Vagando as a Tool for Worldmaking; or How My Mother’s Crossing-Over Story Helped Me Roam Towards Queerness

Irvin Manuel Gonzalez

Abstract:

This essay explores vagando as a queer, Latine epistemology for queer worldmaking. Spanish for “deviant wandering,” vagando is a practice of unruly navigation that is and can be engaged by queer, Latine bodies to reimagine heteronormative expectations, topographies, and landscapes. I situate my own experiences as a queer, Latine vago and place them in conversation with queer performance studies and dance studies scholars to highlight how practices of aberrant sexuality are made possible by physical and spiritual forms of wandering that allow queer, Latine bodies to construct queer identities and places, imagine alternative forms of behaviors and belongings, and press back against the bounds of heteronormative expectancies. I cite how my own constructions of queer roamings are informed by my mother’s confrontation and reimagining of the US-Mexico border, explaining how her cross-over stories inspired lessons for queer walks, thoughts, and travels.

“Y luego fui viendo un río. Ya había caminado… no se cuantas horas. Pero en perderme encontré ese río. Y poco a poco me fui dando cuenta que había descubierto ciertas partes de mí nunca antes conocidas. Soy valiente. Y la frontera no me daba miedo. Crucé. Y pues, lo demás es historia.” (“And then I saw a river. I had already walked... I don't know how many hours. But in getting lost, I found that river. And little by little I realized that I had discovered certain parts of myself that had never been known before. I am brave. And the border didn't scare me. I crossed. And well, the rest is history.”)

These final words embedded in my mother’s border-crossing stories had always been my favorite to hear. Her closing remarks of cheating the US-Mexico border were often lessons for transformation, citing actions of wandering that were used to arrive at new places and a sense of self.  At the same time, they were also encapsulating of how bodies engage walking and journeying to make changes to their worlds, becoming agents by using “deviant” migrations to contend with hegemonic forces that unsettle our homes, immediate landscapes, and lives. These radical responses come about as answers to unjust sociopolitical landscapes that marginalize bodies. My mother who had fled an unstable home and economic situation in the late 1980s, migrated to take control of her life. Oftentimes, however, these acts of wandering and journeying are seen as delinquent, as non-normative, and as aberrant forms of mobility that are quickly met with violent responses on behalf of agents for the nation state. Ongoing deportations, incarcerations, and separations of families at the border are testaments to the ways in which the US nation state views these forms of mobility as “illegal.” These itinerant walks are what in Spanish might be referred to as “vagando.”

Vagar is often used within Spanish to denote an action of roaming, but more specifically wandering in forbidden ways. I was quickly met with this contextualization as a young child who queerly explored the landscapes around me. My father would often question, “¿Ya andas vagando otra vez?” (“Are you vagando again?”) or declare firmly “No andes de vago,” (“Don’t be a vago”) whenever I was perceived to be engaging in untimely, unruly, or disobedient navigations. These questions and statements were indicative of how my roaming was seen as an action that strayed from normative and approved considerations of walking, exploration, and being; how the policing of bodies happens in both public and private spaces. Yet early on, vagando was part of how I came to understand my queer identity. I couldn’t walk straight. I needed to get lost consistently because the pathways presented to my body did not make sense. Increasingly, my inability to meet my father’s approved standards for how men walk, are, and “should be,” grounded the act of vagando as an action meant to locate queerness and one punishable for its “abnormal” flair. Despite my parents’ own rebellious walking journeys to cross the border, my presence and actions were swift confrontations with how they perceived queerness within their Latine household. That is, while constructions of citizenship were meant to be broken, sexuality was a completely different border they had not learned to cross yet. However, as I explain later, their border stories were my first theoretical lessons for the porousness, permeability, fallacy, and reality of borders.

