The Association for Latino Men for Action brought together renowned Latino writers and artists for a night of cultural expression and discussion on the gay Latino experience Friday.
Una Noche de Orgullo y Cultura (A Night of Pride and Culture) was held at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Humboldt Park and was presented by ALMA in conjunction with Vida/SIDA, a program providing education, information, resources and testing services to those at risk of or living with HIV/AIDS.
“If you look at a community that’s a double minority, sometimes a triple minority — perhaps looking at a lesbian Latina — they are often silenced,” said Celso Martinez, a fundraising committee member for ALMA. “It’s important to have events like this that celebrate us and who we are.”
Three literary panelists gathered to discuss their new work and what it means to be gay and Latino. Charles Rice-Gonzalez, activist and writer, talked about his book Chulito, which chronicles a young Latino man growing up in the South Bronx.
“In latino culture, one core value is storytelling,” said Julio Rodriguez, board president of ALMA. “So much of our story is still not in the fabric of mainstream America and when you look at our arts, books and poetry you have to spend time with it, and reflect on it.”
Also joining the panel was Alfonso Ramirez, writer and teacher; and Jesus Ramirez-Valles, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who read an excerpt from his published work Compañeros which details eight LGBT Latinos who affected by the AIDS epidemic.
The event also featured visual artists including Antonio Martorell, who’s work features silhouettes of Puerto Rican individuals in poses regarded as uniquely Puerto Rican.
Art, as an extension of culture, was an important theme for the evening.
“For a lot of people who don’t feel that they have the words to articulate how they feel or what they think, or don’t have the education, or face other forms of oppression, [art] becomes their voice,” said Martinez.
Attendees of the event discussed being Latino and gay or lesbian, and how it carries its own experience and, at times, disadvantages. One common theme amongst the LGBT Latino community and how the experience is unique is the profound relationship revolving around family.
“One fundamental difference for Latino LGBT folks is that the centerpiece is family,” said Rodriguez “Especially in American society, gay people are taught early on that one of the things of coming to is being able to separate yourself from your family because they won’t accept you, but for Latinos that’s not an option because they are part of who you are.”
The Institute of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture has cultural events and exhibitions throughout the year and is the only center in the country devoted to featuring the unique artistic expressions of local, regional and national Puerto Rican and Latino artists.
For more information on upcoming events visit IPRAC.org