Since my high school student days as a volunteer with La Huelga, collecting signatures in support of Cesar Chavez and urging the boycott of grapes and lettuce, marching in the Chicano Moratorium, social activism and Chicano politics have played a pivotal role in my life while at the same time I embraced the politics of the Gay Liberation Movement and challenged the societal oppression of homosexuality. The combination of the two sometimes made for a clash of “values” and provided me with a range of art making strategies.
In 1978 –1979 I made an art piece in a magazine format (well before the ‘zine scene) where I combined the concept of magazines like House Beautiful, Los Angeles, and Cosmopolitan that catered to an upper to middle economic class with the sensibility of Chicano gang culture. It was tongue in cheek and used humor to ridicule both the consumerist bent of those L.A. lifestyle magazines while also pointing out the macho, self-destructive violence and inherent homophobia found in the barrio. I only made two editions of 100 copies each.
In both issues I played an undercover reporter named Santos who featured “exposes” of made up societal problems. In the first issue I exposed a secret underground network of “Homo-Homeboy” parties where vato locos congregated late at night to drink, get high and listen to Judy Garland records ending in a drunken orgy of sex and violence. The homeboys would remove their bandanas from their heads and strategically place them in either their “left” or “right” back pocket following the gay hanky codes of the 1970s. The sensibility was more Dada and Mad magazine in it’s approach than politically correct or strident.
The second issue of the magazine exposed a secret organized East L.A. terrorist network of homeboys/homegirls who in lurid photo-documentation, kidnap a white husband and wife from Westwood along with their Japanese maid to a secret eastside location where they are tied up and forced to eat menudo and watch Channel 34 novelas.
Both issues also had an advice column called “Ask Lil Loca” and beauty tips for cholas and suggestions for that most versatile fashion accessory, the bandana.
In 1989, the CORE Program located in Hollywood received funding for prevention and education geared towards the Spanish speaking runaways, throwaways, hustlers and kids/men in the streets of L.A. They published information regarding HIV transmission and safe sex guidelines in a non-threatening, easy to read comic book format called Chicos Modernos. The first printing had drawings by Bruce Rapp. When it came time to do the second issue of Chicos Modernos, I was asked if I would do the illustrations, as Bruce was too ill to do the work. So I did Volume 2, 3 and 4 of Chicos Modernos using the characters and comic book style of Volume 1 as a starting point, I created my own version of the comic book characters tailored to the script/message from CORE. We all had to work within the homophobic restrictions placed on the funding by Senator Jesse Helms. While illustrating and writing about sexuality and transmission of HIV/AIDS, I couldn’t show men kissing, much less having sex or doing anything that could be construed as encouraging or promoting homosexuality. Chicos Modernos was distributed in Latino gay bars/clubs and at The Sunset Junction Street Fair and through agencies offering HIV services to Spanish speaking clients.
La Historia de Amor Calendar
In 1994, the gay and lesbian Latino arts group known as VIVA did a calendar project addressing support for and discussion of HIV in the Latino community. Based on the concept of the calendarios which are given out by Mexican bakeries, carnecerias, markets and restaurants VIVA wanted an image that was culturally a synthesis of both our Latino/Mexican heritage and our identity as queer/gay. I chose to reinterpret an image by the Mexican painter Jesus Helguera whose work illustrating Aztec mythology (albeit in a classical western European method) has been reproduced for decades on calendars. The calendars have become a staple of Chicano popular culture and the images by Helguera, iconic references to a mythological indigenous Mexican heritage.
The image La Leyenda deLos Vocanes was painted in 1940 and illustrates the Aztec legend of the warrior Popocapetl who desired to marry the princess Ixtaccihuatl but upon returning from battle where his warrior feathers were rightfully earned, he finds that the princess has killed herself thinking he had died in battle. Filled with grief he carries her body to the top of the mountains expecting that the falling snow and steam emanating at the top might reawaken his dead princess. She never does awake and their two silhouettes, her lifeless body and his, hunching over in grief form the snow-covered mountains bearing their names. This specific illustration, Painted in 1940, this specific image has been borrowed by many Chicano artists since the 1970’s so the appropriation of the image for our calendar was not a new idea. What was “new” was my replacing the female figure of the princess with that of a young man and unlike the Helguera painting which shows a pale lifeless princess almost as white as the surrounding snow, I have the young man golden brown, still alive, looking like he is sleeping under the gaze of the warrior whose arm encircles the young Aztec. Visually the implication is one of hope. Unlike the original image death has not conquered the youth and the warrior’s countenance is of concern and caring rather than grief. I titled my image La Historia de Amor, implying homoeroticism going back centuries among indigenous peoples prior to the Spanish conquest. Underneath the image is the edict: “Apoya tus hermanos con VIH / Support your brothers with HIV”. Depending on one’s perspective it can be read as encouraging support for our gay brothers, or support for one’s siblings or friends, countering the stigma that HIV/AIDS still carries in many Latino and Mexican communities.