This work serves as an ode to vagando, formulating it as a deviant act engaged by queer, Latine bodies to become, reimagine, and transform spaces. I cite vagando as a roaming methodology where we can reconsider ideas of normative behavior, linearity (getting from point A to point B), and as a process for finding new connections, ways of being, and relating to our surroundings and to other bodies. From getting lost in the forbidden areas of nightlife to queer daydreaming in and out of the dance studio, I explore how vagando is a form of risky creativity that asks us to critically reconsider prescriptive codes of behavior placed on bodies and their mobilities in order to etch new landscapes and imaginaries. At the same time, this writing parallels the act of vagando by travelling and straying, following the itinerant connections of queer worldmaking in my mind, body, and spirt. As a queer, Latine, male-identifying artist, I engage my own corporeality to center queer, Latine epistemologies informed by autoethnographic encounters and theorizations. In doing so, I highlight my lived experience as praxis— an embodied, queer, Latine scholarship and artistry uninterested in linearity, normativity, and arresting legibility by dominant forces.  

Through the act of vagando, we enact exploratory elements as techniques for reimagining landscapes around us while situating an affirmation for mental, bodily, and spiritual states of queer desire, impulse, risk, and play. That is, bodies in actions of vagando roam towards states of being by purposefully working against choreographed constructions that ask us to walk in specific ways. As queer, Latine people we often encounter violence in our brushes with machismo, what Richard T. Rodriguez denotes as “the term most frequently used in Chicano and Latino contexts to imply manhood or masculinity” (2009, 44). Our behaviors and comportment are seen as antithetical to Latino manhood, and thus, we are seen as deviants and delinquents to normative sexuality. However, in vagando, we achieve forms of belonging within structured public and private landscapes that are often predicated on these heteronormative and colonial ideas of pleasantries, good behavior, professionalism, normative sexuality, manhood, and white supremacist cultural imaginaries. My body’s engagement of vagando is used to transform the world around me, cutting through spaces and reimagining topographical layouts to play towards new visions for the future in ways that redress present and past versions of myself while transforming my interaction with Others, objects, and settings.

As mentioned, despite my own parents’ assertions of how to properly walk and be in space—first lessons for normative behavior in private and public spheres—I really learned about vagando and its transformative potentials from my mother’s migration stories. Growing up, she would share bits and pieces of her coming-to-America journey, often adding more details with every year that we grew older. The trajectory of leaving her hometown and walking aimlessly in the desert until finding food and shelter increased with traumatic experiences as we developed the capacity to understand their weight, moments of violence that she sheltered us from when we were younger. Of course, there was always one piece of the story that remained the same; she had to get lost in order to find the route needed to meet up with family in Tijuana, Mexico to cross the border. My mother had been dropped off in a desolate location and wandered until finding a river. In her wanderings, she mentioned how she embraced risk to lead her to new sites and to connect with people who would eventually give her the courage to cross over the border. Wandering became survival. Her vagando, a delinquent act of getting lost and reconceiving the il/legalities of national borders and landscapes, provided an experience in which she could find a new home and new versions of herself. “Crucé y empecé una nueva vida,” (“I crossed and began a new life”) she would remind us. In stepping over onto US soil, she taught us about the fallacy of borders while coming to realize the very real effects of nation-state lines. Eventually, she shared how she experienced xenophobia and questions of citizenship which often became violent processes that served as reminders that her act of vagando had both affirmed and situated her as a delinquent body. Yet, she stayed firm in her assertion that she had found new versions of herself that were untapped before. Wandering as a process to locate new identities was needed for her to continuously understand that she had the power to shift the environments around her.

