Wotko (Gerardo Tristan) is a queer Nahuatl, anti-speciesist activist and community organizer with a wide range of experience in indigenous, LGBTQTS, animal rights and food justice activism. He was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, and is now living in The United States of America. He talks about how growing up in Mexico shaped himself and his activism, the challenges he encounters as a Mexican activist in the United States, the importance of coming together as an activist community, and how reclaiming traditional foods benefits humans, non-humans, and our planet.
Q: When you talk about your activism journey, you often speak about how growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, has shaped your path. You talk about how ‘machismo’ has impacted expressions of yourself as well as your empathy towards others. What exactly do you understand by ‘machismo’ and how does it affect activism in Mexico?
I understand ‘machismo’ as the intent that Mexican men want to make sure to be always seen as strong, independent and powerful. Whether it be in the power in the communities, families, or other groups in everyday life. When you’re a man, you must be in control of everything; your life, your emotions, and your relationships with others. Mexican men want to be powerful, which is more complicated when you don’t have much power. You don’t have much power when you’re poor, so one of the few things you can hold onto is this identity as a macho. By being macho you can try to be more powerful.
This is a culture I was born into and it goes through all the institutions and channels. They all either support or reinforce machismo. But we don’t talk about the deep meaning of this culture. We don’t talk about it with activists or men/people identify as male, and then we think that doing certain things makes us less macho. Take crying for example. When you cry, you let go of power, of being in control of your own emotions, and then other men jump into that and define you as less ‘macho’ and more ‘feminine’ or ‘weak’. A woman can never be macho, they can never claim that identity. This culture affects everything, activism included. Therefore, I think this is something we need to talk about in activist circles in Mexico.
I have to say that also wasn’t just born and raised into this culture, but I also chose to perform as a macho. When I was young, it was safer to take on that identity, and I did so for many, many years. I am sure that even now I am being machista in my mentality or in the way I live, especially in my relationships with women.
Q: When did you start questioning this ingrained culture? Did your move to the United States of America affect your personal development in this area?
I first started to question machismo in Mexico. I did not only question machismo as a cultural concept, but also how I knowingly chose to adopt that identity. Coming from a very poor neighborhood, machismo was something I felt I really needed to be safe and proud amongst my male peers. I began to question my machismo with regards to my interests and empathy towards human animals, but also with regards to my own identity. Being indigenous is not seen as something that is desirable, because indigenous people are generally powerless and not in control. To be macho, one must be Mexican. Mexicans have power and can become president, can become powerful people. Everybody would choose that Mexican cultural identity over the indigenous one. Therefore, I also tried to become more Mexican.
I began to work with my own cultural identity as an indigenous person and as a person who wants to be in solidarity with non-humans before I moved to the United States. However, the one thing that I did not work with until I was out of Mexico, was my sexual identity. I didn’t work on that because it was more dangerous, and this really pushed me to perform as a macho. I was very, very conscious that if I moved into that direction, I would not only have problems in society but that my safety would become compromised. If you’re Indian, people dismiss you as they see you as powerless. But if you come out as queer, you can put yourself in real danger. So, when I came to the United States – to Oklahoma - I started to think about and work with my sexual and gender identity. This was an interesting time. Although I did not face any physical threats where I lived, racism and prejudice came into play. There was a lot of racism in the community where I wanted to define and find out who I wanted to be; gay or queer, male or gender-neutral or female. But I finally began to safe to work on my identity in the United States. It was good to be far from my country to have these conversations about my identity.
In the USA, the acceptance in the LGBTQ community was a mixed bag. There is still a lot of prejudice and racism within this community, so unfortunately, I did not organize with this community until I moved from Oklahoma to Atlanta. I am happy to say that - here in Atlanta – I have finally found a supportive and strong QTPOC [Queer and Trans People of Color] community. I now organize with QTPOC vegan/ animal rights activists. Community means a lot to me and I am very happy I have finally found one.