Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: Cuauhtémoc Peranda


As an Indigenous writer and artist, I believe in honoring my heartwork through reciprocity. For me, one means of giving and receiving has been sharing the work of other Indigenous artists and uplifting them however I can. I’m grateful to The Rumpus for providing us a space during Native American Heritage Month and for letting me curate this space each November. This year, I wanted to take my role a step forward by offering a fellow poet a chance to co-curate. I first met Cuauhtémoc when they were a freshman at Stanford; I was their RA. Cuauhtémoc was an artist from the beginning; the first time I saw them dance it was poetry, it was image and metaphor in motion, and I am grateful they continue to dance and write poetry. I look forward to you learning more about them and their heartwork.

– Tanaya Winder

This is a dark time in which we find ourselves, but such times are not unusual to the Indigenous writer, to the Native American storyteller. To us, a pandemic, a disease, a breaking of civility, Black lives dehumanized and undervalued, and erasure of our land and our stewards, our protectors of sacred spaces, is not unusual—it is continued oppression to our people as a result of colonial heteronomative patriarchal capitalism. And yet, we Indigenous writers continue to find beauty. And more, us queer Indigenous artists find and experience love, innovate new ways to sing and dance in our poetic expressions, and bridge communities with story, so that futures of unity can be invoked. This is how we continue. This is how we continue… This is how we resist. This is how we persist and thrive…

In honor of Native American Heritage Month I dance, celebrate, and uplift several queer and two-spirit Indigenous writers whose work tells us the stories often unheard, gone missing, yet behold and begin to complete our full truth.

It is urgently necessary to look to our femmes, our gender non-conforming, our two-spirit ancestors and contemporaries, for guidance in solving our biggest issues, and sharing our smallest, most intimate words. It is urgently necessary to listen, and be open to our queer and transgender Indigenous words—for they are unfortunately still unusual, but, thus, provide us with space to renew, reclaim, and replenish our resistance. May these works find your stirring and stir you some more… As a cihuaiyolo butch queen, a Mescalero Apache, a Mexika-Chichimeca/Cano writer and curator, I continue to trouble my own understanding of what I can do to practice innovation in myself and in my social justice. I think to the land and the sky, to the wildfires in our forests, and the hurricanes of the oceans, that we must start to build together new ways of experiencing, and healing each other—non-human bodies included.

Here, with you, we start with poems, stories, words, readings, writings…

– Cuauhtémoc Peranda


Haikus for Thelma

Where Is our Yes AND
for our black native voices
we human students

we need to be heard
our bodies are not here for
your teachings as cups

make us your equals
urgently the time is now
from here WE will grow

notes on the process:
we need more teach-ins, where students work with each other, and teachers, and staff, and, and and…
we need not always abide by a structure of a haiku
we need to critically analyze aesthetics
we need to note the imperialism of Japan


The Perfect Dancer… My Favorite Dancer

I cried today.
Memories abound…

Quarantine has us finding ourselves in closed spaces, in order to find freedom.
How do you stay in the house all day and not go anywhere?1
Ralph Lemon once directly asked me.
You change the house… where, now,  is the cali, our hogan?
And into the car I went, my I-guess mobile home.
She drives forward, and my mind walks in reverse.

Two spirits…

She plays.

That free CD from Long Beach Pride 2016 Club Papi Remix came on,
Track 2, Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us” Baggi Begovic’s club mix plays as I travel in my motorized bubble of isolation…2
And I see him…

There he stands.
Between the clouds and the stars, and through the passing florescence striking windshields.
Tall, with dark black hair—straight, fluffy pompadour wave…
…glasses, and a bro shirt…
Jeans, sneakers, and almond eyes…closed.
Free dancing, listening-feeling this now his gaysian papi club remix…3
His jam. His song. His dance. His freedom.

On repeat
his “bad dancing”4
thinking it was the greatest dance I’ve ever witnessed…5


Just the pure raw emotion of wanting love…
Do you see that?
Do you know that?
Have you experienced the yearning of being a very young n8v gay boy too unknown to utter his wants?
Do you know that…
Wanting love, and being told, slapped, punched, screamed, pushed: no.6

But here, on the dance floor of my mind…
I remember seeing you…
Feeling the freedom to express it…
without critique, with unity in unification, swimming in this bop!

