Sonia Guiñansaca is an international award-winning writer, cultural organizer, and social justice activist. They emerged as a national leader in the migrant artistic and political communities where they coordinated and participated in groundbreaking civil disobedience actions. Guiñansaca co-founded some of the largest undocumented organizations in the US, including some of the first artistic projects by and for undocumented writers and artists. Guiñansaca has worked for over a decade in both policy and cultural efforts, building equitable infrastructures for migrant artists. As a writer and performer, they create narrative poems and essays on migration, queerness, and nostalgia, often collaborating with filmmakers and visual artists. They have been awarded residencies and fellowships from the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation, Poetry Foundation, British Council, and Hemispheric Institute for Performance & Politics. Guiñansaca has performed at the Met, NYC Public Theater, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery and has been featured on PEN America, Interview Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Teen Vogue, Diva Magazine UK, CNN, NBC, and PBS to name a few. Their writing is also featured in the 2nd edition of the Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism anthology, seen below in Guiñansaca’s photos. Their migration and cultural equity work has also taken them to London and Mexico City to advise on migrant policy and arts programming. Guiñansaca is currently consulting for national social justice organizations, cultural institutions, and foundations on artists convening, cultural activations, and civic engagement.

Follow their work on Instagram @TheSoniaG and at SoniaGuinansaca.com.

What role does clothing play in your life?

"Clothing plays a crucial role in how I am able to show up in the world and how I regain autonomy over my body. Through clothing, adornment, and styling, I can imagine myself, I can be fluid, and I can tap into futurism and gender queerness. I can tend to the nostalgia that comes from being away from 'home.'

When I was little, my abuelitas helped me pack a burgundy luggage, which was supposed to carry all my belongings/clothes/toys from Ecuador to New York. How do you pack all that is yours before migrating? I look up to my five-year-old self for the way she must have mourned, honored, and departed from her things. I’m grateful to have had my grandmothers guiding me in this process. I managed to pack my favorite black pants, purple long sleeve shirt that had soccer cartoons on the front, a notebook with drawings, and a few teddy bears. I left so much behind. For the flight, I wore denim overalls that had pastel alphabet letters patched on the thigh area, a white long sleeve turtleneck, white sneakers, and a really bad bowl haircut. I don’t remember much of the flight; I do remember finally reuniting with my parents in NYC. They had migrated before me, and I had not seen them since I was born. I fixed my turtleneck, brushed hair away from my eyes, and shyly said hello to my parents. I share this because, in this moment of reunion, the overalls surely served a bigger purpose. I was a scared, tiny, gender-nonconforming kid making sense of migration. My overalls and turtleneck protected me. And 30-plus years later, I still lean on overalls and turtlenecks for this ritual of arrival, belonging, honoring, and protection. 30-plus years later, I am still imagining myself real for that five-year-old self."




Sonia is wearing the Harper Jacket in Black Cotton Canvas (see a similar stylesize OS, the Georgia Tee in Ivory Midweight Linen size OSP, and the Clyde Work Pant in Black Cotton Canvas (see a similar style) size 12-Regular.


How is clothing political to you?

"Clothing does not exist in a bubble removed from the rest of the world. Clothing is cultured. It is political. It is classed. It is intertwined with economics, ecology, migration, gender, and many other issues. I’ve noticed people talk about clothing and style only by focusing on the aesthetics of them. When we talk about clothes and style, we should talk about ethics—the responsibility of knowing how these clothing pieces came to be, not just for environmental rights, but also for their interconnectedness with wages, labor rights, and the safety of garment workers. What oceans, land, air, and humans have been impacted by your fashion? I’m not asking for folks to politicize clothing; I’m letting you know that it is already political. The clothes many of us have access to speak to income inequality, the fast fashion industry, capitalism’s disregard for environmental and ecological justice, and exploitative labor practices.

