Nic Flores is from Olton, Texas – a small town between Lubbock and Amarillo in the state’s panhandle. As he explains it, this is the “Texas” part of Texas, an agri-business community where white farmers employ a predominantly Mexican and migrant workforce. Education brought Flores eastward, when he was accepted to DePauw University, a liberal arts college in Greencastle, Indiana. The Midwestern context awakened Flores’s consciousness, raising specific questions of self-identification and societal perceptions of “whiteness” as practice and privilege.
As an undergraduate, Flores became involved in the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP). The program pairs historically underrepresented undergraduate students with faculty mentors at leading research institutions. Flores attributes his discovery of a whole new world dedicated to Latina/o and queer studies to this experience. During the program he worked with a professor at Ohio State who now serves as his doctoral advisor. This experience inspired him to continue exploring and expanding the realm of Latina/o queer studies as a doctoral student in Ohio State’s Department of Comparative Studies.
Flores has become involved in the Columbus Latino community with organizations such as League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Rainbow Council (one of the first LULACs in the country committed to LGBTQ Latina/os in Ohio) and Queer Latinx Ohio. His current research focuses on the structural relationships between HIV/AIDS prevention work and the communities that are most affected by the virus. Listen below for more on Nic’s journey and current research:
Heading east for education:
🎧 Listen (5:11)
“The circles that I occupy have conditioned me to come to the Midwest based solely on education. I grew up in rural Texas, a town of about 2,000 people. Everyone knows everyone… It just so happened that I ended up in Indiana… It wasn’t until my experiences at DePauw that my consciousness was awakened as a queer Latino-classed person living in this world.”
“When I came to Columbus, I had proposed a project that would be interested in queer Latinos in the Midwest, primarily in the Central Ohio area. To think about how and with our strategies of survival, our strategies of living, our different modalities of being with each other – that really was driving my research questions as well as my life at the time.”
Research and “me-search:”
🎧 Listen (2:49)
“I wanted to think about the institutional, systemic, and structural relationship that exists between HIV/AIDS and prevention work, and those communities that are disproportionately affected by this virus… It had not occured to me again until after my candidacy exams that this other volunteer work I was doing – both on behalf of LULAC and personal – was actually a solid foundation from which to ask the questions that I wanted to ask about HIV prevention work and racialized communities and gendered communities and sexual minorities in the mid-Ohio region.”
🎧 Listen (2:11)
“Yolanda Maria Flores is an amazing woman. And I spell my name N-i-c as opposed to N-i-c-k because of this story. I was in second grade right at the time when we are all learning how to read and write… My mom sits me down at the dining room table after I had done my homework and she goes, ‘Nic, I want you to come here. Sit with me and I want you on this piece of paper to write the name as you’ve been writing it on your homework assignments’… I wrote N-I-C-K F-L-O-R-E-S… She goes, ‘Ok, and I want you to write down the name that I gave you…’ I wrote N-I-C-H-O-L-A-S F-L-O-R-E-S… She goes, ‘Ok, I want you to show me in the name that I gave you where you see the k?’ And I said, ‘Well there’s not one, but in school we’re learning that the c-k is the KUH sound… She says, ‘I understand that, but where in the name that I gave you is the k?’ I go, ‘It’s not there.’ She goes ‘OK then, going forward, you don’t have to spell Nic with a k…’My mom instilled in me [the fact that] this lesson that you’ve been taught is not who you are.”
Identity as Relational:
🎧 Listen (4:28)
“Identification is about me, but it’s about my relationship to other people. Both places that I’ve lived besides home – Indiana and Columbus – are primarily white. Whiteness – as a practice, as a modality, as a way of being in the world – I’ve encountered directly in these spaces that have shown me who I am: a Latino from rural texas, low income, a product of Texas education… When you encounter whiteness in the way that you would in places like the Midwest, ethnic and racial folks become keenly, acutely, meticulously aware of who they are in these spaces.”
“And then it becomes this negotiation between recognizing who I am in relationship to other people and how much do I play up or play down or perform or not perform one part of my identity… And I recognize A) my male privilege, and B) the white privilege/the passing privilege I have sometimes because of my ethnic ambiguity… Now I have a language to talk about my peers projecting onto me their dissatisfaction with what whiteness meant. Whiteness in this sense is not white bodies per se, but rather, a way of being in the world that assumes a kind of privilege, that often accrues a type of privilege; as well as practices a kind of privilege that social, cultural, economic, historical positions of marginality have not been able to receive in this country.”
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text are copyrighted to Leticia Wiggins. Music for introduction & interlude by The Original Soundtrack (thanks, guys!).