Photo of Sofi Chavez
Sofi Chavez

Sofi Chavez is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Ethnic Studies department exploring queer kinship structures, queer secrecy, and the ways in which families and belonging are created within 20th and 21st century Latinx mixed-genre literature.

“I think of queer secrecy not as a place of repression or shame, but as a space where possibility gets created and kinship gets mapped out,” she said.

We the Animals, a novel by Justin Torres, explores the life of an Afro-Puerto Rico queer boy growing up poor in upstate New York; it’s one novel Chavez knows she wants to include in her dissertation. Chavez is currently exploring the implications of framing the novel as a “Latinx gothic.”

“One of the ways Torres describes being mixed and being queer is through all these Frankenstein-type metaphors.” Chavez explains.

“Some people would say this is just trying to make Latinx literature legible for white people— but, I’m arguing this novel doesn’t just do that. Tt holds up a mirror; it places responsibility. It self-consciously says, ‘ The white world sees me as a monstrosity and this is why. I am a product of history, displaced by imperialism and capitalism.’”

One of the largest challenges Chavez faces is questions around whether she, herself should be “holding up a mirror” to things like queer secrecy and queer kinship.

“Am I putting light on something that would thrive better in the shade? Queer kinship and queer secrecy, especially for queer people of color, is about survival and safe places — it’s hard to escape the feeling that writing about it and drawing it out somehow dirties it or makes it less special,” Chavez says.

Throughout her misgivings, Chavez sticks with her work because she believes in the world-building capacity of the books, poems, and long-form novels she studies.

“I believe these books are offering you a different way to be, a different way to see other people, and to see yourself,” Chavez explains. “I want as many people as possible to hear it, and see it in those ways, also.”

Currently, Chavez is thinking about Tamara Santibañez, a tattoo artist in New York, practitioner of many Chicanx tattooing traditions, and author of “Could this be magic? Tattooing as Liberation Work,” a workbook for tattoo artists on how to practice trauma-informed, ethical tattooing.

“To craft your own body is so important to queer people, queer people of color, and just to feminist people, in general.” Chavez reflects. “Self-curation is a way of having control over the way you’re seen in the world.”

When asked to “say one thing” into the metaphorical microphone, Chavez reflects on a formative high school literature experience:

“I had an amazing high school english teacher. She assigned Beloved by Toni Morrison, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silco, Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Ciseneros, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Because of those books, that year was absolutely life changing for me. But, I remember at the end of the year, a white boy in class said, ‘I don’t understand why we had to read Beloved and Ceremony— those were so confusing; you couldn’t tell who was talking. They should be more straightforward like Great Gatsby!’  And I remember saying to him, ‘Not everybody’s life is as straightforward as a white man’s life, and so their books aren’t going to be either.’”

Ultimately, if Chavez could say one thing to every single high school English teacher it would be:

  1. Everyone should be assigning books like that!

  2. You can’t just stop at assigning diverse books, you have to ensure they are read with understanding. (You have to be ready to address disrespectful comments, and call the commenter in).