For example, clothing is political because there is labor of human beings that creates these clothes. My mother and grandmother both have worked in these clothing factories. From 1995 to 1999, I remember going with my dad to pick up my mom at 35th Street and 8th Avenue from her factory job—one of the jobs available for her, an undocumented person. She was mistreated there, often not paid on time, and received wages that did not honor her labor. My grandma worked in a similar factory and still works in one in Queens. She is in her 60s and has self-advocated for PTO, holiday breaks, and better working conditions. Their experiences are not isolated. There are clothing factories around the US that continue operating with hazardous working conditions; they continue to exploit and prey on their garment workers who are oftentimes undocumented women. And there are also many factories owned by US companies who have exported production to other countries around the world in order to skip out on workers’ rights and ignore safety violations to make a profit by mass producing clothes cheaply.

Lastly, clothing as style, custom, tradition, and memory is political. For Indigenous and Black and Brown communities, this is important because it is about preserving our cultures, families, and traditions that the United States government and white supremacy have tried to erase and suppress through genocide, wars, forced assimilation, legislation, and racist intervention. This is how we archive and document. This is how we continue existing."


As a person who lives within many intersections and within a politicized body, how do your clothes express these lived experiences?

"I live at the intersection of being queer, migrant, working class, Brown, Indigenous, a poet, genderqueer ( #PapiFemme), a person with chronic back pain, and many other layers. These intersections inform my clothes and what I want to wear every day. Getting dressed then becomes a daily ritual of self-defining, practicing my agency and autonomy.

For example, I coined the term #PapiFemme about half a decade ago in order to make room for my genderqueerness. When I’ve looked up 'genderqueer,' 'gender-nonconforming,' or 'non-binary,' the images and language were highly saturated with skinny, white, 'masculine of center,' able bodies. They did not look like me. The definition of who is genderqueer most of the time is focused on a certain American background and leaves no room for my experience as a migrant with my clothing style and culture who speaks Spanish, who is Latinx. In addition, being 'out' to my family meant finding language to explain to them what genderqueer means. Finding language that did not erase my upbringing, that did not distance them from me, meant finding language that was easy on our tongue. So when I created and started using ​#PapiFemme​, it was about creating a shared language for my family to use along with me. It is a term for people like me who are four things: Latinx and Femme, gender-nonconforming and a person of color. ​PapiFemme reminds me of home and tenderness and high-Femme, hard and migrant.

My family uses 'Papi' all the time! And I’m Femme all the time with They/Them pronouns! So #PapiFemme it is. ​And you see all of this in my clothes, the shoes I choose to match it with, the haircut by either Queer NYC barber Kabira Dame or Queer LA barber Joyce Landicho, and the earrings that heighten the glory I want to present in said outfit (especially earrings by Courtney Little Axe). The clothes I wear honor the earth and local business of color, and the makeup I wear is animal cruelty-free. I gift clothes that I no longer wear to my dear friends, and I go to local thrift stores whenever I travel. My clothes pay homage to my mom’s ’90s style and black eyeliner, my abuelita Alegria’s softness when she wore her traditional clothes, and my dad’s early 2000s looks when he used to drive his white Nissan sedan to the park to play volleyball with his friends. On that drive, I sat in the back seat listening to his Fernandito Villalona music on blast while he sang along. My clothes express these lived experiences as a New Yorker, as a migrant, as #PapiFemme, as fat, and as an artist in joy and in celebration."


Sonia is wearing the Harper Jacket in Black Cotton Canvas (see a similar stylesize OS, the Georgia Tee in Ivory Midweight Linen size OSP, and the Clyde Work Pant in Black Cotton Canvas (see a similar style) size 12-Regular.


What is one step clothing consumers can take to move the industry needle towards inclusivity?
 

"One step all of us can take is to leave behind outdated brands that do not honor you or your community and that only want your money. Support brands whose mission is to dress people that look like you and merands that have values and honor all living things, brands that want to dress people of all sizes. For example, Elizabeth Suzann has created such a brand and company grounded in this, and that’s why we love the clothes. The fit is extra special because of the values.

