Re-Membering la Voz del Joto
tatiana de la tierra
I breathe a sigh of relief with the publication of Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader. Even before it existed, it was missing. It’s not that Chicano and Latino queers haven’t been researching, theorizing, writing, dreaming, performing and sweating it out in the academy. I know otherwise. I’ve seen some of these guys (and girls, for the femme-identified) in action at conferences, universities, and political and cultural events. I’ve noted their monographs and their contributions to journals and anthologies. I won’t be one to ask, “Where were these academic jotos before Gay Latino Studies?”
Co-editors Michael Hames-García and Ernesto Javier Martínez introduce the book by citing Gloria Anzaldúa’s plea that Chicana lesbians open their hearts to their joto brothers. They write, “We have been motivated less by histories of separation and isolation than by a commitment to the kind of deep solidarity modeled by Anzaldúa, a sense of remaining incomplete so long as the liberationist agenda that includes Chicanas and Latinas does not also include jotos, and vice versa.” Instead of framing the collection as an way of “not forgetting” gay Latinos, they frame it in a sense of “actively re-membering,” referring to M. Jacqui Alexander’s work. They write, “We invoke gay Latino studies as an act of re-membering, as a gesture toward what has been and what might still be possible, even if it is only provisionally named.”
A lot of thematic terrain is covered in this 360-page book. Topics include queer theory, drag artists, lowrider magazines, HIV prevention ads, dance culture, gay pride parades, sexual identity, performance, literature, shame and shamelessness, history, masculinity, and discussions of terms of the trade: queer, gay male, identity, visibility, and so on. Michael Hames-García provides a queer colored timeline, which begins with James Baldwin’s Another Country in 1962 and includes names I grew up with in my queer evolution. While working on the book, the editors (successfully, in my view) “sought to work against the whitewashing tendencies of queer academic theorizing and against the deep suspicion of identity categories that too often serve as a crutch for white academic racism.”
On the cover, birds, butterflies and flowers stream out of the mouths of mystical men. This is “La Voz del Poeta,” a painting by Tino Rodriguez, who writes on his Artist Statement, “I am fascinated by the complexity of human sexuality, transformation, longing and transgression.” It’s a beautiful and philosophically-compatible selection for the cover because of the way essays are paired with response pieces. The chapters are speaking to each other, having conversations. This format invites readers to listen and chime in.
In order of appearance, the twenty-one Latino, Caribbean and Chicano scholars from universities all over the U.S. who contributed to this reader are: Michael Hames-García, Ernesto Javier Martínez, María Lugones, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Ramón García, Antonio Viego, Luz Calvo, Catriona Rueda-Esquibel, Richard T. Rodriguez, Daniel Enrique Pérez, Lionel Cantú, Tomás Almaguer, Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, Ramón A. Gutiérrez, José Esteban Muñoz, Ricardo L. Ortiz, Paula M. L. Moya, Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Daniel Contreras, David Román, and Frances Negrón-Muntaner.
A few things jumped out at me while perusing Gay Latino Studies. I caught sight of Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel devouring Michael Nava’s mysteries, hooked, taking turns reading them and, at some point, reading the last few chapters aloud. They write, “... We turn to gay Latino literature and scholarship, to our queer kin, to decode the past, to influence the future.”
I couldn’t help but crack a smile (pun intended) at one of José Esteban Muñoz’s subtitles: “This Bridge Called My Crack.” He is playing around, he says, in an attempt to “highlight the thematics of anal eroticism and recreational drug use (crystal methamphetamine)” and calling attention “to the continuation of the radical women of color project by gay men of color.” This reminded me of similar playing around with words at a reading I did in El Paso, Texas, a few years ago with some friends, “This Frontera Called My Lengua: A Reading by Linguistic Terrorists.”
Estevan Muñoz’s chapter, “Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricardo Bracho’s The Sweetest Hangover (and Other STDs)” took me back to San Francisco’s Brava Theater in 1997. I was in town, hanging out with Juana María Rodriguez, whose work is also referenced in the book, trying to score tickets for the play’s sold-out premiere. We got in and soon after, I was in Bracho’s planetary dream, a nightclub called Aztlantis, a name “which signifies both the lost Chicano homeland and the lost city of myth.”
On a more carnal plane, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes’s chapter, “Gay Shame, Latina- and Latino-Style: A Critique of White Queer Performativity” reminded me of “Las Sinvergüenzas,” the Latina lesbian anthology, which he references, that I tried to get published (unsuccessfully) a few years ago. Whatever’s left of that project is now hanging out in a box in a garage somewhere. My sinvergüenza identity, from the good old days, is aptly summed up by Larry’s definition: “To be a sinvergüenza is to have no shame: to disobey, break the law, disrespect authority (the family, the church, the state), and in a perverse and curious way to be proud of one’s transgression, or at the very least lack a feeling of guilt.”
Finally, Gay Latino Studies took me to Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, to Boccaccio’s, a lesbian bar. In David Román’s “Dance Liberation,” Román goes to a gay disco for the first time in Madison, Wisconsin with a female friend who proposes the outing as a fun idea. The scene is thrilling and terrifying and he leaves, only to return by himself a few nights later. He wrote, “That night I stood on the sidelines and watched as gay men in front of me danced in what seemed to me to be nothing short of a state of joy.” In response to his essay, Frances Negrón-Muntaner recalls Boccaccio, the bar in San Juan owned by two Cuban lesbians with an “oversized figure of Santa Barbara-Changó as half-man and half-woman right at the entrance.” I remember that bar. I was there once. I have my own story to tell, and it resonates because I know many of us have passed through those same doors. We have rubbed elbows or other body parts, we have been figures in that smoky haze of clubs, our queer cribs.
And that’s what’s so cool about Gay Latino Studies for me. It feels familiar, like I know these brothers, and I do. Like I’m in those pages here and there, and I am.
Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader. Michael Hames-Garcia and Ernesto Javier Martínez, Editors. Duke University Press, 2011.