By Greg Hernandez
Multi-media artist Christopher Angel Ramirez has spent more than a decade exploring the complexity of growing up gay in the Latino culture.
In Color Bonita, his media art performance piece which opens January 19 at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre, Ramirez will share what he’s learned about the queer Latino experience and how it is influenced by family, religion, machismo, and homophobia.
“There are pressures and expectations that come with being a man in a Latino culture,” says Ramirez, a writing lecturer at University of California, Merced. “For lot of Latino men, even now, their families still don’t know they are LGBT. Their closest friends still don’t know.”
Ramirez spent two years having conversations with approximately 100 Latino men in Southern California who identify as gay, homosexual, and bisexual.
“This is a life project for me,” Ramirez explains. “The initial origins of Color Bonita date back to around 2004 when I started graduate school. I wasn’t thinking about performance but was thinking, ‘Where is my queer Latino history?’ There wasn’t much of it, it was limited. And there’s still an incredible vacuum.”
Finding men to participate and gaining their trust was a painstaking and delicate process. Initial conversations were not recorded and no notes were taken.
“I’m not exactly sure what it was about me that got them to trust me so much,” Ramirez reflects. “My heart tells me they were also curious and hungry to learn.”
He found interview subjects by reaching out to people he knew from growing up in Southern California’s Inland Empire. This created a snowball effect and Ramirez eventually did audio interviews about family, religion, homophobia, machismo, and racism with more than 30 of the men who form the heart of Color Bonita.
“Religion and family are very big pieces and I also explore the role of machismo,” Ramirez says. “How do these things affect you? How do you negotiate these things with your family or church and what happens when you don’t find a place there due to homophobia?”
The identities of interview subjects are not revealed in the piece which has been presented in recent years at professional conferences and community centers, as well as at film and art festivals throughout the United States. At the Renberg, one of the original interview subjects will appear live with Ramirez for further discussion.
“He will be brought back to be interviewed on stage to find out where he was then and where he is now,” Ramirez shares. “It’s an ongoing archive of people’s collective voices. I will also be interviewing a new person.”
In addition, audience members will have an opportunity to participate in a dialogue about the gay Latino experience.
The event is free, but attendees are asked to register online at lalgbtcenter.org/bonita.