Vico Ortiz (They/Him/She) is a non-binary Puerto Rican actor, drag king, activist, and performer extraordinaire. You may have fallen in lust with their character Tasha on the Starz TV Show Vida; been wildly inspired by their role as Vero on the queer mini-series These Thems; or hypnotized by their charming and hilarious Tik Toks (which blew up overnight during quarantine). No matter who they’re playing, Vico’s empathy and infectious charisma makes them a captivating and honest role model.
A passionate creative who lives with fiery authenticity, Vico is heavily involved in both the queer and the Latinx communities. She advocates for human rights on all fronts, and openly speaks on the importance of understanding engendered language, inclusivity, mental health, and politics in both PR and the USA. The current uprising of police brutality in the black community has Vico on the frontlines, shifting her day to day toward education and action. See Vico’s full on black-ally-syllabus below.
When I caught Vico over FaceTime last week, he was still in drag as Vico Suave. His famed persona can be found performing for Ladygunn Pride week HERE. And on Monday June 29th, join him and These Thems – the show that strips back the curtain on coming out in 2020 – in celebration of NYC Pride at 5pm PST / 8pm EST at HERE.
Our conversation celebrates the colorful world we live in, honoring both Pride month and the black revolution. Find out how he’s educating himself, what’s going on with the Spanish language, and how we can be better to ourselves and to others.
Enjoy my conversation with my friend, the ferociously talented, Vico Ortiz.
How are you? How was your day?
How was my day…well something I love dearly; [my friend Clara] began this initiative of making a volunteer pod to adopt a state – we adopted Florida – and essentially helping out with phone banking, sending letters and making sure that we are helping people. Especially elders. And there are some laws in Florida that have changed, so some people that have been in prison can vote now. It’s super important for people to know that they can actually vote now! Voter suppression is a real thing. They don’t know that they can vote and we want them to vote so that they can express themselves, for their voices to be heard! To have leaders that support them properly.
I’m Puerto Rican and there’s a big influx of Puerto Ricans moving to Florida in the last three years. So I want to make sure that they know that they can vote there. And actually we can make more of a change in the mainland than we can in Puerto Rico!
Puerto Rico has a congresswoman, people are paying her to be there, but she doesn’t have a vote or a say in congress. She’s just there and listening for other congress people from the mainland…to tell her what to do. It’s another budget that’s wasted on somebody. So people in Puerto Rico can vote for a congress person in Puerto Rico that can’t vote for anything in congress. But I, as a Puerto Rican in the mainland, can vote for someone in congress who has my best interest as a Puerto Rican in LA. That can actually make a change in Puerto Rico, versus actually being there.
Long story short – that was my morning! And then I actually shot some stuff for Ladygunn! Tonight I’m going to a Pride Uhaul party via zoom…all safe within the confines of my home, haha.
UHaul! Yes. Now you’ve been quarantining alone…how many days has it been?
101 days today
That’s insane. How do you feel today compared to how you felt on day one?
Hm. On day one I knew it would be a long time, but I didn’t really internalize it. There’s been plenty of ups and downs and moments of like, I don’t know how the next day will look. I experience anxiety in a way I never experienced before…and being by myself through it. Yes I have phone calls and texts, that helps to a degree; but obviously being completely by yourself, sometimes what you really need is a hug. And it’s been 101 days since I’ve touched another human being. Like zero contact.
Wow. So how do you find that inner comfort and peace?
I’ve been meditating a lot. I’ve been taking on Tai Chi practices that help me with my breath and movement. Some of the exercises involve activating the energy by slapping my body…whatever stagnant energy is underneath it comes up and it feels vibrant. It’s about twenty five minutes, give or take, of centering my chi and then I am still. I just imagine this big wave of energy warming my body. An energy hug of sorts.
Right. All the solutions that people have had to come up with during quarantine, I wonder how we will change as a human race. Post COVID, are we going to have a different relationship with each other; are we going to have a different relationship with ourselves?
Oof, one hundred percent! At least I would like to believe so. If you allow it to be, it’s been a very transformative time. A lot of the changes that are happening in the world are because of this time that we’ve had in isolation. It really has given us the platform – I mean I’m not saying the pandemic is fantastic – but it’s allowed us to be with ourselves and ask ourselves these questions. Whereas otherwise, we’d be escaping at our jobs or school or whatever. We’d be paying some attention to it, but not the attention that it absolutely requires. I would hope that we as people are different with ourselves and each other in a more compassionate and sympathetic way. And we have. Even though it feels like it’s been a long time, we are still at the beginning of it.
I love the way you talked about it affecting change in the world and I think we’re both aware that the Black Lives movement is able to fire up because of this space. If some of us don’t have the luxury of going to protests, what are some things you’re doing from home to support that movement specifically?
Ok where’s my document…
I looked at this as, like, the class in school that I never got. You know? I’m kind of making a syllabus for myself of books to read, podcasts to listen to, TV shows to watch, videos to watch period, people to follow…
And not only read about how to be anti-racist and how I’ve benefited from white supremecy and privelege, but also to support black comic arts. Science fiction authors. I was actually just watching Black As Fuck on Netflix…I love that show. I was also listening to this Spotify playlist for Juneteenth of all black artists, it’s fucking awesome and inspiring!! It is not just about donating and signing petitions and speaking up but it’s also about supporting in every single way you can. Keeping it going in the long run.
You’ve always been incredibly active and vocal in politics, rooting for change in both Puerto Rico and now here. Fitting that we’re talking on Juneteenth, too!
