession and founding my non-profit, Avanzamos. With my work and personality, it often comes as no surprise to people that I'm an Aries!
This purpose to serve my community started young when I was Jerome D. Mack Middle School’s Student Council President. Something remains true from moments spent at the Halloween school dance and peanut butter jelly sandwich drives: I care about people and what they care about. On the more artistic, creative side, I’m a strong storyteller and writer. Manipulating words to passionately convey the things happening with the world, and my world, as they are, is what I truly enjoy as my outlet. My new ventures into podcasts, video essays, and workshops have been exciting because there’s something so tangible and irreplaceable about visuals and tones!
One thing that has cropped up as I explore this work further is how I always think about, analyze, critique, and shift my relationships. To our bodies versus to the world. To our bodies and God. To our bodies and to other bodies. Our bodies are the only vessel we have to navigate this world. And our relationship to them is vital. Our relationships to our bodies deserve to be one that is not rooted in shame and fear.
I don’t believe in fear-based relationships. Not with a romantic partner, not with a parent or sibling, not at work, and not even with God. Healing generational trauma is no joke. Healing from any trauma takes a deep consistent look inward to make sure we’re not projecting what we feel or what we fear onto others. It's an ongoing battle.
See, there’s this small prayer my mama tolia used to say. Translated in English, it’s basically, “I know I don’t deserve to eat God, but it’s by your grace that I do.”
That’s simply not it for me. My spirituality and structural barriers (food insecurity in this case) are not mutually exclusive. Determining my self-worth on whether God thinks I’m worthy or not of x, y, z has been some deep-seated unlearning. That is a relationship based on fear and punishment. It’s not for me. Especially not as a very queer Latinx. My creativity mostly flows and is a result from my personal reflections and growth of these relationships. My own liberation from these types of thinking encourages me to speak up and help people break the cages they put themselves into. We can decide as individuals, and as a collective, where our institutions and constructs define, begin, and end our identities and experiences. State and colonial violence often impede on this and especially our bodily autonomy.
Bodily autonomy transcends our physical being. Bodily autonomy is a human right. But a privilege often only afforded to cis white men and women. Our internal self might be the most important and the most complex part of us, yet I find it is the internal self that constantly combats against cultural and societal norms and expectations, and often, loses.
Tienes pelo malo.
Te llaman ‘Huesitos’ ‘de cariño’
Vas a salir de la casa vestida así?
(You have bad hair (anything but straight hair)
They’ll call you bones, out of love.
“You’re leaving the house dressed like that?”)
Culture can be conflicting and confusing, and definitely has its most beautiful parts. It’s part of us regardless! Culture is part of the foundation of how we navigate this world. Nonetheless, it can perpetuate violence on our minds, bodies, and to each other. We have the power to pick and choose how it affects us. If it’s one thing that I want to leave behind in this world, it’s this necessary concept: You are Yours. Full stop!
My mission is to create safe, empowering spaces for queer and trans Latinx folks wherever I go. Whether that’s through my #MariaTaughtMe Mexican food vegan recipes or Washoe County School Board issue, I’m here for my community. The greatest, consistent gift I can give though, are my stories, my words, because at the end of the day, they represents who I am. Someone who is very capable of change and wants to see it happen in the world. My mission also includes empowering folks with the language, tools, and resources to battle their inner monologue and society’s monologue. We can start healing the world by harnessing our individual voice. Storytelling heals, motivates, inspires, and it’s the root of collectivism.
You know that saying, “don’t lose the forest in the trees?” Well, for me, the forest guides me. For me, the bigger picture is our collective fight and goal to leave a better world than we found it. My better world means Medicare For All, passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), indigenous sovereignty, helping to loosen the reins of U.S. imperialism and colonialism until they cease to exist, abolishing ICE and the police, and an actual safe, sustainable Earth. Not one Exxon can buy.
The trees are just as, if not more, important though. The real-life, day-to-day issues that queer and trans BIPOC folks face are absolutely nothing to be taken lightly. As necessary as it is for me to be part of larger ideas, national conversations and movements, and the effects of those “better world” ideas, individual justice, joy, and wellness takes precedence. (Truthfully, I could always do more. But there’s this necessary act of self-preservation that I’m finding balance in still.) Through art, through family (blood or chosen), through cultural touchstones like food or generational greenthumbs -- joy is a radical act. It’s a necessary act. May we always be radical!
I founded Avanzamos because of the Latinx Institute. The Latinx Institute is part of a national LGBTQ+ framework and conference, Creating Change. There were strongholds and pockets of Latinx LGBTQ+ communities in New York, Puerto Rico, D.C., San Fernando Valley, California, and I was like “where’s Nevada?!” Everyone from Nevada will tell you they are from Nevada. Proudly. I was born in Reno but grew up on the East Side of Las Vegas (east of the strip) where Latinxs were historically segregated by the government. I grew up not knowing resources and organizations available for the issues my family faced when I was young. I especially do not remember reading literature or seeing activists with identities and experiences I could relate to. I’ve become who I needed when I was 12 years old. It’s been amazing having a voice at the state level for LGBTQ+ leadership and on a community level with so many people who believe in equality for all. There are so many dope initiatives on the East Side (Hey, Solidarity Fridge!) that cares just as much as I do. Shout out to Victoria and every single person putting in the work for the greater good.
My number one inspiration is my mami. My Taurus queen. She held down a family of three and lifted us out of poverty single handedly. Not the easiest thing one can do if they’re a limited-English speaking immigrant and single mother. (Also a huge thanks to the Culinary Union Local 226). Se lo debo todo a mi mami. She taught me anything is possible. She was always the proverbial “black sheep” in our family, refusing to be married at 15, wanting higher education, and adamant on a man not dictating her life. She is a true dreamer. She was never afraid to speak her truth. She’s always said what needs to be said. I follow that example closely I think. With her as a guide, I've learned the importance of using one's voice and not watering myself down. Something so many could benefit from knowing. It’s because of her that I quickly learned and analyzed the layers of our collective identities and how we can resist against this colonial and capitalist white supremacist, cisheteronormative, oppressive state. These identities of our layers persist in our lives and in our resistance, in our resilience, in our joy, and in our children.
My hometown, the East Side, is also an inspiration. The East Side will forever be home. It’s on us to change our narrative. I lived in New York for almost five years, D.C. for a bit, and currently very happy in Reno -- I’ve loved all the places I’ve lived in for different reasons but nothing is and nothing will ever be the East Side. Ride or die!
My vision is to continue storytelling, building perspective and community. I always strive to do what’s right by my community (and you can’t please everyone). However, I will always be in pursuit of justice and liberation. I will always be open to learning and growth. I hope one day I can cut back on my day job a little to focus on Avanzamos and writing more. Maybe I can even write a Rupi-Kaur-type book one day. There’s just so much work to be done and lots of rest to be had!
Avanzamos is a Latinx LGBTQ+, bilingual, and cultural space fighting for gender justice and liberation through dialogue and collectivism based virtually and in Nevada.
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