On Thursday, Sept. 29, St. Olaf will host a powerful interdisciplinary and intersectional event. Film directors and activists Dr. Celiany Rivera-Velázquez and Carlos Rodríguez will screen their respective documentaries “Queen of Myself: Las Krudas d’Cuba” and “Trans’It” from 6-8 p.m. in Viking Theater for an event called Caribbean and Latinx Queer Lives on the Reel, followed by a Q&A and open discussion. The screening is sponsored by the Leraas Fund, the Race and Ethnic Studies Department, the Women’s and Gender Studies Department and the Romance Languages department.
Professor Kristina Medina-Vilarino brought the directors to campus. She first met Rivera-Velázquez in grad school.
“We were working on completely different things, but we met in an organization for Puerto Rican students,” Medina-Vilarino said. “We never worked together, but there were certain topics we both discussed in our work, like immigration, gender and sexuality.”
Medina-Vilarino actually has not met Rodríguez in person, but she became familiar with his work through a book she is writing about the Dominican Republic and human movement. She contacted him because of this connection after she saw “Trans’It” and thought the St. Olaf community needed to see the film. So she brought Rivera-Velázquez and Rodríguez to St. Olaf as part of a college tour for their films.
“Queen of Myself” (directed by Rivera-Velázquez) tells the story of Krudas Cubensi, a queer and feminist hip hop trio formed in Cuba in 1999 and later emigrating to the United States in 2006. The film chronicles their lives between 2004 and 2009. It was completed in 2012 and shows the group’s journey through hip hop, community theater and art, as well and the group’s immigration experiences. So far, “Queen of Myself” has been screened everywhere from Dartmouth University to the 2011 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Conference in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Rodríguez’s 2015 film “Trans’It” follows three transgender teenagers living in the socially and politically conservative Dominican Republic: Geisha, Thalia and Tommy. Their lives as openly transgender people are criticized in the Dominican society, and they advocate for the rights of all Dominican transgender people. The film is currently on the festival circuit and has won several awards, including Best Documentary Short at an LGBTQ+ Santo Domingo film festival and Honorable Mention at a Caribbean international documentary film festival. Medina-Vilarino refers to each film as “a counterargument to more conservative narratives about what a family is, what does it mean to be Caribbean, how your identity ties into political context and cultural values that are assumed to be common.”
Medina-Vilarino was able to elaborate on the background of each director and the unique perspectives each one brings.
“[Rivera-Velázquez] started as an academic. She works with cultural studies and music more, but she also does visual media – that’s how she connects with [Rodríguez]. He didn’t do a Ph.D. He’s a photographer. He identifies as someone concerned about human rights and especially trans communities, and he’s also working from a visual media angle, but he’s not a professor,” Medina-Vilarino said. “They’re both the embodiment of transit, constantly moving from the United States to the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. They are very aware of what’s happening everywhere and can provide all those perspectives.”
Apart from the screening and Q&A, the directors will a visit the Spanish 273 class Cultural Heritage of the Hispanic U.S. and meet with Wellness Center staff. The directors will also be present at a 12:45 p.m. lunch event in Buntrock 143 with Gay, Lesbian Or Whatever (GLOW) that is open to all students. On Friday, Sept. 30 they will visit the Social Work 246 class. If you have the opportunity to meet with Rivera-Velázquez and Rodríguez, you should definitely do so — not only because of the awesome work they do, but also because Medina-Vilarino believes they will bring something special to St. Olaf’s campus. She encourages everyone to come to the screening with no limitations or assumptions, because there is something for everybody to learn.
“[People who attend the screening] will be able to think about the same topics from multiple angles. They’re going to be able to find connections and open a conversation that will allow us to make what we usually do more complex, and everyone will find something that will speak to them,” Medina-Vilarino said. “For students, that may have to do with a Spanish class. Maybe other aspects will have more to do with women’s and gender studies or social work, but usually those things are in silos. Not all those things are combined all the time. Here you will see all those side-by-side. To think about sexuality and gender and identity, you have to consider, more than anything else, the multiplicity of identities. This will push us into that conversation of making things more complex and real, not just categories. Regardless of where you’re coming from, you’ll get something out of this conversation.”