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6.1: Reclaiming Jota/o/x and Jotería

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    Etymology of Jota/o/x

    I remember being called a joto when I was a kid. It was painful when my cousins, family members who I loved, used that slur to belittle me and dehumanize me. I carried shame from that for many years. Today I have healed from those experiences. I am proud to be a joto and find beauty in my queerness. 

    The etymology and meaning of the terms joto/a/x and jotería are important to understand the shift from derogatory insults to terms of empowerment and the development of jotería studies as an interdisciplinary academic field of study. The term jotería derives from the colloquial Spanish language term joto (sissy, faggot) for gay men in Mexico and Mexican and Chicanx communities in the US.4 The word derives from jota (Cell Block J) of the Lecumberri Federal Prison (1900-1976) in Mexico City where prison authorities kept effeminate men isolated from the rest of the prison population starting in the early part of the 20th century.5 Prisoners in cellblock J were called jotos and the word became synonymous with homosexuality.6 A colorful artistic representation of the term Joto is displayed in Figure 6.1.1.

    The word Joto with each letter in a different box with color backgrounds. Background colors are red, teal, pink and rose
    Figure 6.1.1:Joto” by Eddy Francisco Alvarez Jr, Flickr is licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

    Reclaiming and Redefining Jotería

    While “joto” and “jota” have been used as a hurtful slur that impacts one’s sense of self, it has been reclaimed and resignified as a term of empowerment and beauty for many. This reclaiming as a “linguistic subversion may create new worlds in the present.”7 Juan Sebastian Ferrada argues that “through the reclaiming of jotería, Latinx communities resignify their own futures into existence.”8 In 2021 The Los Angeles Times printed the word jotería in a positive way in an article about a gay bar in downtown Los Angeles that was struggling to survive during COVID.9 Based on an interview I did with the journalist, she cited my use of “jotería spaces” in talking about the importance of bars and clubs for jotería. This is a big deal because that word is not used often in journalistic material. This also shows it can be reclaimed and redefined in popular media and not just in-group usage. As the rest of this chapter shows, jotería has not only been reclaimed but has empowered many people to be their authentic selves while doing work to uplift their communities and heal from past traumas attached to homophobia and transphobia. Scholars, artists, and activists then have created a new discourse around what jotería means and what its liberatory praxis looks like. Ellie Hernandez underscores that we “have to start creating discourses'' around these topics.10

    Two examples of artists reclaiming the word joto or jota are Chicana lesbian playwright and performer Monica Palacios and queer Chicano poet and performer Yosimar Reyes. In 2015, Palacios wrote and performed along with two other artists Vanessa Terán and Andrea Vargas, a show titled “Jota Love” at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, California. The performances consisted of different genres including comedy and dance by Latina/o artists in Los Angeles. The other example of artists reclaiming the world joto or jota are queer Chicano poet Yosimar Reyes and artivist (artist + activist) Julio Salgado, who in collaboration with the online creative expressions organization Dreamers Adrift (co-founded by Salgado), created a short video called “Behind the Image: Quiero Que Me Llames Joto” (I Want You to Call Me Joto), based on a poem by Reyes, which he recites as Salgado illustrates. “I want you to call me joto,” he says in the poem, not as an insult or a joke but in a humanizing way.  As the poem unfolds, and the poet resignifies (gives new meaning) the word joto, he confronts the pain the word has caused him but also affirms that he has learned to love himself.  In the video, Reyes recites his poem, presumably written for a parent, there are scenes of Salgado in the process of creating an illustration of Reyes, and scenes of Reyes writing the poem. By the end of the video, there is the completed drawing of the poet, arms raised high with the words “Quiero que me llames joto” across his bare body, and Reyes’ handwritten words from the poem on a bright pink background. Reyes’ face emanates pleasure and peace. The juxtaposition of Salgado’s sketching and Reyes’ writing that lead to the finished product, the final illustration at the end of the poem, points to the process of self-integration, self-love, and wholeness, which Reyes suggests is possible through the reclaiming of a word like joto. 

