Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi is a poet, novelist, healer and priestess. We met the way we do in this modern age, on the internet. I peeped the elekes she wore constantly and noted the beautiful spiritual context to her writing, performance and politics. She has written plays, novels and choreopoems. We finally met in person when she performed her soul-stirring poetry at Facing Race 2016, the biannual conference held by Colorlines’ publisher, Race Forward. Since then, Lady Dane has published more books, given more amazing performances and snatched more than a few edges. In a landscape where there is still limited representation of trans women of color, perhaps most exciting is her role on the series “King Ester,” which lives on Issa Rae’s YouTube channel, Color Creative. Here is who Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi thinks she is.
Who are you?
I am a Black, Cuban, Indigenous and Nigerian healer, artist, priestess, author, playwright, actress, singer, dancer, advocate and political commentator. I am the co-editor of “The Black Trans Prayer Book.” I am a partner. I’m a goddess, daughter and, to some folks, I’m a mother. I’m a woman. I’m trans. I exist because my ancestors exist. Our ancestors endured and sacrificed so much because they envisioned us being able to exist fully as ourselves long before we even breathed ourselves into being.
How do you identify racially?
I identify as Black, Latinx and Indigenous. When I talk about Black, it’s as a global identity because my mom is Cuban and Indigenous, my dad is Nigerian and both of them are Black. Like all of these different parts of the world have Black people at the heart of them.
Have you ever filled out the Census? And if you have, how did you answer the question about race?
You know what? I haven’t filled out the Census. I remember the Census coming around when I was little, but when was the last time the Census happened? I didn’t get it in the mail. I might’ve been homeless at the time. I don’t even know how to get one of those.
Are there other times or places that you’ve answered the question of “What is your race” differently?
Because of the universality of Blackness, I generally put down “Black.” When I can, I try to do multiple choice. We’ve been, in the Latinx community, having a conversation around not necessarily using “Hispanic” as a blanket term for Latinx folk because it is highly racialized. It’s highly steeped in White supremacist rhetoric around who’s allowed to be Latinx.
This is why I think that you need to have people who are actually in positions of systemic power to be able to really dissect why we ask these questions this way. The asking of the question in a certain way even feels White supremacist to me.
How will you answer the question on the 2020 Census?
I definitely want to put something about Latinx on it because of how White supremacy works. They like numbers and data, right? [I’m open to any] kind of way that I can say, “Black Latinx Indigenous people exist in this fucking world. Black children of immigrants exist in this world, and we’re not gonna’ stand for this bullshit.” I will do that in whichever ways I can.
What is your definition of Latino/Latina/Latinx?
I think multiple people in multiple institutions have many definitions. For me, what it means is, “What is your lineage, even if you can’t speak Spanish?” But I also will always take it back to asking, “What systems are in place that allow for someone to see a very White-passing person as Latinx but not see a very dark-skinned person as Latinx when they come from the same place?”
[We need a] very honest conversation about anti-Blackness within the Latinx community and where that actually comes from. I feel like so many people who identify as Latinx, who pass as White, or who identify as White oftentimes utilize the Latinx umbrella as a means of avoiding accountability around dismantling their own anti-Blackness.
Gina Torres is one of my favorite actresses and she is Afro-Latinx. We understand that Celia Cruz was Cuban and also Black. But oftentimes when we think about Latinx, we don’t think about people who look like Celia Cruz. What is that about? That is about the fact that colonization happened. Embedded in White supremacy and colonization is colorism and also anti-Blackness.
How do you think the multiple—and maybe contested—definitions of Latino, Latina and Latinx impact efforts toward racial justice?
White supremacy will use anyone to do its dirty work. So, if we’re saying that there is anti-Blackness and internalized White supremacy within certain Latinx communities already, it means that the balm of racial justice has to also be placed there. Everybody can use some racial justice. I think everyone needs to heal from the violence of White supremacy, and everyone needs to deal with their own internalized anti-Blackness. Period. So, the Latinx community is a part of that work too. And why wouldn’t it be?
What is the particular impact of Latinx racial identity on your work?
All of my characters have multiple identities. For example, the Ghetto Goddess series is about a Black trans witch and her Black trans daughter, but there’s a character who is Black and Korean. I see Black people as a part of almost every community in the world. My written worlds reflect that.
Rosana Cruz is a writer, parent, social justice movement leader and intersectional feminist. They have lived in New Orleans for over 20 years and in that time, worked closely with numerous organizations in the struggle for racial justice, LGBTQIA+ liberation and immigrant rights. They currently serve as a senior fellow at Race Forward, the national racial justice organization that publishes Colorlines. Essays by Cruz have been published in hipMama, Bridge the Gulf Project, Colorlines and the anthology Mamaphonic. Cruz is a 2017 VONA Voices Fellow. Short fiction by Cruz is forthcoming in the Spring 2020 issue of Black Warrior Review.