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Diana Solis Rediscovers The Pilsen Of Her Childhood In New Photo Book

Written by on September 16, 2022

Diana Solís, via 3Arts.

When Diana talks about her past, it doesn’t feel like the past. It feels like a great wave, the tide and swell of which is as present as its crest. Part one: Mexico City.

In ’79, I had met these people from Mexico City that were at the gay and lesbian march, March on Washington, 1979. And they happened to be organizers of the gay and lesbian movement in Mexico City. I had gone to Mexico City before then, because I was always going there. I mean, I started going back and forth. And I was at a meeting in ’82, the year before I moved there, and I met the women from Oikabeth. Oikabeth was a radical lesbian group. It’s a Mayan name, which means, “Mujeres que abren caminos y esparcen flores.” There were two iterations, so it was Oikabeth II. And that was the women I met. 

We became really good friends on that trip, and I told them I would come back and that my plans were to live there. They kind of took me under their wing. They took care of me. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have… a lot of money, I had to find a job, all this. And they were very, very wonderful to me. They took care of me, they helped me kind of get on my feet over there. And became very involved in the politics there, in Mexico City. And mainly with the gay and lesbian movement. I was just totally immersed. I had thought, for a while there, ‘I’m never going back to the States.’ That was kind of my thinking. I went there thinking, ‘I’m never going to come back.’ Well, I did, eventually, but. 

I got right away involved in the photographic community there. Thanks to Yolanda Andrade, who’s a very well-known Mexican documentary photographer, who also took me under her wing. A lot of people kind of just said, ‘Come here, kid… We’re gonna help you out.’ Here I was living with a group of girls — women, who were radical lesbians. I mean, it was all part of my life. They were probably some of the best years of my life.

I finally made my own way there. The second year, I met somebody, I had a partner, we decided to have our own place. It’s like, all of a sudden, my surrogate gay mothers were, ‘Yes, go off, dear, and make a life!’ It was just wild! It was great that way, people respected what you needed to do.

After a two-decade detour in painting and illustration, Diana’s latest projects have finally brought her back to portraiture. One of these projects, titled —

Luz: Seeing The Space Between Us.

— will be published as an artist book in the fall of this year. Diana’s photos are connective tissue, moments of light that map the body of her life in community. Part two: At home in Pilsen.

DS: ‘The space between us’ is… I keep thinking of that space… between subject and photographer, that is actually a space that a lot of people don’t really think about, but it’s there. And it’s either a physical space, barrier, or it’s a space of communication. I see it as both things. And that space between us is the space that interests me. It’s like an interstitial space.

So I’m taking mental note, and I’m taking notes about how we form these systems of kinship, especially in queer relationships and queer families. How we’ve always taken the things that were said that we couldn’t participate in, because it was for straight people, we made it our own. If you look at the houses in New York, and the Madrenas there, those are things that are part of other people’s lives, that we thought we could never be a part of, and we take it and we subvert it and make it into our own. It’s a way of survival. It is so interesting that that has not changed in lots of queer communities for many, many years. But then I think about, too, of Latinos, Mexicano, Chicanos, and how we have our own systems of kinship, too, in terms of… those comadres and compadres, and how important that is. I see this, with other people. In fact, for my mini series, which started with you, testing the new equipment, which is ‘Con Orgullo Everyday Of The Year,’ I’m finding my voice again, I think. If I can say that. I mean, I’m photographing practically every day, actually, these days. So it’s a personal journey, but it has to do with the community. 

I kind of thought, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot, that I’ve actually gone back to how I started doing photography, in terms of photographing things that were familiar to me since I was a kid, since I started holding a camera and using it. I’m back doing the same thing. Albeit, with another set of circumstances, in terms of how the community has really changed. Because there was no way that I could do something about this neighborhood, and not present or talk about gentrification through the photography. There’s no way you can do it. 

That really interests me, that idea of how these people, the people that I photograph, how they’re thinking about themselves and why I want them so badly to allow them to be seen the way they want to be seen, not the way I want or society or someone else. And that’s, I think, where… being queer and doing photography is a way for us to change the way people actually see.


Written by Morgan Ciocca

Interview and audio editing by Robin Reid Drake

Transcribed and edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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