TO BE YOUNG, GAY, LATINO & INVISIBLE
It’s hard to process with any gravitas the Orlando tragedy. The first reports made little mention of the names of the dead and the wounded. Instead, the focus was on the man who perpetrated this heinous act. But hasn’t that been the way media sees us or perhaps doesn’t see us – our invisibility?
By Monday, we learned that Saturday at Pulse was Latin night. The majority in the club were there for an evening of música, alegria, amistad y amor. When the names of the victims were released over 90% were Latino. Most were Puerto Rican-Americans and not immigrants. The fact most were gay was more important to the mainstream media than their ethnicity, and in turn, mostly white gay talking heads were interviewed to represent the greater gay community.
Others used the Orlando tragedy to promote their own agenda. Was this a hate crime? Was it a terrorist act? Our presidential candidates demonized ISIS and called for “ramping up the air campaign” – and used the gun issue (pro or con) as the way to prevent this from happening again yet neither candidate went to grieve con las familias en Orlando.
To its credit, Spanish language television gave us a better picture of what this meant to our community. Many survivors who are truly bilingual spoke in español to Univisión and in English to the English language media belying the myth of the monolingual Latino that Hollywood and TV portray.
In the Hollywood film Stonewall, a retelling of the seminal event in the gay liberation and rights movement, the white gay screenwriter and its white gay director, opted to cast a corn-fed blond hunk to throw the first stone against the police. Gay history tells us it was Puerto Rican activist Sylvia Ray Rivera and other people of color that were important to its success. Today, a street that intersect with Christopher St is named Sylvia Ray Rivera Way. Ditto HBO’s The Normal Heart where the AIDS crisis and responders were portrayed as overwhelmingly white. A few uncredited Latino actors were featured in a crowded disco dancing away oblivious.
Little are aware of (or choose to disregard) the discrimination Latinos have faced from the mainly white gay community in our nation. Health services are flat. According to the CDC, Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV. Most occur in young gay and bisexual men. The number of new infections among African Americans and Latinos has increased while white gay males have decreased. Many have criticized how people of color have been under served in the funding and securing of life-giving medications as well as education and prevention.
In a time when mass shootings lead newscasts, when innocent people are killed in churches, office parties, a marathon, and now a nightclub, we often find ways to quell our outrage and move on to the next breaking news. Hashtags shorthand our anger: #blacklivesmatter, #Oscarssowhite. Yet the Latino community now the largest minority group in the US, and the majority group in California. The US is slowly becoming more brown. Yet we are still behind in elected political representation, in our entertainment industry, in our literary lives, in our history books, etc.
So what does this tragedy in a gay bar offer in order to create a groundswell for Latino empowerment? What do we do to honor the dead and the wounded than lighting candles and having them in our thoughts?
We need to bring our exclusion from the national conversation to the forefront. Social networks are a valuable tool in getting issues that concern us as Latinos as well as pointing to our accomplishments. Politically, we should be outraged by the internment of refugees from Latin America. In the arts, we need to advocate for more roles and films that utilize our true stories or stories (based on our writers like Junot Díaz or Sandra Cisneros) that cast our actors to play any role. In the news media we need to demand that major newspapers (New York Times) and TV networks (including PBS) to employ the voices and reporting of Latino professional journalist to report the news, to cover the arts from literary to film critics or sports writers and commentators to cover our boxing and baseball heroes.
In our activism we not only become part of the solution, but offer valuable and unique insights to those issues that beset us all as a nation, as a people. Love will always trump hate. United we can be invincible, and no longer invisible.
Copyright 2016 by Gregg Barrios. Barrios is a playwright, poet, and journalist. He is a 2013 USC Annenberg Getty Fellow, and serves on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle. His play, Rancho Pancho, explores the turbulent and passionate relationship between playwright Tennessee Williams and lover Pancho Rodriguez, who inspired the character of Stanley Kowalski in A Street Car Named Desire. All photos of the Orlando victims are used under the “fair use” proviso of the copyright law.