Queer artist gives voice to immigrant communities

Ximena Violante is ferocious when it comes to serving the Mexican community, to which she belongs.

A 2014 Swarthmore College grad and activist, Violante, 23, is focused on providing documented and undocumented Mexican families in Philadelphia authentic cultural experiences through her Leeway Grant-ed Son Revoltura (“Sound Mix”) project, which she created with fellow former Swarthmore student Yared Portillo.

With the aid of PHILATINOS, the digital radio station broadcasting from South Philadelphia’s Ninth Street, and Juntos, a Philadelphia Latino immigrant-rights organization, the pair operates Son Jarocho talleres (workshops) throughout the Italian Market. They take their songs and protests to area prisons where undocumented prisoners reside and families visit.

“We find our focus in this community as many of its people didn’t have the privileges I did,” said Violante, whose father came to America from Mexico City as a disaster recovery-services expert.

It is, however, her work as an artist (a singer and instrumentalist in Interminable) and as a driving force of North Philly’s GALAEI, a queer Latin social-justice organization representing “the mosaic of sexual and gender identities” within local Latino communities, that makes her of interest in these pages. As a Mexican woman who identifies as queer, Violante knows that so many gay, trans and queer spaces and causes wind “up white or cis normative,” with many Mexican spaces “ending up being heteronormative.”

Violante’s goal is to create and fuel spaces that stay focused on Mexican and LGBTQ populaces, as well as those with multiple minority identities.

“When I sing and when I speak, I perform and talk from all of me, as all of me,” she said. “I don’t want to shut any parts of me out. I want all of me available. I want to build community for all of these people — through music and activism — while I’m performing and speaking.”

Though Violante acknowledges how “white” Swarthmore was during her time there, it was during her time at the college that she came out and began working as an activist and an artist for queer and Latin causes in the Delaware Valley. A large part of her energy at present is through Juntos’ new LGBTQ Latino-Immigrants project — UndocuQueer — and its exploration of local undocumented Mexicans’ visual artwork that “represents their own lived realities, not often seen in mainstream movements.” She works closely with Juntos’ Miguel Andrade as well as with Erika Guadalupe Nunez, the program director at Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas Inc.

Violante believes she must serve the needs and political actions of all her communities and organizations, such as Juntos, GALAEI and Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Familia: TQLM), geared toward the liberation of the trans-immigrant community. These are her activist homes away from home.

As an artist, she uses music as a tool to express who she is as Mexican and as a young, queer, gender-noncomforming woman. The music isn’t separate from her everyday political and social worlds, even though not everything she performs through Interminable — a new trio of trombone, drums and guitar/vocals formed a month ago, with her first gig being at the Trocadero — is about her or her experiences.

There are a lot of uphill struggles to much of what Violante does as an artist, as there is such a rich tradition of machismo in the culture, she said.

“That’s like so many of the Mexican traditions; this is ingrained, these gender norms,” she said. “We have to honor the traditions because there is so much beauty to be found, but there are also many things that we must re-think. It is probably not traditional to get trans people up on the tarima [a wooden box with a percussive husk] to dance the flamenco, but that is part of the new reality. So we have to adapt the traditions — with respect and honor, but we have to adapt it.”

Violante’s next musical works will take place in August through Girls Rock Philly (workshops can be found at www.girlsrockphilly.org/events/event-calendar)as well as with Interminibles (Aug. 8 at A Seed and A Diamond Gallery, 124 Diamond St.).