My mother’s migration stories, filled with radical acts of meandering and walking, have served as an undocumented, feminist scholarship that came to inspire my own desire to wander as a queer body. In hearing her stories, she affectively instilled within my body a desire and yearning to activate similar walking practices that could defy the imposed borders placed on my queer, first-generation corporeality. In paying close attention to her narrative, I had been encouraged to get lost, cross borders, reconfigure landscapes and find new ways of being. It is because of this that I highlight these delinquent acts of meandering to theorize how it is that bodies learn to vagar, and how we carry vagando into the world to remake it and encounter experiences that teach us to queer and become. While they are distinct forms of meandering, each carrying different weights and perils, my aim is to cite the origins for my own risky navigations, theorizing vagando as a minoritarian strategy used to traverse prescribed hegemonic conditions, landscapes, and norms.

In thinking and acting through these considerations, I’m consistently inspired by performance studies scholar José Esteban Muñoz’s conceptualization of queerness in their Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. In it, Muñoz articulates queerness as “that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough” (Muñoz 2009, 1). With this contextualization in mind, I posit vagando as a wandering action engaged to achieve aesthetics of queerness and identities for/of becoming to navigate towards a utopic sense of place. In my utilization of the word “delinquent,” I also consider how queer bodies in their non-heteronormative actions engage behaviors that go against standard conceptualizations of being, behaving, gender, and sexuality. At the same time, my theorization of vagando works through Sarah Jane Cervenak’s own conceptualization of wanderings1 as acts that engage “with actual and phantasmic terrain, [to] query the complexity, range, and meaning of freedom as movement” (Cervenak 2014, 147). These contemplations ground deviant migrations as opportunities to resituate our mind, body, and spirit terrains.

In acknowledging my embodied lineage of vagando and inherited deviant acts of walking and crossing borders from my mother, I also recognize the various layers of privilege and positionality embedded in vagando. The dangers and risks associated with deviant roaming are heavily complex. Not all bodies are afforded the same rights to wander, roam, and walk freely. In US landscapes, we see the effects of ongoing racial pandemics where police brutality and tactics of policing serve to control Black and Brown individuals. State apparatuses are used to interpellate individuals as subjects of the state (Althusser 1971), choreograph docility (Lepecki 2013), and create distinctions between those who are and are not included within the imagined community of the nation (Anderson 1983). In these processes, LGBTQIA+, Black, and Brown bodies are in a continued state of risk, facing exclusion, violence, and exile. Keeping this in consideration, this ode also goes on to emphasize the metaphysical, emotional, and spiritual act of vagando to account for the ways in which we use our bodies to stray spiritually, particularly in spaces and moments where bodies are violently policed or where their sense of mobility is limited.

Developing an Embodied Methodology of Vagando in Mexico City’s Zona Rosa:

I would often be “de vago” as a child, sitting upside down in church pews, roaming in nature, and frolicking in the middle of the street. However, I quickly realized the repercussions of being vago and engaging vagando as moments to locate intersections of heteronormative constructions of Latinidad and queerness– spankings from my father for sauntering my walk, getting called queer slurs for pretending to hold a yellow boa à la Britney Spears, being scolded by my grandfather for not leading on the right-hand side of women when walking on sidewalks. “Los hombres deben de proteger a las mujeres” (“Men have to protect women”), he’d say. These constructs for what male-presenting bodies should and shouldn’t do when walking were rooted in Latino, heteronormative expectations placed upon my body’s navigations. However, they were also teachings for vagando, encouraging me that queerness existed by walking differently, taking new pathways, and restructuring the spaces around me. These performances were foundational for my eventual play with queer nightlife, roaming streets to get lost, risking the dangers and wonders of past 10:00 p.m. to stray towards queerness and queer connections.

