Episode 10

Published on:

2nd Apr 2020

Cynthia Rodriguez - I am still Mexican, even when I'm British - 010

In this episode of Queers & Co., I’m joined by Cynthia Rodriguez, a Mexican-British writer and performer who is constantly experimenting with the possibilities of spoken word. They are international, intersectional and interdisciplinary.

We chat about being an Anglophile, the reality of life in the UK compared to the image of Cool Britannia, racism in the queer punk scene and being a person of colour in the UK. We also talk about the importance of speaking the truth, how to look after yourself in times of burnout, queer storytelling and how Cynthia is bringing more of their roots into their work to counter stereotypes of Mexican culture.

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Podcast Artwork by Gemma D’Souza


Check out Cynthia’s website to find out about their upcoming performances and events. Their debut poetry collection, Meanwhile, is out on 7th September 2020, via Burning Eye Books.

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Heather Love, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History

Some articles on #dignidadliteraria can be found here: LA Weekly, Tropics of Meta and Hip Latina

Cynthia recommends the incredible band, Big Joanie

Photo of Cynthia by David Wilson Clarke of DWC Imagery

Full Transcription

Gem: Hi Cynthia! How are you?

Cynthia: All right! Just at home, looking at the rain, working with my cats.

Gem: Oh nice!

Cynthia: Well, the cat is not working, but I am…

Gem: You’re working with your cat. It sounds like a nice Friday.

Cynthia: Yes, excellent!

Gem: It would be really great if you can just tell everyone a bit more about yourself and what it is that you do.

Cynthia: Well, my name is Cynthia. I’m a poet and a spoken word performer. And I also do a bit of music here and there.

I’m British and Mexican, double nationality. I’ve been living in Britain for almost 10 years. I’m based in Leicester, but I do loads of stuff in the Midlands and London and stuff. I’m currently studying a masters on cultural events management to just make more things happen in the community. I do a lot of work about different topics that are intersecting like queerness, feminism, self-preservation, the migrant experience.

My first book coming out soon in September through Burning Eye Books is called Meanwhile. And it's exactly about living in the in between, like in between rites of passage, just not being easily pinpointed within one identity, one gender, one nation, nationality, one body, one state of mind, and so on.

Gem: Yeah. And what was the inspiration behind writing the book?

Cynthia: I've always written since I was tiny. But I've been doing the poetry/spoken word stuff for almost five years now, publishing fan zines here and there a couple of anthologies. Brigette, from Burning Eye Books, they've been telling me for years. A couple of years ago, they had a contest for people of color. And I submitted my work. I was shortlisted. I wasn't one of the winners. But Bridgette again said, “We really, really want your work. We would like it if you submitted something for a collection.” I did it. They accepted it. And I’ve been working on that collection for about a year.

I was thinking of all the subjects I've been talking about in the past five years of experience, and I just thought, “Oh yeah, this is this is connective link, the thing that joins them together,” the fact that they are all about passing through life and time, and how it's like not the normal, but expected milestones from a capitalist, hetero-patriarchal, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant wife, blah-blah-blah, society fest. It needs to be a citizen or a human, an adult. I’m thinking, “What about those people whoever reached that state, including me, including a lot of millennials?”

I'm in my early thirties. I’m 33 now. I’m nowhere near where my parents were when they were 33. They already had me. They had a house. They have a car. They had a job that pays the bills. They seemed a lot more mature by achieving things that I've found a lot more difficult because of the economy and because of the social panorama… or simply because it's not our ambition. But we are forever in that journey.

Gem: Yeah. And so, it's kind of that experience of what happens—I guess this is my interpretation of the title. It's like while you're waiting for those things to potentially come about, it doesn't mean you’re any less of a human or that you're any less valid.

Cynthia: Yes, definitely. Just because you don’t have a full-time job, it doesn't mean that you are flawed. Margaret Thatcher used to say that if you were over 26 and still using public transportation, you were a failure.

Gem: Wow! I didn’t know that.

Cynthia: Horrible stuff! Well, that's not true. You're doing fine.

Gem: So, I had lots of different questions. But I'm wondering about when you talk about being international, intersectional, and interdisciplinary in your bio, how has that come about? And how do you see that in your work?

Cynthia: Well, it's mostly out of necessity…? Well, I just feel like I cannot speak from one type of experience and one discipline and one point of view because of my journey through life.

I was born in Mexico and raised in Mexico for the first 24 years of my life. I was an anglophile when I was a teenager. And I was like, “Oh England! Oh Britain” because it was like the Cool Britannia time, like you have Spice Girls, Trainspotting… yeah, it was like all that! Britain looks the coolest!

For example, in Mexico, people really love those things, Blur and Oasis. They weren't very successful in the US. But in Mexico they were huge. And even in sports, in football, you ask them about good football, and they say, “Oh yeah, British football… Manchester United, Chelsea, and very recently, Leicester.”