The brands that we are leaving behind are brands that are selling cultural appropriation. Some things are not for all of us, so if your favorite brand is selling clothes that copied Indigenous patterns and traditional sacred clothing, stop buying from them. Support Native and Indigeous businesses and cultural workers. Support can look like this: buy what they produce, donate funds to the causes that matter to them, and promote them on your social media. Support does not look like purchasing pieces with designs or iconography that you do not understand and pieces that were never meant for you."


What is a political issue you are passionate about?

"Immigration is an issue I am passionate about. I learned at a young age how this brutal, inhumane, and unjust immigration system works. There are draconian laws being passed in our countries that negate people's humanity. There is an anti-immigrant culture inundating our media, books, movies, academia, and our elected officials. I am one of the lucky ones who was able to adjust my immigration status once I got married. That means I was undocumented for 20-plus years since the age of five. Growing up undocumented, I did not have access to proper healthcare, I did not have access to scholarships, I could not apply for fellowships or find stable employment, I could not participate in many academic or athletic programs, and I could not drive. I was always scared about being deported and immigration officers coming to get my family. When my grandparents passed away, my dad and I could not go to Ecuador to bury them. We mourned from afar.

My dad migrated and hoped one day to return to hug his parents one more time. He tried to adjust his immigration status, and it was a hard process. Sometimes there was not even a ​process​. He waited. He called his parents as much as he could. He told them to keep waiting, and they waited as long as they could. When they died, they were buried in a tomb that my father has yet to visit. I still have family members and friends waiting for 'papers,' and they keep waiting. Waiting—like many people in detention centers, like many waiting at the border, like many people in our communities, like many people in so many countries, not just in the US, because migration is a global issue. The wait and the way our immigration system is set up are terrorizing forces. I could use this paragraph to write you an Immigration 101 breakdown and a historical account, but as someone who is migrant, I would rather tell you the following: I wish I did not have to be passionate about this political issue because the day I am not means the world has no borders, no prisons, and no detention centers, and migrants around the world live beautiful, humane lives."


Sonia is wearing the Clyde Trench in Natural Cotton Canvas (see a similar style) size L, the Clyde Jumpsuit in Natural Cotton Canvas (see a similar style) size L-Regular, and the Georgia Tee in Moss Silk Crepe size OSP.


What is one concrete way you want people reading this to take action today?

"We are in a pandemic that is affecting all of us, which means it is impacting our most vulnerable in the worst scenarios. We have seen the dangerous, xenophobic, anti-Asian, anti-migrant rhetoric spewing throughout the country even more right now. The government is using federal funding for immigration detention and enforcement operations and is asking for additional funding for ICE and CBP in stimulus packages. Right now there are thousands of undocumented, migrant, asylum seekers in detention centers and prisons. These are mothers, children, people with disabilities, Trans people, and people with chronic pain who have no access to proper medical care or any type of ​care at all. People were already dying inside these detention centers before COVID-19 because of the inhumane conditions and the abuse happening inside those centers.

Now, many more are dying, and they are all trapped in there. The spread of this virus in detention facilities is an immediate threat to the lives of those detained as well as to the public. We need to #FreeThemAll. This is a campaign started by Detention Watch Network, a national coalition targeting government officials at all levels to demand immediate action to free all people from detention. Doctors, advocates, government officials, and even a former ICE director have been sounding the alarm to act with urgency. ICE should immediately use its authority to release all people. This is a mass death sentence for immigrants if they remain in these detention facilities. One concrete way to take action is to learn more about the #FreeThemAll campaign and the #DefundHate campaign. Learn about what is happening at DetentionWatchNetwork.org or on Instagram @detentionwatch, and you will find so much more information and many ways to get involved, like sending video postcards to Congress."








      Earrings by Hupa and Yurok artist Kristina Fiore, hair by Joyce Landicho, and tattoos by NYC artist Valente.