Juan Angel Reynoso is an Ipai-Kumeyaay 2Spirit storyteller, advocate, teacher, and holistic culturally-trauma-responsive practitioner. Juan was born and raised in San Diego, CA. He is a Native American Indian from the San Pasqual Band of Kumeyaay Indians. This Pride Month, we want to highlight Juan's work on behalf of the LGBTQIA+ community and how he advocates for it. Juan's pronouns are he/him.
What does the word "library" mean to you?
When I think of the word library, I am flooded with imagery and sensory information. For me, a library represents unspoken stories, histories, influences, and repositories of knowledge. There is a sense of responsibility and accountability when I think of the concept of what a library stands for; what stories they share, allow on their shelves, and how they represent the human experience in all forms.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?
Well, my name is Juan, "nemuuly" (Grizzly Bear) to my close friends and family. I'm 2Spirit (Hellyaa) Ipai Kumeyaay from the San Pasqual Band of Indians. We are one of the 13 individual tribal communities of the collective Kumeyaay Nation. I grew up in the small unincorporated city of Valley Center, California. As a connected Indigenous person, I had the privilege of living in my traditional homelands and still reside on the San Pasqual Indian Reservation. Having a passion for advocacy and healing work, I have made it my personal mission to engage and connect people through storytelling. As a public school teacher working in Deaf education, I found similarities in the importance of culture and individual experience. As a public speaker and group facilitator who engages communities on topics of Indigeneity, Culture, Colonialism, and Healing, it has become my privilege and honor to share with organizations and persons from across the country on these topics, providing a space of visibility and collective learning.
Can you share with us what being 2spirit means to you and how it relates to your identity?
To start, it's important to recognize that two-spirit (2S) is an umbrella term used specifically by Indigenous/First Nations/Native people and only by Indigenous people. Specifically, it is a pan-Indigenous term that was created by the Indigenous community to represent our specific connections to our community, land, and each other. It's important to recognize that not all Tribal nations use this term. While many may choose to use this as an identifier, we are not a monolith, and as sovereign nations with cultural specificity, we may have our specific words or terminology to express gender, gender fluidity, and queerness within their specific communities within our languages. For example, as a Kumeyaay person, we use the term Ipai Hellyaa (ee-pie, Shlaa) to represent gender variation outside of the gender binary. When I identify myself to other Kumeyaay people or say, I am Ipai hellyaa, 2Spirit Kumeyaay from San Pasqual.
Being 2Spirit (Ipai hellyaa) isn't something that I wake up everyday thinking, "This is how I will be 2Spirit today." It is an inherent gift that comes with much responsibility and patience. For me, being two Spirit allows me to relate and engage both the feminine and masculine energies that we all carry within ourselves. It allows me to feel at home within both expressions, often assuming mediator, healer, and community engagement roles. To put it frankly, two-spirit people reflect back to those in the community, the areas that have become dormant and suppressed through shame and heteronormativity. Being 2Spirit is a nudge to society to look into our inner selves and nurture the areas that have been taken away…it means restoring balance and harmony amongst the feminine and masculine energies that society (through colonialism) has boxed us into as individuals.
How has your Kumeyaay heritage influenced your activism and advocacy within the LGBT community?
This is an interesting question… in order to answer this, I need to recognize the nature of what it means to Kumeyaay and how this shapes the way I relate to and see the world. As an indigenous person, the driving force behind any connection is intention and connection. When we think about advocacy, we might have a single-lens perspective of what that looks like. For me, advocacy means making connections between individuals/groups that may have been severed through explicit policy and practice or simply ignorance. We go inward when we think about relationships and how we "relate" to one another (all aspects of creation). This often resurfaces old scars, hurts, fears, and biases. Being 2Spirit-Kumeyaay has not been easy when it comes to having these types of conversations with community members. Many of our communities have strong Christian and Catholic values. It's important to recognize that prior to contact, specifically through the Franciscan Missions, our people already had a relationship with the Creator. Now, how we define Creator or Creation is where we've gotten stuck. As I said earlier, advocacy is about restoring connection through intentional conversation and reminding people about counter perspectives. As it relates to LGBTQIA+ advocacy and visibility, it is about having the courage to push back on perspectives that are really not that new… meaning how people see Queer individuals like we just emerged out of thin air. As 2Spirit Kumeyaay, it personally means taking up space and finding avenues for other 2Spirit persons to be visible and safe in their own authenticity.
Are there any specific resources or books you recommend for individuals interested in learning about 2spirit identities and Kumeyaay culture?
Yes! So this is a very important question because it allows us the opportunity to amplify our community and share the knowledge and power of Indigenous 2Spirit/Queer leaders. In the day of digital media and socials, there are several 2Spirit Queer kin that are doing some amazing advocacy work within Native Country. I would recommend following Charlie Amáyá Scott (they/her), Diné Trans femme at @dineaesthetics and Prestin Thōtin-awāsis (they/he), Nēhiyaw x Metis at @prestomanifest0 on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. There are some wonderful books and poetry from folks such as Billy Ray Belcourt, Arielle Twist, and Jay Simpson. For organizations doing great work for our communities, I would suggest you look into The Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits organization at https://www.baaits.org/.
For information about my people, the Kumeyaay, I'd recommend Kumeyaay - A History Book as well as Maay Uuyow: Kumeyaay Cosmology, both written by Kumeyaay elder Michael Connolly Miskwish from the Campo Band. There is also an extensive amount of information that can be found at Kumeyaay.com. Naturally, I am also available to further inquiries people may have. I can be contacted at email@example.com and on social media (Instagram) at @jreynoso25 and our organization, The Queer SOL Collective, at https://www.thequeersolcollective.com/
What advice do you have for young individuals or members of indigenous communities who are navigating their identities and seeking support?
This is a great question, and I feel it comes up a lot when it comes to reconnecting and understanding ourselves as indigenous people. My advice would be to start asking questions about where you come from; if you have the privilege to connect with a family member, do that. I do recognize that this privilege is not available to everyone, so if you don't have a place to start within your homelands, I would recommend reaching out to the local indigenous communities that you reside near, as humans, as indigenous people are focal point should be connection and finding any opportunity to connect within community brings a sense of wholeness and belonging. I would also encourage you to be patient and have compassion for yourself along this journey of reconnecting. It can be very frustrating and painful, and often people don't understand how to relate to us. Above all things, ask yourself the following question, what parts of me am I longing to uncover and rediscover? Lastly, be resilient and steadfast in your connecting journey. Your identities are your identities alone, and you have the inherent right to be who you are and show up as you are authentically, always.
What is the question you're always hoping you'll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?
Wow, this is a really interesting question… For me, I think I would want to be asked how do I want to be remembered when I transition from this physical world.
My answer is that I want to be remembered as someone who lived boldly and passionately out loud. I want to be remembered as a person who was a good friend, a teacher, a lifelong learner, and a devoted proponent of love and acceptance. As the great Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel."
Thank you, Juan Reynoso, for speaking your heart and being yourself throughout this interview. I'm sure our audience appreciates this inspiring and enlightening story you shared here as much as we do. I wish you the best in future endeavors, and you are always welcome at the Los Angeles Public Library to share with us about yourself and your valuable work.
—A special thanks to Edwin Rodarte, Ziba Perez, and Anna Avalos