As a young adult, late night walks in Mexico City’s Zona Rosa, the gay neighborhood enclave of Mexico’s capital, provided a space to roam and get lost in underground dance spaces. Leading with breath, walking with possibility, and playing with potential, I used vagando as a way to locate my body in queer spaces and to queer my location. Frequenting the legendary gayborhood in Mexico, I walked down busy intersections filled with jotería (faggotry), embodying the clacking of large fans, the stares of men of many ages who were cruising, the smell of overly perfumed drag queens, the sizzling sounds of onions cooking on the grill at 3:00 a.m., the enticing calls rhythmically sounding from nearby street vendors, and the unapologetic grinding of bodies on top of park statutes. Embracing queer nightlife came about wandering around past dark and seeing how queer people boldly exist in streets, delinquently dancing steps away from police cars who patrol the area. Our aberrant bodies, in roaming streets and wandering into place(s), can combat the choreopolicing2  (Lepecki 2013) that attempts to monitor, surveille, and arrest queerness in efforts to maintain normative space and heteronormative behaviors. As Kemi Adeyemi, Kareem Khubchandani, and Ramón Rivera-Servera remind us in Queer Nightlife, “For LGBTQI+ people whose desires, pleasures, bodies, and/or existences are invalidated in the propriety of daytime, the night does often offer an alternative set of rules with which we can know ourselves and one another. But for all of the ways that queer nightlife spaces can provide refuge and play, they can also be sites of alienation that are circumscribed by normative modes of exclusion” (2021, 2). With the very palpable threats of policing in the city’s zone— police cars patrolling and finding any excuse to arrest queer bodies— wandering is a catalyst for existing in queer unapologetic truth and pressing back against borders. I remember seeing queer folx climbing local statues and grinding on them, crossing past fences for the purposes of vagando. They laughed and tossed beer around in the face of two officers. The group of dancers outnumbered them. They momentarily intersected in their illegal wandering and used it to confront the threat of arrest. These acts of vagando have not only been important to my exploration of queerness but also to understanding that queer bodies have a history of aberrant walking used to reconfigure the spaces around them.

La Zona Rosa, once home to a burgeoning upper class in postrevolutionary Mexico, has grown over the years into an enclave for queer bars, people, restaurants, and businesses (Osornio 2014). Queer studies scholar Anahi Russo Garrido (2009) explains in “El Ambiente According to Her” how the gathering of queer folx in spaces like Zona Rosa in Mexico City has slowly cultivated “el ambiente,” what Paul Allatson denotes as “the occupation of a space of queer possibility” (2007, 17). Vagando, as a radical methodology of roaming, has allowed queer bodies over time to claim space and enact “queer possibility” precisely by finding themselves through an inhabitation that is informed by intersections in our vagando. That is, in our aimless wanderings to find ourselves in nightlife and locate queerness, we increasingly begin to construct queer milieus and sites that offer safer spaces for folx to enact queer roamings. In aimlessly wandering with queerness in mind, we bump into, run alongside, and encounter other bodies on similar processes—we connect with others who have meandered into similar spaces and fulfill a queer belonging. In doing so, we reimagine the affective normalcy of a physical area, progressively etching against its original bounds, intentions, and standards to situate queer togetherness. And while I argue for vagando as a defiant act of wandering that can push back on the boundaries of heteronormative spaces and sexualities, I also recognize that complex layers of these trajectories, centering firmly that queer nightlife is not utopic3  but rather a rehearsal zone4 . I theorize vagando as a praxis that in repetition and frequenting can begin to redefine areas and offer space for other bodies to more safely practice deviant behaviors.

In vagando, we inscribe sociality into the fabric of the landscape in ways that claim place. Vagando allows us to remake spaces particularly by engaging delinquent practices of walking that reconfigure the world as a safer space for ourselves by working through what Muñoz (1999) cites as disidentification, or the act of transforming racial, sexual, and, as I argue here, topographical mainstreams for the construction of queer identity. My walks in la Zona Rosa were demonstrative of a site recontextualized and claimed by queer wonderings and wanderings that had pushed back against the once heteronormative, upper-class aesthetics and sensibilities of the area. Now laden with neon lights, glitter, and confetti that poke fun at, hybridize, and queer majoritarian dynamics, the Zona Rosa environment is made possible by previous acts of riskful wanderings.

