Feliz Cumpleaños a La Mera Mera: Frida Kahlo, Cultural Icon and Queer Trailblazer

Viva la Frida

When you live in San Antonio, the three most common images of women that mark the city are La Virgen de Guadalupe, Selena, and Frida Kahlo. Their images materialize themselves in everything from hand-woven bags to gold-encrusted plastic frames, everywhere from Market Square to the Eisenhauer Flea Market. But while La Virgen and Selena are recognized for their giving spirits and ethereal beauty, Frida Kahlo represents another type of woman entirely. Known for her haunting self-portraits and an existence marked by tragedy and political action, Kahlo was not passive or traditionally beautiful. She was la más chingona of the women of her time (and of ours). Openly bisexual, she had no qualms about declaring her opinion. As she once proclaimed proudly, “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.” Still, over a hundred years after her birth, she remains an omnipresent cultural representation of fortitude in the midst of adversity, fearlessness of the unknown, sexual liberation, and opposition to conformity. Today, we celebrate her birth and the irrevocable influence she has had on all things queer, Xican@, and artistic.

In 2010, we celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. That same year, we celebrated what Frida Kahlo would have marked her one hundredth birthday. While her birth certificate says she was born on July 6, 1907, she actually gave her birthday as July 7, 1910, so as to align the year of her birth with the Mexican Revolution. Kahlo spent the large majority of her life at Casa Azul in Coyoacán, her birthplace, but she also spent time in US cities such as San Fransisco, New York, and Detroit. Having developed no affinity for the US, and calling it “Gringolandia,” Frida often urged her husband, Diego Rivera, to bring her back home to Mexico City.

Because I’ve spent time in both the US and Mexico City, I can understand why Kahlo would prefer the latter. There is something completely magical about Mexico City and Casa Azul. Perhaps Kahlo’s presence lingers there, or perhaps seeing her clothes and jewelry evokes her memory, as if she is coming back for her belongings someday. But there, in Coyoacán, I felt the spirit of Frida Kahlo all around me, engrossing me like a warm Mexican shawl of hope, pride, and cultural awakening.

I often wonder if Kahlo was aware of the trail she was blazing, or if she somehow possessed a furtive knowledge of the mark she would leave for the generations to follow. How can one be so influential and completely aloof of one’s influence? She was more than an artistic presence, more than a fashion icon (donning her traditional Mexican garb to please Rivera and later inspiring a line of clothing in Paris), she was the consummate example of a queer feminist icon, and we would be remiss to discuss Frida Kahlo without noting the undeniable effect she has had on the feminist and LGBTQ communities. Not only was she a sexually liberated woman who proudly and openly declared a love for women and an appreciation for the power of transgressing gender norms, she was unafraid of being seen as different. She echoed this sentiment when she said, “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought, there are so many people in the world. There must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do.”

Unwittingly, she defined what it means to be queer and simultaneously validates the sense of community associated with it. If she were alive today, I can only imagine her at the forefront of our movement, chanting viscerally, leading us into the next era of change, liberation, and personal freedom of expression. ¡Viva la Frida!

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About the author

Christine Garza

Christine Garza proudly identifies as a Queer Xicana and lives in San Antonio, Texas. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with concentrations in Professional Writing and Bicultural Studies. Raised on the Westside of San Antonio, she was immersed in Mexican-American culture and now faces the challenge of sharing that experience with the world, breaking down the stereotype of what it means to be an American of Mexican descent. Her goal is to create – or re-create – community through writing, cultivating arenas where daughters of San Anto's Westside and other barrios across the country can come together to share memories, establish – or continue – a cultural, spiritual, and political dialogue, and build their collective Xicana consciousness. She has written for The Texas Observer out of Austin, and she is a contributing writer for The San Antonio Current, where she also blogs under the moniker Contemporary Xicana.

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  • http://kikisdeal.com Christina

    I loved this. So beautiful and inspiring! Frida was an iconic figure and still, to all of us. Proud to be different and strong to withstand all she did. Thanks for writing this!

  • Sissy

    Wow simply breathtaking… Thank you for sharing Frida and her passion for people and how beautiful her life was. Viva la Frida!!!

  • Julyne

    Beautiful and inspiring, just like Frida!