Yeah! And apart from all that, I’ve been emailing and calling Congress. I’m still emailing for Breonna Taylor…like, come on guys…it’s really upsetting. I’m glad about George Floyd. But there have been several trans black women who have been murdered.
I get it. We’re making progress. It is new for a lot of people and it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. But it doesn’t end here. I see it like a high intensity interval training – to build stamina, for those 45 seconds, even if you are super tired on second 25, don’t stop. You can go slow, but don’t stop. Because then you’re not building endurance. This is not a phase. This is not a trend. It’s gonna be an ongoing process that we have to adopt, period, for the rest of our lives. And ideally, that we no longer have to do as a collective.
Speaking of collective marathons…how’s do you think our queer is community doing in terms of visibility?
I see a trans woman has been killed and the headline says “Man dressed in skirt…” or whatever – that’s not the way. It’s stuff like that that is perpetuating these situations. It’s so odd to me, to have to explain that our existence is valid. You know? It’s doubled down. Black people right now are like ‘Our existence is valid’; trans women, trans men…non binary black folk are like our existence is valid. YES, why can’t anybody see that? I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to respect another human being. Because that’s what it is, we’re all human beings.
I do think the All Black Lives Matter movement is the catalyst to help other minority groups. So I’m all hands on deck, let’s do it. When someone doesn’t want to believe or respect my existence it’s hard to explain it to them because they’re in a place where their heart is completely closed.
As a non-binary person where do you think it starts? How can we be more inclusive in our day to day?
Putting in your emails what your pronouns are, in your signature. If we’re normalizing inclusivity, everyone should do it. Some people say “Well, I’m obviously she/her,” but I don’t know that. And you don’t know that about me either and you shouldn’t assume. I always put my pronouns on my name in zoom meetings and I can see other people following suit, which is important! Just listening is also incredibly important.
I know too that some people might be curious and want to ask questions – first ask that person if they have space to hold that curiosity. Because it’s not our responsibility to explain our existence to people…just say hey. I want to know something and I was wondering if you can hold space for me in this matter. And if the person says no, don’t take it personally! Go to YouTube, Google, Siri, there’s plenty of videos and things. I would also say come in with an informed question. I personally am open to hold conversations a lot, but it is exhausting.
The same way that people are taking it upon themselves, as they should, to educate themselves about black history and black issues, you should also do the same for queer issues.
Thank you for explaining all that. You’ve talked to me personally about the Spanish and English languages and inclusivity there – I’m curious if you want to speak on that a little bit?
Totally. With English They/Them has been used as a singular pronoun before. English itself is a very gender neutral language to begin with – objects don’t have gender. You can talk about somebody completely without using any type of gendered language.
Now with Spanish, it is a very gendered language. The inclusive usage is very, very new, still in the beta phase. Spanish also favors the patriarchy. So everything that is plural defaults to male – even if there’s just one cisgednered man in the group.
If you have 10 people who identify as women, it’s “nosotras” but just one person identifying as male, it goes to “nosotros.” So what the inclusive language is doing is adding the “e” – the “eh” sound. So it’s adding a completely new bracket. We have Ella and Él (she/him), and we’re adding Elle. So instead of “nosotros/nosotras,” we’re adding “nosotres.” Really messing with the language to shake it up. I’ve seen it, heard it, and I’m using it. I’m not as fluent yet, I have to think about it still, but it’s beautiful. Like, fuck yes. Absolutely.
Language is constantly evolving! The point is to throw away the rules!
@vico_ortizThe future of superhero movies 🙌🏽🙌🏽 ##queer ##lgbtq ##nonbinary ##genderqueer ##lesbiansoftiktok♬ original sound – rextestarossa
Ok fire round. You very recently blew up on Tik Tok – uhm, can we talk about that?
I am a performer through and through. It brings me so much joy…doing Tik Toks has been super healthy for me to channel that energy. Even when I was a bartender or a barista I was still being performative. I like to bartend with the beat of the music, to see it as a dance…finding those moments in my day to day has been super helpful
Your drag shows are literally on fire. What is the sexiest moment you’ve ever had on stage?
Taking off my clothes and licking whip cream off peoples’ bodies.
Aside from Vico Suave, were there any other personas you played with?
Don Papi 😉 [they actually winked]
It means Old Daddy…I like being silly and playing. I think that energy helps me get to that sexy part of it because people are laughing and having a good time then all of a sudden they’re like Oh my god what are you doing…and I’m like “Yeaaaahh”
What is one thing you can get in Puerto Rico that you can’t get in America?
Mofongo…and chichaito! It’s a half shot of rum and some sort of herbal thing…it kind of tastes like absinthe!
Tacos or burritos?
Favorite pizza topping?
Feta, spinach, red onions!
Drink of choice?
I really like La Croix…
Lemons or limes?
Lemons. I have a lemon tree!
Who were you in a past life?
Oh a pirate 100%. I have a sword in my house *laughs*
Last question. If you could have dinner with anybody alive or dead…who would it be?
Oh…snap…this is hard because I could go political, or fun. Okay. Pedro Albizu Campos. A Puerto Rican nationalist who was incredible and really fought for rights in Puerto Rico and was incarcerated really young. He essentially died in jail but there’s a lot to his story. I’d want to chat with him because he’d inspire me to keep fighting for the rights of everyone.
CONNECT WITH VICO ORTIZ
photos / courtesy of Vico Ortiz
retouching / Dina Tuktarova
story / Ariana Tibi