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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Creative writing student Tom Tanguma navigates cocktail of identities

Trinity Ramm
Tom Tanguma pours grenadine into a glass before shaking a drink.

Tom Tanguma said his identity has always been a little “complicated.” 

Growing up with a white mom in the Midwest, Tanguma said he always felt like “a white suburban kid,” but that people always saw him as a Latino person.

“Even from a young age, I was experiencing a lot of blatant racism, which was really weird because I thought of myself as white for the longest time,” Tanguma said. “Then on top of that, once I started coming to terms with my queerness when I was younger, that was also really complicated.”

Tanguma, a senior creative writing and English literature major, identifies as Latino-American and non-binary; he prefers he/they pronouns. In their experience, Tanguma has found it easier to fit into queer spaces over Latino ones. He said that a big barrier to this was his cultural upbringing.

“Not that Latino people do not welcome me or anything like that, but it’s just harder for me to necessarily have the same understanding of their experiences because, again, I was raised very white suburban,” Tanguma said. “So I basically grew up like a lower middle-class white kid, even though I’m brown as hell.”

Tom Tanguma talks to Chris Crocker as he scoops ice for a cocktail.  (Trinity Ramm)

As Tanguma learned to navigate the intricacies of their identity, they found comfort in queer spaces around Wichita like The Center in downtown Wichita, a “home” for Wichita’s LGBTQ+ community, according to the organization’s website. Tanguma also mentioned places like Rain Bistro & Lounge and XY Bar.

Tanguma said that with society becoming more accepting of queer communities, “almost any space can become a queer space if you just have enough queer people in it.”

Currently, Tanguma is a bartender at J’s Lounge, a queer bar on Central Avenue. Tanguma hears tales of the gay Wichita of old from his patrons. They often talk about the Fantasy Complex, which Tanguma described as “the original big, big gay club on the southside.”

“People told me all the time that they used to go to that club, and you had to go in pairs,” Tanguma said. “You had to go with other people because people would wait outside the club to try to harass you or attack you. It’s fascinating to hear those stories because that is so far removed from the type of homophobia I have experienced.”

As an English and creative writing major, Tanguma takes inspiration from both life and media around him to craft character-driven literary fiction. 

He said that both the professors and students in the program have been helpful in improving his writing by developing the setting and story around his characters.

Tanguma and Nancy Preston, a senior creative writing major, first met in an introduction to creative writing class over Zoom in fall 2020.

Tanguma, at 29 years old, said that he and Preston both enjoy each other’s writing, especially as people who are “slightly older than the average student.” They said that their writing can sometimes shock younger students.

“We tend to write like slightly older people,” Tanguma said. “One of my stories specifically had references to both masturbation and drug use and people were very like, ‘Oh, my God,’ like clutching their pearls. And she was ‘No, this is great. I love this.’”

Margaret Dawe, an associate professor of creative writing, first met Tanguma over Zoom in the same intro to creative writing class. In a time where blacked-out screens and golden thumbs up acted as the only engagement most professors got out of a Zoom class, Dawe said Tanguma “stood out” because “he always showed up.”

“His writing immediately stood out as he’s wonderful with such genuine details that make a world, that convince a reader that this is someone telling the truth about those little things that we look for when we read poems and fiction,” Dawe said.

Dawe said that “there’s probably a novel” in Tanguma that would be about their experiences in Wichita.

“I think there’s one there that probably no one else has written, and which people might be surprised that someone in Wichita would tell a story like I bet he’s going to be able to tell,” Dawe said.

Preston said that class acted as “a sanctuary” from her day-to-day life as a health care worker and that “Tom was a huge part” of that class being a safe space.

“He’s one of the best friends that I’ve made through the program,” Preston said. “He is one of those people where when I look back when I’m old, I’m going to be so grateful and appreciate that (friendship) even more.”

In the fall, Tanguma is set to begin a master’s of fine arts in creative writing at Wichita State. Preston said when Tanguma was first accepted, he texted her to see if Preston had received her own decision.

“I felt such genuine joy and pride in him because he is so deserving, but it’s also so touching that, in his moment of celebration, he reached out to me to see if I was accepted,” Preston said. “I told him that one of the biggest regrets if I don’t get into the program is the FOMO of not having that experience with him, and that’s genuine.”

In going through the MFA program on campus, Tanguma hopes to hone his skills as a writer and push himself outside of their comfort zone.

“I can really start refining and developing my style to be something that’s both obviously publishable — because I want to make money at some point — but also something that is unique and entertaining for people to digest as well too,” Tanguma said. “Because (there is) nothing sadder than a creative person that can’t put out something good.”

In a moment of pause, Tom Tanguma speaks to a patron of J’s Lounge. (Trinity Ramm)
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About the Contributor
Trinity Ramm
Trinity Ramm, Managing Editor
Trinity Ramm is the managing editor and former sports editor for The Sunflower. This is her second year on staff. Ramm is a senior English Lit major and a sociology minor with a certificate in film studies. In her limited spare time, she can be found at the movie theater, browsing some obscure film database or crocheting. Ramm uses she/her pronouns.

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  • AnonymousMar 12, 2024 at 6:15 pm

    So proud of this young man . Wishing you all the best success in your future…love you, GMA!