As I continue to engage practices of vagando in and beyond the area, I am reminded that I cross paths with previous shortcuts and disobedient footsteps generated by queer vagxs. I combine their lessons with my own and return home or to other spaces wearing the overly saturated smell of perfume and swiveling my hips to Gloria Trevi tracks in ways that speak to the boundlessness of vagando. That is, in vagando, queer, Latine bodies incorporate our surroundings — the aesthetics, architecture, and people in our environments – in relational ways while using our disobedient wanderings to construct versions of ourselves that speak to our queer callings and desires. We recycle these lessons to roam into other spaces. Rivera-Servera (2012) reminds us of this in Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, and Politics, highlighting how queer clubbing provides lessons that we can take out into the world. Ultimately, we play with these possibilities physically but also spiritually as well.

Queer Daydreaming: Vagando as a Spiritual Exercise

Taking disidentification processes into consideration, I also argue for delinquent strolls as spiritual exercises engaged by bodies who do not have the privilege to risk placing their bodies through the physicality of wandering. Beyond my saunter in Mexico City and my disobedient queer acts at home, I often engage the practice of daydreaming in my artistic practice to escape the normative bounds of heteronormative expectations. In taking delinquent walks within my mind and through spiritual meditation, I find ways of transforming the world around me. As a child, I could freely roam in my imaginings. I could be queer and saunter in clouds without the repercussions of my father’s disciplinary actions. As an adult, I roam to locate queerness as a theoretical, physical, and meditative playscape. I lead with breath. I close my eyes and often release myself into ridiculous, unattainable, incredible daydreams. Some visions I can put into practice. Others are meant to remain in my spiritual terrain.

As such, vagando is also an embodied, spiritual form of transformation. Queerness can be located by engaging spiritual navigations that play with the transformative possibilities of real-world interactions. In our imaginative vagando, Latine, queer bodies can reconfigure the demands of heteronormative worlds. We wonder into lip syncs of classic Laura Leon songs, we shimmy our chests to Selena’s “bidi bidi bom bom,” we set ourselves as protagonists of telenovelas, we wear sombreros with nine-inch heels, and we ride bulls while executing a triple turn into a dip à la Leomi Maldonado. Then, we expand the length of our wandering into la Zona Rosa drag nights, dances, performances, writings, and cycle these acts of vagando back to a spiritual realm. Vagando is physical, spiritual, and mindful. It is cyclical. It is repetitive. It is timeless. It is nonlinear. It is artistic.

Vagando in the Studio

These queer vagando strategies are also integral to my process as a dancer and artist. My recent work, “las cosas que enter(r)amos,” a duet collaboration between myself and dance artist (and life partner) Alfonso Cervera, is rooted in wandering as a process to unearth buried stories, realities, and portions of queer, Latine bodies that are often precluded from mainstream exposure and familial history. The work focuses on exposing the queer experiences that our families and nation-states sweep under the rug. Queer wandering has become a methodology in our process to access aspects of our queer identities that are so deeply buried in our bodies due to shame, violence, and oppressive forces inflicted upon them.

In rehearsals, we turned our encounters with nightlife vagando as a process to reveal aesthetics, elements, and stories that could serve as an ode to queer migrations and lessons for belonging. In collaboration with Alfonso, we developed a sound scheme grounded in a random assortment of brown noise and Latine nightlife anthems and sounds, using it as a creative environment to play with. With the soundscape setting the space for queer potential, we wandered about the studio, finding points to enact queer gestures rooted in LGBTQIA+ club gestural movements, moments, and motifs. Our score for vagando was informed by the following: 1) acts of recurrence to honor the repeated act of deviant walks our bodies have undergone in life; 2) moving toward exhaustion as a way to wander into untimely and unruly actions generated by our queer bodies and their “peeling” of ingrained techniques; 3) echoing (actions informed by the other dancers’ actions) as a way to cite and honor a history of vagando in queer, Latine nightlife; 4) impulse play— exercises of falling into movements that our bodies desire in the moment; and 5) shouting out intersections—these could be encountering each other physically or affectively and making note of where in space we located these connections. With random configurations of these elements, we opened a place to vagar unapologetically in the studio, highlighting deviant wandering as an artistic strategy to not only locate queerness but to also reveal hidden and buried portions of our queer selves. With my mother’s migration stories in mind, and the possibility of finding parts of ourselves violently pushed away, vagando becomes artistic inquiry for making work that honors the deviant and upholds its value.

