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Dyke March: Different neighborhood, same message
by Yasmin Nair
2008-07-02

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This year, Dyke March moved to Pilsen, and attracted over a thousand people, according to organizers—the largest contingent in its history. In the weeks beforehand, several questions were raised, including one often voiced anonymously: Are there any queers in Pilsen?

More photos at www.windycitymediagroup.com/photos/DykeMarch2008-EmmanuelGarcia and at www.windycitymediagroup.com/photos/DykeMarch2008-TracyBaim

Others wondered: What would happen when mostly white tranny fags, dykes, lesbians, queers, and gender-fuckers found themselves in the midst of a vibrant neighborhood that's embattled by immigration raids; where the predominant language is Spanish; and whose residents have frequently been painted as homophobic?

Owen Daniel-McCarter, present as legal counsel and as a marshal for the march, anticipated no such problems. According to him, organizers were more concerned about police harassment, but had seen nothing of concern. He stressed the inclusivity of the march: 'All the marshals are instructed to be conscious about pronouns and to be sensitive about gender identity. The training was done in both English and Spanish; all of our materials are in English and Spanish.'

People appeared energized by the shift in locale. Liz Thomson, a member of Asian Pacific Islander Pride, said that while there may have been some initial anxiety in the community, 'I think it's good. It makes me want to be one of the organizers for next year, and maybe organize it in Chinatown or Argyle. We were getting pretty comfortable [ in Andersonville ] .'

The group Bash Back came with a banner that demanded: 'Bash Back Against Gentrification.' A spokesperson, Tim, said that ' [ The banner ] expresses our concern about the rapid gentrification all over this neighborhood.' About the controversy over the move, he echoed a sentiment common among participants: that it drew attention to 'the exclusion of people of color and low-income communities. It's important that there was a controversy to highlight the ways in which Boystown and Andersonville exclude communities.'

Marchers moved down 18th street, accompanied by police cars and several pairs of dykes on bikes ( not the official group, 'just random dykes on bikes,' according to one rider ) . Groups marching included Bash Back, Feminist Response In Disability Activism, Gay Liberation Network, Lesbian Community Care Project, and Pomegranate Health Collective.

There were no pressing throngs of people, and marchers were only allowed to take up one lane. But passersby, drivers, and spectators were overwhelmingly supportive. Nilsa Irizarry, of Orgullo En Acción, said she was 'proud to be among our people, and [ felt ] humbled by their acceptance.'

Slogans and chants were in Spanish and English, and they ranged from 'No more silence, no more violence, we will not be victimized' to 'Gender binaries must be broken, I am not your fucking token.' A golden-winged fairy fluttered by, and a woman wore a t-shirt that proclaimed, 'I am Mexican. Not Latina. Not Hispanic.'

That was only one of many signs that Dyke March was in a different political and cultural space than Andersonville. Pilsen's many local activists come from a Latin American political tradition with a strong leftist agenda. After the crowd streamed into Harrison Park, performances ( emceed by Tania Unzueta ) began with a Spanish song by Papi Chulo ( Xiomara Santana ) . Its infectious rhythm came with somber politics. Titled 'The song of the dead,' the piece, according to Chulo, was about immigration, racism, and Cesar Chavez.

In a different vein, the Radical Cheerleaders chanted 'Fuck, fuck, fuck your gender!' and 'Riot, don't diet!' Meriszcza, in a blouse and long skirt, sang what seemed like a raucous and sexy song. It was in Spanish, leading to befuddlement among some. Spanish speakers chuckled knowingly.

And then came some answers as she occasionally tossed off phrases in English: 'Rejoice … No man will understand … Love her tender, love her hard,' causing everyone to erupt in applause. Nobody seemed to care about translation, or about being out of their comfort zone of language and locale.

But what of fears about homophobes in Pilsen reacting badly to the march? Jose Luis, selling ice cream paletas, was excited about the March. Without being prompted about possible objections, he said, 'I don't see anything wrong. Everybody has their own beliefs, their own decisions. What's wrong is the government and the church. This [ the march ] is everyday life.' For Janet, who's recently moved to Chicago from Atlanta, the crowd seemed mostly young ( 40 and below ) , but she was impressed by the turnout.

To those who might initially have asked, 'Are there any dykes in Pilsen?,' the answer, given the spectrum of queers ranging in race and ethnicity, looked like a yes. But for many the real question might have been: 'Are there any politics left in Dyke March?' The answer, for those left dancing to the rhythms of what can only be described as intense Latina Heavy Metal, seemed to be a resounding yes.

Photos by Tracy Baim, Emmanuel Garcia, Kat Fitzgerald and Yasmin Nair


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