Notes on Pride

Discarded Dreams: Alvarez's "Finding Sequins in the Rubble"

June 8, 2021
Bombay 2016. Bags of unwanted clothes oozed out of ripped and broken trash-bags and spread onto the tile floor. From sequined jumpsuits to neon rompers to sequin heavy saris, the floor of the center where I was doing fieldwork was overrun with unwanted textiles that had been dropped off by someone working in a TV costume department. As the room buzzed queer, trans, and gender non-conforming folks sifting through piles of clothes, old clothes took on new life in creative hands. Folks speculated aloud about what to do with newly found treasures and how they might be used. Discarded piles of clothes were suddenly interesting not because of what they were but what they could be. Mess became the stuff of dreams and fantasies.

“Messes can often be sites for finding sequins in the rubble, and this archive of trans Latina/o life is messy, like loose sequins, threads, and leftover scraps of fabric during a busy day in the working space of a tailor or dressmaker. Finding sequins in the rubble is also about history telling and archival practices, what Horacio N. Roque Ramírez refers to as “the embodiment of queer Latino community histories” (2005: 111). This archival project resurrects the traces of trans and queer Latina/o life often erased in mainstream narratives and mappings of Los Angeles. In the following pages, I stitch together and privilege the voices, memories, and “theories in the flesh” (Moraga and Anzaldu ́ a 2014) of three trans Latinas, Mexicanas to be exact, from Los Angeles, to illustrate the layered meanings of “finding sequins in the rubble”: Angela Cristobal, Bamby Salcedo, and Sibelly” (Alvarez, 2016, p. 619-620).

“As a concept, “finding sequins in the rubble” is both about materiality— textiles and synthetic materials like sequins, and rubble (physical debris left after a catastrophe or the wrecking ball) — and about a particular form of consciousness. Inspired by Chela Sandoval (2000), it is a US Third World feminist, decolonial approach to the way aggrieved communities make sense of their lives, consciously or unconsciously. This framework is a theoretical, archival, aesthetic, and affective technology used by queer Angelenos to negotiate the everyday realities, histories, and communities in which they live; it is an emancipatory mode of being and belonging in the midst of the rubble, literal and metaphorical, of their lives—the debris and ruins left after displacement of people of color from their communities, race riots, harrassment of “deviants” by the Los Angeles Police Depart- ment’s vice squad, the ravages of AIDS, and relationship and family traumas” (Alvarez, 2016, p.620).

“As I have argued here, embodied knowledge, or “theories in the flesh,” which Bamby Salcedo and other trans women in Los Angeles shared with me, helped me to develop the concept of “finding sequins in the rubble,” a framework for understanding queer and trans Chicana/o and Latina/o life in the city, and how trans Latinas/os make sense of their lives and engage in an ongoing process of self-fashioning that involves aesthetic and affective strategies and fashion and style negotiations. While these are important, trans women of color are still being murdered in unprecedented numbers, and undocumented immigrant trans women are being deported or denied medication and proper care in detention centers. We need critical interventions and frameworks to help create un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos, a world where many worlds fit, in the words of the Zapatistas” (Alvarez, 2016, p. 625 -626).

In Finding Sequins in the Rubble Stitching Together an Archive of Trans Latina Los Angeles, Eddie Francisco Alvarez Jr. explores “the fashion choices, negotiations, and embodied knowledge or “theories in the flesh” of Bamby Salcedo and other trans Latinas in Los Angeles.” In doing so, Alvarez invites us think not only about transgender erasure or disappearance but also the ways that trans Latinas deploy aesthetic creativity everyday. Through attending to how Trans Latinas in LA think about dressing up and styling their bodies, he demonstrates how some folks make sense of and survive the messiness of everyday life. He asks us to consider what might it mean to see aesthetic choices (how bodies are adorned, how style is produced and imagined) as modes of self-fashioning, armor to face the world, or even barriers to protect us. Alvarez develops the idea of the sequin in the rubble as a kind of gesture to queer/trans endurance; an “in between space of contradiction and possibility” (621). As much as queer and trans existence can be shaped by particular relations of violence, precarity, and crisis, aesthetic practices are also about ways of dreaming, of imagining, of hailing, and even of conjuring ways of being in the world that hold our bodies in all their mess and complexity or that may at times protect and shield us from further violation. Alvarez reminds us that rather than mold ourselves to fit a narrow world, we might use our bodies to build new ones.