Founder of the Seeds Queer Book Club, JC Esquinca, lends their insight on holding spaces for underrepresented groups outside academia
Seeds Queer Book Club highlights underrepresented groups within Tacoma outside the walls of a traditional academic environment, according to club founder JC Esquinea.
“We essentially started it as a way for people to find a space and build a relationship back up with education,” Esquinea said. “Normally, I will be the facilitator, but we try to approach the book club in a non-hierarchical way. So, anyone who wants to be involved in this process or wants to take the lead is welcome to do so.”
This passion for education outside of academia came out of Esquinca’s turbulent end to their college experience.
“I started the book club the year after my last year in college,” they said. “I wasn’t able to graduate because of financial reasons, and I really had a lot of emotions when it came to all the energy and time I spent in academia.”
Esquinca said that in the end, due to their rigorous work schedule and having financial obligations outside of school, they found themselves burned out and weren’t able to finish their last semester.
“I was working a lot, and I was trying to become the creator in the situation and move past it, but I really needed that space. I missed some of the classes, and I missed the people, not necessarily the grades and the fees associated with everything,” they said.
This loss inspired Esquinea to think creatively about what they could do to implement education back into their life in a way that deviates from the setting of a college institution.
“For me, the book club really provided a lot of healing, and it was a way to move past some of that trauma, and I hope that other people felt that as well. I had the honor of meeting so many people within different experiences of not only their queer identity but their Latinx identity,” they said.
Within SQBC, Esquinea emphasized the experience of being different and creating an environment where those differences can be celebrated, where change is not feared but rather welcomed.
“At first, we started as a Latinx queer book club. But then as we started interrogating what Latinx meant, we started to see that it meant a merit of different things,” they said
“While we primarily look at the books from a queer lens, we try to have a revolving list of authors Esquinea said.”We try to keep the gatekeeping away, even when it comes to definitions. So it’s constantly evolving and changing.”
They then said that’s why the mascot of the Axolotl indicates how the club approaches the book club. Esquinea said SQBC has had to embrace the changes it and the world around it faced. With the pandemic’s impact, they found themselves shifting toward modifications that would allow them to continue remotely.
“We meet online, once a month. It’s been consistent for the last three years. We meet every first Saturday of the month at 1 p.m,” they said
“It has been really great to have it virtual because of the pandemic. However, when we first started, we met up at Kings Books, which is a local, very queer-friendly bookstore. So, it just felt like a natural place to reach out to and see if we could get a book club started.” Esquinea said.
Even with the given circumstances of not being able to meet up at Kings Books like they used to, Esquinea said they believe that having an online presence has made their book club more accessible to all and has provided close-knit connections amidst the pandemic.
“Having a space to talk, meet and be social when it’s not allowed otherwise has been really important to a lot of us and our mental health. Or it’s just good to have some normalcy when it comes to things we really care about. So the book club has been a really good way to lift us through this pandemic.” Esquinea said.
With the growing technology utilized by the club, some of the materials are free and accessibility is at the core of the SQBC. Inaccessibility to obtain a book for the allotted period it’s being read doesn’t stop one from participating in this book club.
“The price of books, especially during this economic time and anytime in general, can be a bit of a burden. So, we try to alleviate some of that stress,” they said. “Some folks have been really helpful by donating to us, so we always have a fund to help folks get access to books as well when they want to join. And we also have a great partnership with the library.”
If a prospective member does not feel comfortable or if someone has bad experiences regarding education or reading as a whole, Esquinea and the members of this book club said they understand and relate to this perspective because they have felt these feelings toward education.
“Since I came here when I was 14, trying to learn a whole new language, trying to read, grammar and all that stuff were things that I really hated so much. I still hate grammar, and I hate sentence structure. But what really drives me is having a story that’s so impactful. I feel like especially, stories that are often not within the ivory tower paradigm will propel a lot of people who might also have a tumultuous relationship with reading to connect more with these stories. That has been my case,” they said.
Because of their personal experiences with schooling and understanding the difficulties of getting through a book, SQBC makes many adjustments for those who may have trouble with books or keeping up.
“We also don’t expect folks to finish the whole body of work or the whole text,” Esquinea said.
“Even if it’s doing your own investigation of the author or reading a little bit of the preface or chapter, just to get some ideas of what might come next … It’s always important for us to welcome new perspectives and interrogate what already exists,” they said.
Although this is their philosophy, Esquinea doesn’t hesitate in still thinking about what book they believe everyone should probably read at least once.
“‘There There’ by Tommy Orange. It’s not necessarily a queer book, but he is someone who is indigenous, and he talks a lot about identity,” Esquinea said. “He has this brilliant way of talking about people who are often left out of the conversation; people struggling with gentrification.”
Aside from this recommendation, Esquinea also recommends that people attend events and workshops they will hold in the near future.
“I think we should be having more zine workshops in the future, we really want to get that through and hopefully an open mic night in the next coming months. All virtually, of course,” they said.
Zines are short self made comics anyone can create about any topic that may be of interest to them. Beside, this workshop, they’re also venturing into new realms.
“We have a workshop with a writer coming up on March 24. It’s going to be free and open to the public, and it’s going to be lead by Gloria Muhammad. That’s going to be one of the first workshops that we do by ourselves,” they said.
SQBC would not have been successful without the help of community groups or members along the way to help uplift them up, according to Esquinea.
“I think a big person that has been really helpful and came to a lot of our discussions is Sarah Chavez. She is a professor at UW Tacoma. She has been great to seek out for advice or go to for questions. There’s also a great group called Latinx Unidos of the Southsound (LUSS). They do a lot of advocacy but also a lot of cultural events to build up representation within the city,” they said.
Ready for what the future holds, Esquinea said they’re proud of the work the book club members have accomplished so far.
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