Karen Jaime was born and raised in Long Island, NY, by a Dominican single mother who immigrated to New York in her twenties. Dominican cultural practices – food, speaking Spanish at home (her mother was fluent but not fluent in English) – and community formations informed her upbringing, and as someone who identifies as female, she feels comfortable under the label “Latina,” or “Latina/o/x,” a term that refers to people of Latino descent who were born, raised, or lived in the United States , including Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“I use Latina/o/x because I seek to be more inclusive and I propose that this term speaks to our changing political and cultural moment in the United States; can be used with, and not instead of, existing terms; and pushes us to move beyond the gender binary while challenging the patriarchy of Spanish (vs. ‘Hispanic’), she told AL DIA News in a recent interview.
Jaime, who is currently Assistant Professor of Performing and Media Arts and Latin American Studies at Cornell University, is the author of The Queer Nuyorican: Racialized Sexualities and Aesthetics in Loisaida (NYU Press, 2021) , a book that explores the historic queerness of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, an iconic performance space founded in 1973 by a group of mostly Puerto Rican artists that has become a countercultural oasis on New York’s Lower East Side.
“This book began as my thesis and was inspired by my time hosting the Friday Night Poetry Slam (a poetry contest), from 2003 to 2005, at this world-renowned cultural institution,” said she explained.
An avid reader as a child, Jaime double majored in History and Spanish Literature at Cornell University, where she began writing poetry.
“I was inspired by the work of poets who challenged existing systems of power and who used art as part of their activist practice,” she said.
Initially, Jaime thought she would be a lawyer and even worked at a business law firm after her undergraduate studies. However, when she first read about the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and the history of its founders – Miguel Algarín and Miguel Piñero – she immediately saw echoes of the political activism she was involved in on campus.
“The founders’ use of ‘Nuyorican’, with a capital ‘N’, marked an ethnic, political and cultural identity signifying the Puerto Rican community, cul-
ture and struggle in New York from the late 1960s to the 1980s,” the author explained.
“Nuyorican (“Capital N”) was originally used as a pejorative term challenging the ethnic authenticity of people of Puerto Rican descent born, raised, or living in the United States by Puerto Ricans living on the island, due to the lack of mastery of the ancients or the use of Spanish.In turn, by including “Nuyorican” in the name of their performance space, Algarín and Piñero made visible the political, social and economic conditions experienced by the community nuyorican in the United States,” she added.
I was inspired by the work of poets who used art as part of their activist practice.
In The Queer Nuyorican, Jaime draws on this countercultural history of coffee and questions how existing histories of this community define the space as specifically ethnic Puerto Rican, heterosexual, and predominantly male.
“In my book, I focus on the contributions and interventions of queer and trans artists of color, demonstrating how the Nuyorican Poets Cafe has functioned as a queer space since its founding, both in terms of sexual acts and practices of performance,” she insisted. .
PROMOTING QUEER WORK
Its aim was to highlight the queer work of artists such as Miguel Piñero, Regie Cabico, Glam Slam contestants and Ellison Glenn/Black Cracker, offering the Nuyorican (lowercase “n”) aesthetic. “As a queer art practice, the Nuyorican aesthetic refers to the work of poets, writers, and creative producers who are inspired by the political history of coffee but are not necessarily of Puerto Rican/Nuyorican descent.”
As a professor of Latina/o/x studies, Jaime observes that there is still a shortage of Latina/o/x professors and courses focused on Latina/o/x experiences at universities across the United States. United. The main challenges to resolve this situation are the promotion of recruitment. , retention and support for Latina/o/x students and Latina/o/x faculty.
Queerness is too often erased from historical accounts
“My students are primarily students of color and/or queer students who are looking for a professor who teaches classes on topics related to their lived experiences. I encourage them to follow their career path by supporting them, mentoring them, sharing the resources I learned from as an undergrad, and challenging them to push past all the limits placed on them” , she said.
In addition to the academic challenges, there’s the challenge of reclaiming the “queerness of historic places like the NPC.” “Queerness is too often erased from historical narratives,” she said.
“Seeing, reading and learning about people of color, and queer people of color in particular, who have contributed to our political and social landscape, is important. It functions as a source of empowerment, providing us with role models of what is possible,” she concluded.