In rehearsing vagando, we perform queer identities and activate queer unearthings, makings, and wonder. We cycle. We repeat. We honor. We reflect. We move. We groove. And then we walk defiantly to locate these possibilities again and again and again.

Ultimately, the fact that I am writing this piece is its own act of vagando, delinquently putting some of my most precious wanderings on paper and allowing them to venture out into the world on their own. And so, I leave you with a small list of possible delinquent, itinerant actions so that you may be inspired to aimlessly walk to encounter, get lost, find queerness, and carry on my mother’s legacy of risky vagando. This is not an end or conclusion, but an intersection in vagando.

 

Acts of/for queer vagando:

 

Not italicizing Spanish words

Putting on your sister’s shorts de mezclilla (jean shorts) and making her play Johnnie Castro while

you alternate between Laura Leon and Biba Gaytan

Imagining you are lip syncing for your life on La Más Draga

Walking down Insurgentes at 3:37am

Tipping drag queens

Tuning of the radio as a remembrance of what spirit is

Embodied attention

Remembering that spirit transcends time

Being in the woods and listening to the energy/hum of plants

Living in immeasurable space (spaces that exist between conscious thoughts)

Having other queer, Latine people continue this list

Breathe. Breathing is still required for improper navigations. Inhala profundamente. Exhala como te

de la gana. (Inhale deeply. Exhale however the heck you wish).


1. See “Before I Was Straightened Out” in Wanderings: Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom back to text

2. Lepecki reminds us, in his analysis of policed protests, “choreographically as well as conceptually, the police can thus be defined as that which, through its physical presence and skills, determines the space of circulation for protesters, and ensures that ‘everyone is in a permissible place” (2013, 16). back to text

3. See Queer Nightlife edited by Kemi Adeyemi, Kareem Khubchandani, and Ramón Rivera-Servera back to text

4. I take into consideration performance studies scholar Ramon Rivera-Servera’s theorization of queer clubs as spaces where queer, Latine bodies learn to be together and construct queer Latinidad. back to text

Works Cited

Adeyemi, Kemi, Kareem Khubchandani, and Ramon H. Rivera-Servera eds. 2021. Queer Nightlife. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Althusser, Louis. 1971. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, pp 1-44. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Allatson, Paul. 2007. Key Terms in Latino/a Cultural and Literary Studies. Malden, MA: Oxford.

Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities. New York: Verso. 

Cervenak, Sarah Jane. 2014. Wandering: Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom. Durham: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822376347

Garrido, Anahi Russo. 2009. “‘El Ambiente’ According to Her: Gender, Class, ‘Mexicanidad’, and the Cosmopolitan in Queer Mexico City.” NWSA Journal 21( 3): 24–45.

Lepecki, Andre. 2013. “Choreopolice and Choreopolitics, or the Task of the Dancer.” The Drama Review 57(4): 13-27. MIT Press.

Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press.

.---. 1999. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

.---.  2006. “Feeling Brown/Feeling Down: Latina Affect, the Performativity of Race, and the Depressive Position.” Signs 31(3): 675-688.

Osornio, Juan Carlos Rocha. 2014. “UNA MIRADA HISTÓRICA Y CULTURAL DEL MOVIMIENTO LGBTTTI MEXICANO.” Romance Notes54( 2): 263–73.

Rivera-Servera, Ramón H. 2012. Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, Politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Rodríguez, Richard T. 2009. Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.