Mayadet Patitucci Cruz Is Healing Chicago Through The Youth
Written by Vocalo Radio on April 27, 2023
Activist and advocate Mayadet Patitucci Cruz is passionate about providing resources to LGBTQ+ and homeless youth. Through their activist organizing, community development efforts and advocacy, they have worked to create a sense of comfort for those looking for relief in the Chicago community.
As a self-proclaimed fat femme queer Boricua, Gage Park native Mayadet Patitucci Cruz is dedicated to undoing the hurt experienced by under-resourced and LGBTQ+ communities. Cruz has been part of activist movements, pride marches and is an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth in Chicago.
Starting their journey at Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Cruz grew an interest in reproductive justice and began to advocate for reproductive rights. Their career led them to work with Broadway Youth Center where they learned more about LGBTQ+ youth dealing with housing insecurity and homelessness. This work allowed Cruz to process and deal with their own experiences with homelessness. Now, as program coordinator for Northwestern University’s downtown Women’s Center, they connect Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ communities to resources in Chicago.
“As someone who was taking action on issues that felt were important to me, what led me to it was wanting to work more with queer and trans young people,” Cruz explained. “Doing some other healing work at the same time, which is what happens when you’re doing organizing. You’re getting pulled to do work that is speaking to you to be done.”
Their work at the Women’s Center each year is tied to a specific theme, and 2023’s centers around harm reduction. They view harm reduction as more than just providing a few resources, but getting to the root of the issue and finding solutions for those missing pieces.
“The idea [of harm reduction] is really honoring where someone is at, and what it is that they’re doing in order to survive, whether or not it goes against your rules or laws,” Cruz described. “It really means to just take off shame of how it is to be a person. How to stay alive in this world.
In this segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Mayadet Patitucci Cruz discusses how they take harm reduction to the next level, finding their chosen family and how they can’t see themselves outside of Chicago.
Where are you from?
I’m from Gage Park, a lot of people don’t know about it. I mean, it holds, definitely, a special place in my heart. I just never really left my neighborhood, for a really long time, until high school. That’s when I literally left my neighborhood for the first time I feel like, besides going to Humboldt Park, of course, just because we were Puerto Ricans on the Southwest Side, which there wasn’t really a lot of. It definitely is a huge Mexican population of a neighborhood. I feel like, growing up, it wasn’t talked about, the way you would hear Humboldt Park or Little Village or Pilsen. But it definitely is just a huge, beautiful community of a lot of immigrant and migrant folks. I think of house parties, and a lot of parties and just surviving with my family and us figuring out how to make it through. When my family came over from Puerto Rico in the ’80s … just all we knew was pretty much contained in that area.
How did you find your way into the work you do?
I feel like I started getting involved in different groups around the time when I was a teenager. I remember going to downtown for the first time, it was the first day for immigrant rights in downtown. It was the day everything closed. We did a huge walkout. It was my first time getting on the train and going downtown and all of that. And I found out about a couple organizations that way, found out about the Chicago Freedom School, and the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, ICAH. And I just kind of felt at home at ICAH as a young person. And definitely after high school I started working there … I was there for I want to say maybe seven or eight years, doing different work around reproductive justice issues, work around Parental Notification of Abortion Act, trying to get the Hyde Amendment repealed. And just really learning about reproductive justice and how it spoke to every aspect of my life. My family’s specific history of experiencing sterilization, in Puerto Rico, or just how the War on Drugs impacted folks in my family, or just our bodies and our families being autonomous and free from violence. That is what reproductive justice means … Everything falls under that category for me, so everything just felt like it was connected to that.
I started doing work at the Broadway Youth Center. I was working with folks who were experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, who were specifically LGBTQ+ folks and in the city and beyond. I was a young person who experienced homelessness, but never really was ready to deal with that. As someone who was taking action on issues that felt were important to me, what led me to it was wanting to work more with queer and trans young people. But also, I think, doing some other healing work at the same time, which is what happens when you’re doing organizing. You’re getting pulled to do work that is speaking to you to be done. I was falling in love with chosen family, and as a queer person, also realizing I was non-binary, becoming more radicalized about my fatness and my body and just how, even in the most radical spaces, fatphobia just seeps in. And I think just constantly looking for connection and folks who were validating. Also just looking amazing and fabulous and just irresistible … Community can be so just delicious in this way of really nurturing ourselves and each other. I think I was just falling in love with that feeling of being connected. I wanted more of it.
Where do you work now?
I support programming at the Women’s Center at Northwestern, at the Chicago campus, specifically. So it’s in downtown. We are an organization that does services to folks who, of course, are in the Northwestern community: students, faculty, staff. But also for the greater community, as well, folks outside of the school can use our space and come to our programs. Usually what we work on every year is connected to an annual theme, and this past year was liberatory harm reduction. A lot of our programming was based off of this really amazing book that Shira Hassan wrote called Saving Our Own Lives. Hassan is an amazing harm reductionist youth worker. It is just how folks end up figuring out ways to keep each other alive and keep ourselves alive, and really not condemning the ways that people have been able to do that. Whether that’s through the relationship with substances or the relationship with a person or a partner … We do things that all have a level of risk. The idea is really honoring where someone is at and what it is that they’re doing in order to survive. Harm reduction, as a concept, has been co-opted by so many organizations and the medical industrial complex, and all of this, that has really made us think that harm reduction is just giving a condom, or harm reduction is just giving a clean needle for folks who are using. Yes, harm reduction can include those things. But the idea is really honoring where someone is at, and what it is that they’re doing in order to survive, whether or not it goes against your rules or laws. It really means to just take off shame of how it is to be a person. How to stay alive in this world, that’s full of oppression and violence. How it is choosing to stay alive, it really has taken off that shame.
Something that Shira always says, that I see come up time and time again, is that change is loss, and loss is trauma. Even good change is loss. It just is, you know? And so it really does, I think, validate everywhere you’re at in a process of grief, or in a process of just changing and transforming, which we all constantly are. That is the goal for us to live in this way. And so it’s just really giving love to yourself or each other … no matter where you’re at in the process.
It’s definitely the work I’ve done in partnership, of course, with the amazing team here. melisa stephen is the program manager, so they’ve definitely been putting everything together, and Njoki Kamau and Sarah Brown, who are director and associate director. We’ve put together a book club, obviously, it’s the first step. If you want a copy of the book, come get a copy of the book. Let’s read it together. Let’s talk about it together.
What has kept you in Chicago?
My chosen family has kept me in Chicago. I just can’t imagine not being in Chicago! I don’t know, I mean, it’s where I found myself. It’s where I’ve found love and heartache and growth and transformation. And it’s where I envision myself to continue to find those things. You think you know everyone, and you never do. You never do. There’s just more. There’s just more brilliance everywhere you look.
Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview and audio production by Ari Mejia
Introduction written by Joshua X. Miller
Photography by Ari Mejia, edited by Morgan Ciocca
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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