Meet 5 Puerto Rican Queer Creators
Here’s a PSA: Support boricuir creators all year long.
The Puerto Rican queer community expands from the Caribbean archipelago to New York and beyond. They are an important part of the nine million Puerto Ricans across the world. Yet, like other LGBTQIA+ communities—they face high levels of gender-based violence. This is particularly true for trans people and non-binary folks.
However, amidst adversity they’re constantly working on initiatives to support each other, leading projects, and organizing social justice movements. Through solidarity, collaboration, and lots of love, these queer business owners and organizers create art, stickers, mutual aid initiatives, and more.
Make sure to check them out and support their work!
Amanda Rivas is originally from Naguabo, Puerto Rico but currently lives in Florida. From stickers to pins to art prints, Rivas is a self-taught digital artist. Her friends told Rivas that they would love to have her art on stickers and that started the MandasDoodles shop back in September 2020. For Rivas, owning this small business is not just about them – some of their collections give back directly to the community, specifically Black, trans, or other queer folks. “So far I have donated more than $620 to different people from the community that needs help for surgery, rent, food, or just need extra cash. It’s my biggest accomplishment,” Rivas said.
Their advice to other queer entrepreneurs: “Don’t give up. Don’t be scared to take a break, leave a project aside and come back when you feel motivated again. Sometimes we force ourselves to create and we end up with a little resentment for these projects. It’s important to put your needs and mental health first.”
Becoming a photographer for LGBTQ+ weddings began as a necessity and eventually became a passion for Nilka Gissel Montalvo. Now running Nilka Gisell Photography, she finds inspiration in every couple, through their personalities and unique sparks they bring to the photo sessions. Every space is different and changing yet always carrying a sense of joy. “Being able to create visibility through my photos makes me happy. There will always be extra challenges because of discrimination and homophobia everywhere but that’s why I believe in making a safe space for everyone through my business,” Montalvo said. She hopes to continue finding ways to demonstrate through photography that love is equal for everyone.
Their advice to other queer entrepreneurs: “Keep moving forward. Visibility is important.”
After spending five months without clean water after the passage of Hurricane Maria, Remora was born out of Omar Negron Ocasio’s own need to have access to clean water. Negrón Ocasio worked in developing an off-grid sustainable water filtration device for communities that do not have access to clean water and do not have water infrastructure. The first prototype was launched in February 2020. “It has been hard to be a queer entrepreneur because people already have a lot of misconceptions about what type of jobs and business queer people can create. When I mention I am the CEO and Founder of a water filtration company, people get really impressed because they assume that I have some other type of job and not the one I am actually doing,” Negrón Ocasio explained. With an iced mocha, a laptop, and with any of the pop girls like Lady Gaga or Rihanna in the background, Negrón Ocasio gets motivated and ready to work. His biggest joy of working in this business is the smile on people’s faces when they see clean water running for the first time in their community.
His advice to other queer entrepreneurs: “Don’t let society tell you what can you do. They will always try to define who you are but only you know who you are and what you can do.”
At Huerto Vida, they create, organize, and sustain health and holistic well-being spaces, such as educational planting, and art workshops, from an intersectional perspective. The process includes being immersed in the community, whether they are receiving or providing the services. Creativity and inspiration come to them from their ancestors, nature, communities, and family. As with any initiative, there is constant learning. At Huerto Vida, this learning and growth, particularly through exchanging ideas, collaborating, and strengthening networks of solidarity, has been beautiful. “We are such a diverse and talented community, filled with love and strength,” Ortiz Castro shared.
Their advice to other queer entrepreneurs: “Keep moving, keep walking, it’s beautiful to grow and create in community. What you don’t know or have, another person probably does; you can complement each other and flourish together.”
When the local and state governments fail to provide assistance, the Brigada Solidaria del Oeste comes and provides support to their region. This non-profit organization was brought up by a group of activists in the west side of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. They respond to natural disaster needs and help reconstruct ceilings, but their work does not stop there. “We respond to the diverse needs of the region. An important component of our work is to incorporate our culture in everything we do,” Balaguer explained. This includes projects that help trans entrepreneurs start their own businesses.
Their advice to other queer entrepreneurs: “Unity! Look for another and give support. We are a community with lots of empathy and solidarity. Together we will achieve more!”
While Puerto Rico experiences a challenging transition of the Power Authority, these communities are designing renewable alternatives.