Panel Recap: ¿Cómo Se Dice “Nerd”?

One of the priorities of GeekGirlCon I am most proud of is its commitment to creating space for communities that have been traditionally left out of mainstream geek culture. In the case of GeekGirlCon’s identity-centric panels, it is actual, physical space that is being created. My favorite panel of this kind that appeared at GeekGirlCon ‘16 was called ¿Cómo Se Dice “Nerd”? and set forth to discuss the reality Latinx nerds face when engaging with geek culture.

Panelists Sylvia Monreal, Olivia Hernández, Jorge Albor, and Tristan Tarwater began the conversation by addressing, outright, how fundamentally linked mainstream geekdom is with consumerism. In other words, one’s ability to participate in geek culture is defined by their access to capital. Therefore, historically poor communities have had to innovate new and different ways of interacting with nerdy content.

Photo by Sayed Alamy. Source: GeekGirlCon Flickr.

The discussion then moved to what it means, here and now, to be a Latinx nerd. For many Latinx folks, to be nerdy is to feel at odds with one’s heritage. In Olivia’s life, this tension manifests as a feeling of “between-ness,” as existing between two sometimes contradictory identities. The panel elaborated on the source of the disconnect, explaining that within many Latinx communities, nerdiness is inextricably associated with whiteness. For some, this association has led to a feeling of guilt, of having been the kid who used nerdy culture to gain privilege. To combat this toxic dynamic, the panelists suggested nerds of any marginalized background focus on the younger generation. Good and complex representation, for example, can really help young people of oppressed identities cope with trauma. There are ways to repurpose facets of nerd culture to suit the needs of disenfranchised communities, and young people have the power and desire to make that happen and deserve any and all support and resources the rest of us can give.

An attendee poses a question to the panel. Photo by Sayed Alamy. Source: GeekGirlCon Flickr.

At this point, the discussion turned to the responsibility Latinx creators, specifically, often feel they have to their respective communities. For example, many Latinx members of the greater geek community have begun to utilize technology to broadcast the problematic and harmful elements of nerd culture. These problematic elements include things like stereotypical or non-existent representation in popular stories. This vocalization, in turn, cultivates community among Latinx nerds. In fact, this panel itself was actually an irl manifestation of the Twitter account Latinx Nerds.

Photo by Sayed Alamy. Source: GeekGirlCon Flickr.

In closing, the panelists urged us to remember and work to solve the challenges the community continues to face: the tokenizing of vocal Latinx nerds, the competition that can arise between sub-groups of the community, and the hierarchies that already exist within the nerd community at large. If we are to combat these problems and change our community for the better, it’s vital that the work of groups like Latinx Nerds and GeekGirlCon is continually prioritized and re-prioritized.

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Teal Christensen
“Rock On!”

Teal Christensen

Teal is a recently-graduated English literature student with more unfinalized future plans than favorite songs from Hamilton. Her main hobbies are reading books, thinking about books, and talking about books.

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