After Leicester won the premiership in 2016, I think it was, after Leicester won that, before that, my relatives were like, “Oh, where is it that you live? Is it Leicester? Where is that? How close is it to London? How close is it to Manchester?” But once that football thing happened, now they're like, “Oh Leicester, good football! Yeah!!!” I was just surprised by that—not exactly by the football when I was younger, but by the media, the music. I thought it was just the coolest.

I don't know if you remember the series As If. They didn't have a lot of sex or drugs, but it was still like, “Look at these cool British people having fun and having boyfriends and girlfriends and going to the club and having their drink spiked” and horrible stuff. But they just looked so cool to a tiny Mexican in the room.

So, it was like, “Oh yeah, I want to be British. I want to go to England.” And I ended up in a long-distance relationship with a British guy.

And I then had gotten a scholarship for a masters degree at Bristol University in History of Art. I came and did that thing. I got married and just stuck around and lived for a bit and so forth. And then, I moved to Leicester. And I've been here ever since.

Gem: Cool! And what was it like, the actual reality of coming to the UK compared to what you thought it might be like from seeing it on programs and stuff?

Cynthia: Well, it's a lot more miserable than what we saw. Even the things on television and the movies that were meant to be grim then, they didn't look that grim. Even Billy Elliot, I guess it was like, “Oh yeah, the miners’ strikes, poverty, horrible living conditions. But at least he's got the music and the dancing.” So that looks like very glamorized and very “you can be anything you want. You can be a ballet dancer,” and things like that.

And with Trainspotting, even if they were like doing drugs, it was like, “Oh, it looks so cool! Listen to Iggy Pop on the background” even if really horrible stuff was happening.

Like doing heroin in Edinburgh looked better than sniffing glue in La Morena, I don’t know.

Gem: I felt like that could be the title of the podcast.

And I guess there's also that experience of being a queer person of color in Britain. And that's clearly not depicted in a lot of media that gets sent around the world. So, what has that experience been like?

Cynthia: It's been so-and-so. It was certainly not in the media. A lot of the people were white and straight. Even like for example the Spice Girls, they were just added with each other. And they were very gay.

But it was just like, “I wasn't ready for this.” I wasn't ready for the micro-aggressions. Fortunately, Leicester is a bit more multicultural. Half of the population is not white. So, they don't see me as a weirdo as like in […] Manchester. There were times when we used to go to restaurants, and they wouldn't take my order, unless my husband said it for me because they said that they didn't understand my accent and things like that.

And then, all the terrible so-called democratic decisions that have been taking place in the past five years or so (and even before that)… like right before I was coming in, there was that liberal conservative alliance thing in power, right? It was no more Cool Britannia. Yeah, that's all I've known, like conservative austerity threatening the environment.

And even for example as a queer person of color like getting involved with the local queer punk scene and starting to make stuff happen, eventually, it turned out to be very ugly. And I won't go into a lot of details about that. But racism and ableism and classism, they were very visible, like things like, “Oh, don't pay attention to them. They are drama queens because of telenovelas… these people feel too much… these people complaining about terrible things that we do are crazy.” And it wasn't even like thinly-veiled racism. You’re seeing the kind of people that got cancer, we’re always people of color, like bands breaking up because a person of color did something. But when a white person does something worse, it doesn't matter. They actually invite them to join in more bands.

Gem: Yeah, yeah…

Cynthia: And thanks for that.

Gem: And that’s fucked up. It must have been really hard to—well, ongoing, it must be really hard to experience that.

Cynthia: Yes, it was terrible. It was my life at some point just to be like, “Oh yeah, we’re the queers. We are friends and we play together… children everywhere.” And then, these people are just trash talking about anyone they don't like. And it turns out that, anyone they don't like, is not white and/or not thin and/or not a trust fund baby and/or not educated. It’s very, very insidious. It’s terrible.

Gem: Yeah. And that makes me think of one of the videos that was on your website where you talk about speaking truths and speaking truths for yourself and for other people that are often unspoken. And I'm just wondering… was that kind of fuel? Did that kind of help you to feel empowered to do that because you could see so much injustice?

Cynthia: Yes, definitely… yeah, it was. Yeah, that video was for the National Poetry Day. And the topic was truth. And it really resonated. We have to call out something that is not very good that is going on. But especially in certain areas and circumstances where it's kind of common sense part of the ethos apparently that you're meant to call out this horrible thing that are not tolerated, but it turns out that what is not tolerated is us speaking up against those things.

With the queer punk scene, we used to do a lot of safer spaces policies, things like, “Oh yeah, we won't tolerate racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, classism,” and so on and so on. And we were about that. People were thinking, “We never saw that it could happen within the community,” or at least I didn't naively. It was just, “Oh yeah, if there's a drunk bloke harassing someone, we’ll kick him out.” And that was what it was intended for. And we did it a few times. And it was like empowering. And it would help the survivors of the harassment. They’ll be like, “Oh, thank you so much, blah-blah…” But if it happens within the organization, and you call it out, and this person who does the things is someone with higher social capital, higher power, or persuasion, persuasion techniques, then you have everything to lose.