Just the pure raw emotion of wanting love…
Crying, clawing…
Pulling at… on the dance floor.
Feeling his hair,
muscles, sweat, body,
without performance or indulgence… Just pure response.
Free dancing, listening-feeling this now his gaysian papi club remix…

It was like, he understood what I heard,
It was like
what I wanted… what I felt…
Like he too
found gay freedom in the darkness of a Q.T.’POC discoteca floor…

I hear Kelly… and I feel your dance, your body screaming:
“people like us, we’ve got to stick together”
“it’s hard to get high, when you’re living on the bottom”
“we are all misfits living in a world on fire!”
“signing for the people, like us! The people like us!”
dancing for the people like us
Remembering, writing, for the people like us…

I am that baby gay. We are free.

I would cry and dance in fury
fancy cheap lights
felt the queerness, rage, love, lust, and wholeness I could not… never…
on that floor… strobed7
into unity… flight… love?

And there he was…
A boo who could match me.
Dance with me.

Could we dance forever just for tonight?
We did.


1. Lemon, Ralph, “How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?” 2009.

“Ralph Lemon’s ‘How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?’ filmed as part of, a contemporary performance on-demand site. A multimedia performance including film, live narration and dance, ‘How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?’ explores loss and transcendence experienced in human partnerships. Reflecting on his relationship with 102-year-old former sharecropper, carpenter, and gardener Walter Carter and Andrei Tarkovsky’s science fiction classic, Solaris, Lemon and six dancers create a performance which arcs from turbulent physicality to restorative grace.”

2. Begovic, Bagi. Club Mix “Kelly Clarkson’s People Like Us.” RCA Record, 2012.

3. Club Papi: San Jose, “Ain’t no party like a Club Papi party.”

We met there, I sat, at a booth, and there you were, stoking, grabbing clawing, getting your life… this your jam…

4. Dickinson, Ben, Ghost Robot, and Ono, Yoko, “Bad Dancer.” Plastic Ono Band, 2013.
“Yoko Ono took her late husband’s former bandmate’s lead when producing her latest music video for Bad Dancer, from her recent LP, Take Me to the Land of Hell. Sir Paul McCartney enlisted Sean Penn and Johnny Depp for his Queenie Eye video and Ono has likewise rostered an all-star cast. ‘These are creative people and they have unique movements. They don’t move like other people do,’ Ono told Rolling Stone.” – Greg Moskovitch, “Yoko Ono Unveils All-Star ‘Bad Dancer’ Video,” Music Feeds, 2013.

5. [As a dance scholar, you think that I am supposed to ignore the common social dances of the populous, but I cannot deny the beauty of the everyday dancer, as at times, they, in a moment, are better and more informative than anything I have seen staged, or executed on the runway. Dances of critical acclaim, themselves, are sacrificed and spliced into moments by writers, to pull and explain significance and merit—this moment seeing him dance, is no different. A stage, a floor, a night, a feeling…]

6. Todd, Matthew, “Self-loathing among gay people is nothing new. We’re overwhelmed by it,” in LGBT rights, The Guardian, February, 2018.

7. Legar, Max, “Cured?” Bay Area Reporter, September 23, 2011.

“Luis Paul Canales, known throughout the San Francisco drag community by the name Strobe, has a relationship with HIV so unique that at one point doctors at UCSF sent a quart of his white blood cells to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, where they were injected into 50 lab rats to determine if Strobe had successfully cured himself of HIV.”


Photograph of Cuauhtémoc Peranda by Lorenzo Wingz Lauren.

Cuauhtémoc Peranda, MFA (Mescalero Apache, Mexika-Chichimeca/Cano: cihuayiolo butch queen) is a sixth-year Critical Dance Studies PhD student at the University of California, Riverside. Their research focuses on the development of the House Ballroom Scene, in particular how, through radical praxes of love, queer, transgender and two-spirit Black peoples deployed the dance form of vogue (voguing/Performance) as transformational resilience via shade, and queering Indigenous knowledge reclamation. They walk and raise children as Father Don'Té Lauren of The Legendary House of Lauren, International. And, in their free time, they love to watch anime, Star Trek, and the Golden Girls—because dramatic friendship is a powerful and entertaining form of love. More from this author →