Date of Interview: November 8, 2016
Name: Cullan Bonilla
Location: West Chester, PA
How often do you bathe or shower?
I would say I shower once a day and I would also say I take a bath once a day ::laughs::. I hate that I use so much water but it’s the only thing that really helps with chronic joint and nerve pain. I think my life would be better if I was surrounded by hot water all the time.
If you were an underwater creature which one would you be?
I think I would be a manatee. I think I identify with them because they’re gentle and they move really slowly and they spend most of their time eating or resting… So, I’m going to go with manatee.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about a lot of things. I’m really interested in cooking and food and the cultural aspects of it. I’m very interested in social justice issues because I have a lot of intersecting identities and they impact the way I relate to the world around me. I’m very passionate about being a mom to everyone around me, basically, making sure that all of my friends are taking care of themselves and everyone is happy and healthy. I’m also passionate about animals, I really love animals.
What do you mean by “intersecting identity?”
Because there’s not just one kind of oppressed identity, you know, things can intersect on different levels. Different manifestations of oppression, in race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc., they can happen simultaneously and reinforce one another. So for example, for me, I’m a non-binary, queer, disabled/chronically ill Afroborinqueñx, and my experience is different from that of a non-binary white person or an able-bodied person of color. I am half white but I’m also half Afroborinqueñx, which is a big… Big issue for me that I’m focusing a lot on right now. But that’s what I mean, there are varying levels of oppression depending on your various identities and how they intersect with or reinforce each other.
How are you focusing on your heritage?
Well, with this election, it’s been almost a source of stress for me. Even the Afroborinqueñx side of my family, my father and his father, are voting for Donald Trump. They live in a pretty racist part of Maryland and that’s unfortunately, understandably shaped a lot of their feelings on their own identity. Neither of them will acknowledge or affirm that they are Afroborinqueñx and my dad isn’t really proud of being Puerto Rican, he subscribes pretty heavily to respectability politics. When I was 18 I took a month off from high school and lived in Puerto Rico with my family there, because I basically was told my whole life that my white half is the desirable half and that I should always act whiter and neglect the other side of my identity. No matter how hard I tried, I never was treated like the white people around me so once I started to smarten up about it, I decided that my Puerto Rican identity was something I really wanted to look into and connect with. I felt like I hadn’t had a chance to do that in my life before cuz no one in my family has taught me to do that or to be proud of who I am. My interest in cooking is a part of that, too, for sure. My abuela, my Puerto Rican mom-mom, she was an incredible cook. She actually died about… A year and a half ago at this point, but she took her cooking secrets to the grave. We all wanted her recipes and she purposely left out ingredients from her recipes so that she could go to the grave being the best cook in our family. So ::laughs:: I started learning about cooking after she died, that was another way for me to connect with her and with my identity.
What is something you still struggle with?
Ooooooh… I still struggle with being a mentally ill person and being a chronically ill person and trying to re-enter the work place now after two years of not having a full time job while in treatment for my illness and trying to deal with normal stuff that able-bodied people deal with on a daily basis when I never really know how I’m going to feel on any given day. I still struggle with dealing with that racism especially within my family, especially during this election, I’ve had to unfriend my whole white family on Facebook. I still struggle with feeling “less than” my white peers or my able-bodied peers. I still struggle with self-worth and self-love. I still struggle with existing in the world knowing that my abusers also exist in the world. So I feel like… I guess it could be narrowed down to me struggling with learning how to navigate the world again while taking care of myself and keeping myself vulnerable and soft and positive in spite of everything.
What is something beautiful that you saw today?
Something beautiful that I saw today… I saw a lady at the grocery store who looked exactly like Taraji P. Henson. She was drop-dead beautiful.