And you can even see this on mainstream media, like how long it took for Harvey Weinstein to be condemned.

Gem: Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of I guess performative stuff going on as well, isn't there, even if for example an organization says, “Oh yeah, we have a safest spaces policy,” but actually, when it comes to it, the people who are overseeing it are themselves not able to be held accountable, that’s just really problematic.

Cynthia: Definitely, yes.

Gem: And I guess maybe this makes me want to ask you about mental health. You talk about self-preservation. And people should go to your website and check out some of your poetry on there or performances because there's one that you do called How to Leave the House in Times of Trouble. I wonder how that came about and what it is that you might do to kind of help support yourself when you're experiencing these micro-aggressions and just this general bullshit when you're trying to make changes?

Cynthia: Well, I've wrote that… there used to be this project called Pangea Poetry. They had this international spoken word slam. It was like an internet contest. But it also included workshops and talks. And it was very nurturing.

A lot of the workshops were led by Dean Atta who recently released The Black Flamingo, a really good young adult poetry/story… very, very recommended. And one of the exercises for the workshops was to write a user manual to do something—how to be a poet, how to be gay, how to do this. And I thought, “Oh yeah, how to leave the house in times of trouble” because that's something I really struggle with, a lot of fear of stepping outside, a lot of anxiety, agoraphobia… just really struggling and fearing that something off might happen if I just go outside into the crowds.

And some people might say, “Oh, nothing's going to happen, you'll be fine.” But then you look at the news. And you see that, a lot of the time, it's not fine. A lot of people leave the house and never come back. So, it’s like how do you get ready to do these things? How do you physically and psychologically and psychically strengthen yourself to be able to go on into your day-to-day life?

So, I wrote that poem. And it’s just like waking up. If you don't wake up, then you're going to miss out on a lot of things. And just taking the medication, having your breakfast, getting clean, putting on makeup a bit to hide yourself up, kind of like armor-like wear, things that make you feel confident, take your umbrella and take your sunglasses because, in Britain, that’s the kind of weather (you never know which one you're going to use, but you're going to use one of them)…

Gem: Century!

Cynthia: I keep following those steps to just leave the house when it's necessary to do it.

Gem: And so, it sounds like, for you, that is part of your self-care. And I just wondered if there's anything else that you do?

Cynthia: Well now, I’m trying to take more vitamins because I am an old millennial. A lot of people who are not white during the winter particularly, we tend to have a lot of deficiency on vitamin D. And that can manifest as fatigue, depression and so on. So, I just started taking vitamin D.

In the morning, I wake up, take my regular meds, and then make a cocktail of vitamin C, tonic, apple cider vinegar on a gin glass from Sainsbury's that says Gin-vincible. It’s not gin, but it’s a tonic. I use that to swallow the vitamin D.

And I have a coffee. I have whatever there is for breakfast. And I just play with my cat!

Oh, my cat! The cat is a really good alarm clock. It really helps to have a cat. If you have a lot more energy, and you have a child, that also works. She just like meows at me at eight in the morning to wake up. And she comes and she just cuddles up around my face for five minutes. And that's a really good way to get loved up and get that energy to move forward and be like, “Yes, I'll do it for you, Shirley.”

Gem: That’s really cool. I've never thought about that before. Something waking you up every morning that isn’t an alarm clock would be quite nice.

Cynthia: Yes, it’s amazing!

Gem: Yeah, I guess I'm wondering with that, you talk about self-care. And obviously, it’s really important to you. I just wondered if there are periods where you've experienced burnout and what you've done in those periods.

Cynthia: Yes, a lot of the time because of my conditions, including ADHD, hypothyroidism, dyslexia. When I manage to do things, I always end up with a...

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About the Podcast

Queers and Co.
A podcast for queer folks and allies on self-empowerment, body liberation and activism.
Hi, I'm Gem! Join me as I chat to queer folks and allies about self-empowerment, body liberation and activism. My guests are at the forefront of change-making, working in areas like fat activism, sex positivity, intersectional feminism, drag/cabaret, LGBTQ+ activism and children's rights.

I'm a transformational coach, activist and founder of the Queers & Co. zine, podcast and community. Through my work, I support LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.

Find out more about my work: www.gemkennedy.com
Find out more about Queers & Co.: www.gemkennedy.com/queersandco

About your host

Profile picture for Gem Kennedy

Gem Kennedy

I’m Gem. I'm the founder of the Queers & Co. zine, community and podcast, as well as a transformational coach and activist. I’m also queer, fat positive, an intersectional feminist and Mum to two free-range children.

I help LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.