Juli Delgado Lopera on Being Vulnerable and Staying Grounded
An interview with Juli Delgado Lopera from The Write Stuff series:
Juli Delgado Lopera is an award-winning Colombian writer, historian, speaker and storyteller based in San Francisco. They’re the author of The New York Times acclaimed novel Fiebre Tropical, out March 2020 from The Feminist Press. Juli is also the author of Quiéreme (Nomadic Press 2017) and ¡Cuéntamelo! (Aunt Lute 2017) an illustrated bilingual collection of oral histories by LGBT Latinx immigrants which won a 2018 Lambda Literary Award and a 2018 Independent Publisher Book Award. Juli’s received awarded fellowships and residencies from Hedgebrook, Headlands Center for The Arts, Brush Creek Foundation of the Arts, Lambda Literary Foundation, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and The SF Grotto. Their work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Teen Vogue, The Rumpus, The White Review, LALT, Four Way Review, Broadly, TimeOut Mag to name a few. They are the former executive director of RADAR Productions a queer literary non-profit in San Francisco. Watch their TEDx Talk Here.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I mostly wait for the bus and talk to all my imaginary friends.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Reminding myself constantly to be vulnerable, to be real, to stay grounded. This applies to both my work and my personal life: I can only produce relevant work when I’m writing from a vulnerable place and I can only engage with this beautiful, fucked up world when I’m grounded (that means I’ve meditated, run, ate some fruit, wrote self-deprecating letters in my journal). It’s a constant struggle because I’m VERY gemini and I tend to guard myself, be all cerebral and sometimes forget I have a beating heart.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I’d say: you gotta show up for yourself and others. Show up for yourself by having discipline with your craft, by investing in your emotional/spiritual well-being and by not giving a fuck about the world’s expectations. About your family’s expectations. And show up for others. Collaborate with other people. Writing is a solitary endeavor, reach out, build stuff with others, read other people’s work. Show up for their reading, their fundraiser, invite people to coffee.
What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?
Education is the real world! And the real world is education!
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
Follow your heart, follow the freaks, pay attention to your intuition. Books and the queer community will be your sanctuary. Find your tribe. Fuck shit up. Focus. And, yes mi reina linda, eres una gran marica.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Yes. I am navigating a cis heteropatriarchal world that wants my submission and complacency. I come from a place where being a writer, an artist, a gender-fluid trans person wasn’t even an option, wasn’t even articulated as something real. I left all that I knew to be normal and true and threw myself into the abyss of queer magic not knowing what I’d found.
Why do you get up every morning?
Because coffee is so damn good. Also, I’m a morning person. I love the smell of the air in the morning it reminds me of being thirteen, walking to the bus stop in Bogotá smoking cigarettes and checking my eyeliner. I got HOPE is what I mean.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?
Yes, Pedro Lemebel, Pedro Lemebel—my sissy literary mother (although I never met him). Pedro Lemebel blew the world of language open for me with his faggy rococo tucu-tucu. He had no interest in clean, straight-forward language, no interest in following the (masculine) tradition of Latin American voice, but rather in the embellishment of story like it’s a bolero singing from the page. His use of Chilean slang is precious. Pedro would perform on the streets during the Pinochet years in Chile, calling attention to AIDS but also to the treatment of sex workers, of working-class people, of indigenous and poor people in Chile. He gave zero fucks about what people made of him. Pedro never wanted to be incorporated into the fabric of gay normativity, he understood the brilliance and saborcito of being a loca. She owned it. He lived in that in-between state: he called himself a “loca”, which in Latinamerican queer slang is old-school for a very flamboyant faggot. I identify with it so much.
What’s wrong with society today?
We value property over human lives. We hold on to oppressive systems because we’re too lazy to do the work of untangling the mess in our own house. We’re too complaisant with white supremacy. We let fear guide us. We don’t swim naked in the river enough.
Where do you go to find sanctuary?
Reading has always been extremely calming for me. When I first moved to the States, I would sit in corners reading—amidst my evangelical Christian family—while people prayed. I took books everywhere as a teenager trying to find a piece of myself. Trying to not lose myself completely. During church service, during youth group, during family churchy time Juliana always brought a book, took a corner until a tía would remark there she is again! With a libro coño y dale con la joda del libro.
What is your fondest memory?
Singing telenovela opening songs with my grandmother as a kid after school.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
The destruction of white supremacy and all its children: capitalism, sexism, homophobia, etc. I want to see reparations for black and indigenous people. I want to see the literary industry led by queer black women.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
An expression of the imagination. It’s what gives us a sense of who we are, what’s going on. It’s the glue that ties it all together. It’s essential to our existence because otherwise we would SUCCUMB to being joyless bland robots working for The Man or whatever.
What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.
I got some black Doc Martens boots right now. Fashion is an essential part of who I am and it is crucial to my own self-expression; it is how I tell myself, I am here. Clothes let me move beyond the blandness of normativity. I wear extravagant fashions: wigs, big platforms, rhinestones all over my face, eyelashes bigger than my head. Seeing myself beyond what I’ve been taught is possible to inhabit in a body. Beyond the boundaries of the gender imposed on me, on us, there’s that endless possibility that comes with gold lamé and a pair of kitty heels. That playfulness. The joy that I feel when I’m all done, the feeling of ecstatic celebration that is seeing other people dressed extravagantly is essential to my own survival.
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
A few things: I’m working on a novel called “Papi” set in Colombia between 1970s-2000s. Told from two alternating points of view: a 12 year old girl and a 64 year old trans woman. I’m also working on a project of Latinx Trans history with my partner called Would You Be Caught Dead in That Outfit which is an exploration of history through dress-up.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
The real tea: Less white people. No techies.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Right now? In the midst of a pandemic? It means I’m evading white boys with no mask on the sidewalk while I try to get to my girlfriend’s apartment to cook a delicious meal, have a party in front of the living room mirror and dress like bubonic plague doctors.
Have you ever seen a ghost? Or: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
Plenty. In Colombia, all the time. My grandmother was from Cartagena, the coast, she grew up around tons of women. Her family was from Lebanon. Ghosts live among us. That’s never been strange. Strange to me is people who believe in capitalism.
What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned? Or: what was your last moment of awe?
Kindness. I come from a family and a place where we take a lot of pride in being bitches, in knowing how to fight. My father’s lesson to me was always never let anyone walk over you. All of this saved me many times and—to this day, don’t get me wrong—I use those skills because there’s too many motherfuckers loose around. But I remember the first few times I sat at a dharma talk in a meditation group where the teacher spoke of kindness. I never thought I could embrace it. And it has changed my entire life.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
A full sequin one piece navy-blue suit with a black hat and cowboy boots brought to you by the Goodwill. Eye lashes included.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Panela. Bogotá in the mornings. Cunt in the morning.
What are you unable to live without?
Fags femmes and queens.
If you could live in your ideal society, what would your average day be like?