“There Are No Pol(ICE) in the Future” and Other Prophetic Declarations from Alán Pelaez Lopez
Alán Pelaez Lopez, an AfroIndigenous writer and interdisciplinary artist from the coastal Zapotec community of Oaxaca, México, is a self-taught time traveler. Their collection Intergalactic Travels: poems from a fugitive alien (Operating System, 2020) aestheticizes this skill and its prescient anti-ode “sick in ‘america'” is told through footnotes which unlock ancestral portals: “i only crossed once // (location: // San Diego/ Tijuana border // age // five // how // by foot and car.)// but every story heard // becomes another crossing // my body remembers every crossing // every crossing becomes mine…”
Lopez also creates popular memes which contain similar temporal multitudes:
As inhabitants of pandemic time and space, Lopez and I spent the last several weeks exchanging very extremely distanced emails. Our correspondence discussed, among other things, personal adornment, an ancient regime known as MySpace, time travel, and The Kindred Tour, a digital literary tour dedicated to Black healing and queer kinship.
About past, present, and future, Lopez writes, “I used to have a really singular understanding of time…it wasn’t until I started to remember the thoughts I had as a child that I realized that we live in multiple temporalities.”
Lopez recalls childhood visits to a New England public library, where they encountered their first time-machine: a typewriter. While Lopez sat at this machine, the present shot into the future.
Afternoons passed at light speed.
As an undocumented kid living in Massachusetts, Lopez had grown intimate with precarity. By feeding blank sheets of paper into a typewriter and filling them with prose, they became able to exercise an intellectual resource that protected them: their imagination.
“I would make up mini-stories,” writes Lopez. “They were primarily under-developed telenovela plots but I was obsessed…I was creating worlds that wouldn’t exist in my life otherwise.”
Lopez’s recollection plunges me into bittersweet nostalgia, returning me to my queer childhood. My earliest flirtations with the written word happened in the pink bedroom I shared with my little sister. Lounging on our bunkbed, I filled my diary plots belonging to my favorite Twilight Zone episodes. I illustrated my juvenilia with extraterrestrials, third eyes, and airplanes carrying William Shatner.
Lopez bloomed into a sad teenager and then blossomed into a “hyper-emotional adult.” They created an anonymous blog titled ICEd Out Dream, where they began shaping their analysis of illegality and Blackness. They blogged with urgency, “as if [their] life depended on it,” but grew fearful after the deportation of a West African cultural worker. That disappearance created a sense of dread, prompting Lopez to delete their blog posts. Soon, however, they returned to writing as a freelancer, publishing poetry and non-fiction in places such as Black Girl Dangerous and Everyday Feminism. In 2020, they released a new poetry collection, to love and mourn in the age of displacement (Nomadic Press).
Lopez has become widely known for their critiques of Latinidad, “an identity born out of the violences of Indigenous dispossession exercised by Spanish…, English…, Dutch… and Portuguese conquistadors.” Today, their writing continues to channel their younger self while simultaneously tapping into prophetic traditions: “A queer Black future is a future that allows me to envision a better reality for Black people everywhere…it is also a future that reckons with all the violence and retaliation that we will experience to get to that future. I also think that the future is now.” Lopez is currently editing a forthcoming multi-genre anthology of contemporary queer and trans Afro-Latinx writers who will address the subjects of memory, care, and futurity.
Last spring, in San Antonio, Texas, Lopez re-united with their friend Ariana Brown, a queer Black Mexican American poet. She is the author of Sana Sana (Game Over Books, 2020), a chapbook which writer Elizabeth Acevedo describes as “simultaneously revelatory and familiar.” Brown’s first full-length poetry collection, We Are Owed, will be published by Grieveland Press.
The pandemic forced Lopez to cancel their plans for an IRL book tour and in its place, Lopez and Brown conceived of The Kindred Tour, a performance- and banter-driven series of appearances which incorporate instructional strategies that the two developed over the summer. For weeks, the pair facilitated various writing workshops that they offered for free on YouTube. One of these workshops invited participants to “explore what an alternative world may look like outside the bounds of settler colonialism, patriarchy, and global anti-Blackness.” Another invited participants to identify “’rights’ that we often taken for granted, but still struggle to claim in a capitalist society that doesn’t allow us to slow down and clearly think through community care and well-being.” The Kindred Tour also offers individual artist talks and three writing workshops, “Visions for the Future: writing the worlds we want to live in,” “Beauty & Black Hair,” and “Gender, Sexuality, Freedom.”
While reading poetry and discussing the intimate details of their life exhausts Lopez, they prefer fatigue as a result of liberatory work rather than other forms of labor. Co-touring with Brown enables Lopez to “center kinship, healing, and queer Black futures,” and Lopez conceives of world-making in novel micro and macro ways. They characterize sitting down to share a meal with the people in their pod as a way of living the future in the present. They frame exiting relationships that one should have left earlier as another way to make space for the future in the now. Sending selfies to friends is a gesture they describe as an “act of world-building.” They write, “Sometimes, the small things can transform our timelines. I wish that we, targets of the state, had more resources to think about the mundane as much as we think about other aspects of life. I get it though: my body doesn’t always have the privilege of mundane thinking. That requires resources: food, shelter, the right to move…”
An axiom underpinning Lopez’s world-making is that our humanity resides in our mundanity. “My first selfie was for MySpace,” Lopez recalls. “I only had dial-up internet but the selfie combined with the platform helped me meet someone, [an undocumented Black Brazilian queer migrant], with a shared experience.” Lopez credits Instagram with being a self-care game-changer: “I used to upload a lot of flower photos and then I started to take selfies for my own pleasure…The selfie is a political act where I choose myself over and over again.” While some shitheads disparage selfies, wrongly accusing selfie producers of narcissism, cultural critic Alicia Eler has identified the selfie as social art: “Selfies are about connecting with others through mirroring processes, not about being alone in front of a static one-way mirror.”
Like a footnote, a selfie is a portal, a way for us to gather together in time if not space.
In addition to taking selfies, Lopez experiences pleasure through food, jewelry-making, handwritten letters, meme exchanges and kinky sex. They are also beginning to find power in beauty and are grateful to poet and culture strategist Sonia Guiñanasca for shaping their new approach to aesthetics. Lopez cites Guiñanasca’s poem “Glory,” which serves as a snapshot of Guiñanasca’s undocumented mother’s makeup routine, as emblematic of femme aesthetic power: “Every morning creating self into existence/ Between lipstick and softness/Between borders and belonging/ (these are ways I survive).” Self-adornment is one way of asserting that one is both undocumented and glorious to behold.
Lopez finds cliched narratives about Blackness, queerness and undocumented life “simplistic and lazy.” They write, “My Blackness is one of the conditions of possibility that have led me to pleasure. Incubating a Black URL community where we randomly call one another or send each other meme’s in the midst of grief is a form of pleasure that yes, speaks to our conditions, but also gestures to a future otherwise.”
Click here to learn more about The Kindred Tour, which is currently booking.
Myriam Gurba is the editor-in-chief of Tasteful Rude. She is also the author of the memoir Mean, a New York Times editors’ choice. O, the Oprah Magazine, ranked Mean as one of the best LGBTQ books of all time and Publishers’ Weekly describes Gurba as having a voice like no other. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Paris Review, TIME.com, and the Believer. Gurba has been known to call shitty writers pendejas and has no qualms about it. Along with Roberto Lovato and David Bowles, she co-founded Dignidad Literaria, a grassroots literary organization that seeks to revolutionize publishing.