Indigenous scholar-activist shares her story of being a Queer Latina

By Megan Freeman and Ana Salgado, Apr. 12, 2022

The Womxn’s Resource Center hosted its event titled “From Pandillas to Perreo” on March 24, featuring a queer, Peruvian woman named Maria Saldana. The event focused on Saldana’s story as an indigenous woman and promoted wellness within ethnic minorities, queer, trans and/or gender-expansive people and communities.

Saldana, also known as “María pero no santa” online, meaning “Mary but not a saint,” is a bisexual Indigenous Charapa Peruana scholar-activist and healer-facilitator.

Saldana is part of the Wellness Equity Love Liberation Survival Healing Center, or WELLS Healing Center, the PUMAS Collective and the Academics for Black Survival and Wellness team. She recently defended her thesis titled Cuentos de Amor: Meditations and Reflections from the Queer Peruvian Diaspora.

Photo Courtesy of Maria Saldana

Through sacred storytelling, she explores queerness and indigeneity, particularly from the Peruvian Amazon and the dance styles perreo and puteria.

During the event, Saldana shared her own explanation of a perreo as “a Black/Afro-diasporic movement” that recognizes the radical history of perreo and reggaeton.

The discussion lasted for two hours as Saldana summarized her life as a queer Latina woman and touched on various topics such as Black, Latinx and queer Latinx theory.

Saldana’s words and how she expresses herself are understood in the Latinx community. Mecir Ureta-Rivera, a senior coordinator of undocumented student services, liked what Saldana had to say.

“People get ultimately challenged right away when they hear the word (puta)instead of thinking critically about what it means for our community today,” said Ureta-Rivera. “I’m so happy that this event was well-attended.”

Ureta-Rivera shared that he felt having Saldana speak at CPP would help his students in a way that he couldn’t because he is a cisgender male. He thought he could not lead specific conversations with his students and invited Saldana to help him connect more within his community and have that open dialogue with his students.

Fatima Lopez-Barrios, the event’s moderator and biology student shared her feelings before attending the event.

“I was actually nervous to begin moderating this event because of the controversial topics that Maria Saldana was going to bring up,” said Lopez-Barrios. “However, I am so happy that everyone enjoyed such an amazing event. After the event, I thought that having these conversations and being able to have a space to be vulnerable about these controversial topics are important for our womxn community or any community in general. Now I wouldn’t second guess the possibility of saying yes to host or participate in another event like ‘From Pandillas to Perreo.’ I loved it.”

Saldana shared that she is inspired and has learned from countless queer and transgender women and femmes of color and is greatly influenced by Charapa culture and her upbringing in South Florida. Her heart continues to be in Iquitos, Peru, where her family resides.

“It was clear to me that while I read as ‘other,’ no one knew what to put next to the blank line,” said Saldana. “My light skin granted me proximity to what was viewed as success or whiteness and simultaneously took me away from my roots.”

Despite being a Latina in a predominantly white neighborhood, Saldana found solace in the concept of “Latinidad,” which refers to the stoppage of the erasure of Indigenous people and helping to raise the voices of other minorities.

“And, in some ways, Latinidad granted me a community and a way to navigate these new spaces I found myself in,” said Saldana. “But over time, calling myself Latina felt like a purposeful erasure of my indigeneity, and while I found community in various Peruvian spaces, it was perreo that allowed me to feel at home being queer.”

To learn more about Saldana, the campus community can visit her website.

Feature image by Ana Salgado. 

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