    Over the years, the term jotería has developed multiple meanings. Many queer Chicanx and Latinx organizations, especially in the southwest have used jota, joto and joteria as  empowering terms in their slogans or in posters they have used in protests, as you’ll learn more about later in the chapter. On their website, the Association for Jotería Arts, Activism and Scholarship AJAAS, defines jotería as a noun: “queer Latina/o, Chicana/o Indigenous people; a reclaimed term of empowerment.”11 They also describe it as an adjective: “relating to or supporting queer Latina/o, Chicana/o, and Indigenous people” and “a decolonial queer feminist sensibility and politics, a mode of seeing, thinking, and feeling geared towards empowerment and social transformation.” In alignment with the definitions put forward by AJAAS, communications scholar Robert M. Gutierrez-Perez defines jotería as “an identity category, a cultural practice, and a social process.”12 Luis M. Andrade argues that these definitions are an “interplay between individual and group processes and practices” showing “the productivity and complexity of the term.”13 We can observe these meanings manifested in the testimonios, or “jota-historias” of participants in José Manuel Santillan’s research on La Jotería, a Chicanx Latinx queer student activist group at UCLA.14 Alex, one of the participants in his study said that he embraced the word jotería because he saw himself as part of the community, “a community that I come from being queer, working class, Chicano, and [with] immigrant parents. Like many other jotas y jotos, I know its not that easy to separate our identity from our queerness and our jotería.”15 These examples of what jotería means to student activists are called “jotería-historias.”16 Jotería, albeit imperfect, is an inclusive term that spoke to both their queer and Chicanx identities and also encompassed their gender and other parts of their identities. While these moments of reclamation are important, Francisco Galarte reminds us that joteria studies and Chicanx studies must be inclusive of trans perspectives and that transgender as an identity and frame of analysis helps us think differently about rigid gender binaries embedded in Chicana/o scholarship even in recent queer Chicana/o scholarship.17


    4 Eddy Francisco Alvarez Jr. and Jorge Estrada, “Joteria Studies,” in Global Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trsngender and Queer (LGBTQ) History, eds. Howard Chiang, Anjali Arondekar, Marc Epprecht, Jennifer V. Evans, Ross G. Evans, Hannadi Al-Samman, Emily Skidmore, and Zeb Tortorici (New York: Charles Scribner’s Son, 2019), 863.

    5 Alvarez Jr. and Estrada, “Jotería Studies,” 863.

    6 Robert Buffington, “Los Jotos [The Jotos]: Contested Visions of Homosexuality in Modern Mexico,” in Sex and Sexuality in Latin America, ed. Daniel Balderston and Donna J. Guy (New York: New York University Press 1997), 118-132; Magalli Delgadillo, “El Palacio Negro que invento a los jotos” El Universal, January 6, 2016,

    7 Juan Sebastian Ferrada, “Resignifications: Linguistic Resistance and Queer Expressions of Latinidad,” in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Sexuality, eds. Kira Hall and Rusty Barret (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 2018.

    8 Ferrada, “Resiginifications.”

    9 Andrea Castillo,  “A Lifeline for LGBTQ Latinos on the Brink of Closure,” Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2021,

    10 Ellie Hernandez,  Zoom, Epilogue Books,  October 14, 2022

    11 "Jotería” Association for Joteria Arts Activism and Scholarship, accessed December 8, 2022,

    12 Robert M. Gutierrez-Perez, “Disruptive Ambiguities: The Potentiality of Joteria Critique in Communication Studies,” Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research 14, no. 2 (2015): 92.

    13 Luis M. Andrade, “Joteria Studies and/in Communication,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia August 15, 2022.

    14 José Manuel Santillana, “Somos Jotería: UCLA Chicanx Latinx Student Activists Fighting for Social Justice,” in Transmovimientos: Latinx Queer Migrations, Bodies and Spaces, eds. Ellie Hernandez, Eddy Francisco Alvarez Jr., and Magda García (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 2021), 34.

    15 Santillana, “Somos Jotería,” 40.

    16 Anita Tijerina Revilla and José Manuel Santillana, “Joteria Identity and Consciousness,” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 39, no.1 (Spring 2016): 167.

    17 Francisco J. Galarte, “Trans* Chican@; Amor, Justicia, y Dignidad” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 39, no.1 (Spring 2014), 229-234.

    This page titled 6.1: Reclaiming Jota/o/x and Jotería is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Eddy Francisco Alvarez Jr. (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .