"While I was coming out I wanted to find a reflection of myself in someone else's testimony—a coming out story from a Gay / Queer and Chicano / Latino / Mexican. Something that I could read and re-read to understand what that writer had gone through because, you see, had it not been for some connection between my cultural and sexual identity through literature then I wouldn't be writing this today."
That comes from the essay "My Shadow Beast," written by Gibrán Güido, a 29-year-old Mexican-American doctoral student of cultural studies at UCSD. Güido's story is not unlike that of many Latino men.
Güido was raised in San Ysidro by a single mother and an older brother, with a large extended family regularly around to offer love, laughs and food. Güido questioned his sexuality, a struggle that's difficult for any young man. However, as a Mexican-American, it comes with added pressures.
Gay men are devalued in the patriarchal Mexican culture, which glorifies machista men. A man who steps outside the culture's clearly defined gender roles is a joto, a faggot. If that man is attracted to other men, he's downgraded to a disgusting, shameful joto.
"Needless to say, I was scared of being disowned and kicked out of my house. I didn't know how to really understand this, especially because I was a Mexican male who was raised and supported by my family. One important cultural understanding in being Mexican is that one's family is everything. Without my family, what would I have? I also questioned if my pursuit of an individual sexual identity was worth the price of losing my family."
There's been a tragic lack of a coming-out blueprint for gay Latino men. That is, until now.
Güido and Adelaida R. Del Castillo, a professor of Chicano and Chicana studies at SDSU, compiled the anthology Queer in Aztlán: Chicano Male Recollections of Consciousness and Coming Out. Released in early August by Cognella Inc., the book compiles brutally honest, heart-wrenching stories of the hardships faced by gay Chicanos navigating their cultural and sexual identity.
When Güido came to SDSU in 2009 to work toward his master's degree in Chicano studies, Del Castillo, one of his professors, approached him with the idea for a book that tackled queer Chicano sexuality. Güido was one of the first openly gay students in the program, and Del Castillo thought his presence offered an opportunity to give other young gay men something they've never had but gravely needed—examples.
"I know that we are living in 2013—you turn on the television and you're going to find a gay character on a show," Güido says. "I know that there are many times I talk to people in my community, and they say that even though there is that visibility, there's still that silence. It's still an issue. There's still that homophobia within the cultura."
A heterosexual, feminist Chicana scholar originally from a gang-ridden project in East Los Angeles, Del Castillo was also ostracized by society and her own people. She feels that the Chicano movement is "not very tolerant of gender, let alone sexual issues," and so she believes it's vital to push and educate younger Chicano generations.
For this reason, Del Castillo will incorporate Queer in Aztlán into her curriculum, teaching first-year students in Chicano and Chicana studies about queer Chicano sexuality. There will also be readings and open-mic events associated with Queer in Aztlán—the first one will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at Centro Cultural de la Raza (2004 Park Blvd. in Balboa Park) on Monday, Sept. 16, which happens to be Mexican Independence Day.
She and Güido believe the best way to teach the subject is through first-hand accounts.
In his essay "Gil Cuadros" Azt-Land: Documenting a Queer Chicano Literary Heritage," Pablo Alvarez writes about searching for guidance in books but coming up empty. He eventually found Cuadros, an openly gay Mexican-American writer who died in 1996 from complications stemming from AIDS.
Discovering Cuadros' work helped Alvarez navigate his own experience, and so he thought it important to give others in the same situation a long list of role models.
"I instantly believed that this is a project that needs to be developed and grow, not just for myself but for future generations," says Alvarez, 36, a graduate student in cultural studies at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif.
When Alvarez came out at 17, his mother worried about his exposure to HIV and AIDS. Even with those fears, Alvarez's family accepted him and never cast him out of their home.
Michael Nava, author of a series of novels that feature a queer Chicano lawyer named Henry Rios who solves crimes, wasn't so lucky. He left for college and didn't reconnect with his family until he was in his 40s. When he was coming out in the 1970s, he says the only information he could find was in abnormal-psychology books. He feared a violent reaction from the males in his family and attempted suicide.
"Back 40 years ago, for boys especially, the gender roles were so rigid," he says. "A boy who likes other boys doesn't fit in that culture and doesn't conform to those rigid gender roles. I think machismo does make it more difficult for us."
Through these accounts, Guido and Del Castillo hope to arm young gay men with the reinforcements they'll need to traverse their struggle with identity, and to assure them that they don't have to reject their culture just because it hasn't embraced them.
"We all have our shared struggles," Güido says. "We are all men who can care for other men, make love to other men, and we know we will face hardships along the way."
Now they can do that together.
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