We are thrilled to introduce you to Fund the Change recipient Jesús I. Valles
Pronouns: they/ them
POEM & INTERVIEW: https://www.theshadejournal.
We asked Jesús…
What does your activist, social justice, anti-racism, anti-oppression, or intersectional work look like?
I am a writer working primarily in poetry, theatre, and Facebook, which means a lot of my work looks like screaming. The ethic of my work centers freedom from borders and liberation for people desde abajo. I write primarily about the ways in which citizenship is a collection of arbitrary accidents, all designed as a way to establish personhood and deny Other-ed groups the humanity they are owed. In my writing, I try to expose those underpinnings of this country’s flawed, racist logics and, hopefully, provide alternative ways of thinking through documentation. Essentially, I ask, “What love poems, prayers, longings, and histories will we leave behind in the face of a country that wants us dead and that will deny our existence continuously?” At the same time, I also attempt to keep accountable of the ways in which dialogues of citizenship and migrations are always susceptible to the erasure of indigenous peoples and are often built upon the erasure of Black migrants globally (thanks largely to the work of Alan Pelaez Lopez).
I also write a lot about the ways in which policy affects our bodies and their abilities to live and breathe. While conversations in the U.S. continue to center electoral politics as our salvation, I maintain that electoral campaigns help to bolster the same systems of oppression while changing what the hands of the oppressor looks like and just how hard the chokehold will feel.
I feel odd about the label of activist because there are so many folks out there who are actively putting their bodies on the line and are seldom praised or acknowledged for that dangerous work. My respect and whole love to all of those folks who are out there, doing the relentless, difficult work many of us keep ourselves from doing.
What keeps you going?
I love my people and that is what keeps me going. I am constantly mourning my people and that is what keeps me going. I am constantly in a state of rage, and rage keeps me going. Just a few weeks ago, I watched as the government placed migrants and asylum seekers under an overpass in my frontera and caged them behind chain link fences. The government made them sleep on dirt floors. Few people said much of anything. There were a few expressions of outrage, but the silence established that for many folks in this country, this is simply the order of things; this is our American natural. I think about the slow boil of this place and I cannot help but feel that we aren’t far away from things getting much, much worse. Still, we all have a duty to fight and to rage – we have an obligation to listen, to follow the lead of those communities that are most vulnerable, and to speak out when we are asked to. Few of us will live to see the fruits of our fight for liberation, but it’s the necessity of that fight that keeps me going.
How do you make space for self care?
I really don’t know what that is. I try to visit my family as often as I can because they feel like love. When my head is heavy and buzzing with bees and grief, I go to the ocean. I drink with my friends and dance when I can. I cuddle up with my beau, who keeps my dumb head sane. I get on the phone with my friend Taji and talk shit. I go visit witch-houses with my coven. My self-care is my homies and I try to get it when I can.
What are you proud of?
I’m most proud of my parents, who are these incredible cultural critics, performers, and political analysts and who taught me all of the foundational tenants of how to live and die best. My mother and father are the people I’m most proud to know and be related to. I’m proud of my homies, who are all incredible artists and cultural workers in their own right (shout-out to Adrienne Dawes and Taji Senior, whom I hope I’ll someday collaborate with again). I’m also proud of me. I really did not expect to be alive right now. I really did not see myself living to be this age a few years ago. I’m glad I stayed alive. I am glad I had incredibly loving people who helped me stay alive.
What do you want to see change in the arts/museums/cultural sectors?
I would love to see a bold defiance of white supremacy. It seems to be the hardest thing for so many of us to do.
What do you wish arts/museum/cultural sector leadership would do differently?
I wish we would abandon the idea that “equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives” are things that are going to do away with white supremacy or homophobia or racism or sexism. I wish that arts organizations would deliberately denounce white supremacy in everything from their programming to their organizational institutional choices. I wish they would divert more resources towards encouraging artists to emerge in the communities they occupy. I wish they were more deliberate in “spreading the wealth,” distributing access and resources to those peoples who most need them. Can you imagine what it would be like if art museums hosted free meals for the community? What if galas looked more like Block Parties?
Who are your mentors? What inspires you?
Even though we have never met, Patricia Smith is and will always be my primary writing and artistic mentor. The first time I read one of her poems, I was changed. Then, I watched her perform and understood what it means to see god come out of someone’s mouth. As a writer, Danez Smith, Ariana Brown, Ebony Stewart, and Victor I. Cazares are absolute inspirations and mentors. They produce the kind of work that heals and blisters and cuts and it makes me aspire to better writing all the time. I also have to give a shout out to Wendy Trevino, who is not only an incredible writer but a constant compass as we slog through the simmering pot of white supremacist, hypercapitalist fascism we’re all slowly boiling in.
How can we support you and your work?
I would love for people to support my work by supporting other undocumented and formerly undocumented artists like Alan Pelaez Lopez, Ximena Ospino, Julio Salgado, Yosimar Reyes, Sonia Guiñansaca and so many more! These artists are my consummate teachers and I am forever grateful for their work. Supporting them is absolutely supporting my work. Also, book me to come perform for your campus or in your city.
With a single phrase, you can give up your country. With a single signature, you can tear a family apart. With a single word, you can learn to transform. In their first full-length solo show, (Un)Documents, award-winning actor and poet Jesús I. Valles journeys across both sides of a river with two names, moving between languages to find their place as a child, a lover, a teacher, and a sibling in a nation that demands sacrifice at the altar of citizenship. In doing so, they create a new kind of documentation written with anger, fierce love, and the knowledge that what makes us human can never be captured on a government questionnaire. Directed by Rudy Ramirez, the show received its initial staging at The VORTEX in 2018 as part of FuturX: A New Festival of Latinx Performance. (Un)Documents won three 2018 B. Iden Payne awards for Outstanding Original Script, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama, and Outstanding Direction of a Drama, and was nominated for Outstanding Production of a Drama. (Un)Documents was also presented as part of the 2019 OutsiderFest artist’s showcase and excerpts from it were featured at the Latinx Theatre Common’s Sin Fronteras Festival. (Un)Documents returned to The VORTEX in May of 2019 for a two week encore.
Jesús I. Valles is a queer Mexican immigrant, educator, storyteller, and performer based in Austin, Texas, originally from Cd. Juarez, México. Jesús holds a Master’s in Communication Studies from California State University, Long Beach, with a focus on performance and qualitative research methods. Their research with Latina domestic workers in Los Angeles has been presented at the National Communication Association, The Western States Communication Association, and the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. Jesús is a recipient of the 2018 Undocupoets Fellowship, a fellow of The Poetry Foundation and Crescendo Literary’s 2018 Poetry Incubator, the 2018 Fund the Change grant, the runner-up in the 2017 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest, and a finalist of the 2016 Write Bloody Poetry Contest. Their work has been published in The Shade Journal, The Texas Review, The New Republic, Harvard’s Palabritas, Quarterly West, Winter Tangerine (forthcoming), and The Mississippi Review (forthcoming). As an actor, Jesús is a recipient of two B. Iden Payne awards for Outstanding Actor in Theater for Youth in 2016 and 2017. Jesús is also the winner of the 2018 B. Iden Payne Awards for Outstanding Original Script and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama. They have been featured in multiple productions in Austin, TX. with companies such as Teatro Vivo, Shrewd Productions, The VORTEX, Lucky Chaos, GenEnCo, and Scottish Rite Theatre. Jesús currently teaches social and emotional learning to high school students, focusing on those recently arrived to the U.S.
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