Personal mementos are being unearthed to celebrate the history of the queer Latinx family.
There’s a fair amount of LGBTQ history, but it’s predominantly white. Which is why a couple of Latino queer curators got to work building a first-of-its-kind LGBTQ exhibit.
Juliana Delgado Lopera and Ángel Rafael “Ralph” Vázquez-Concepción’s new seminal show “Noche de Ambiente” will pay tribute to the Latino LGBTQ movement.
The word “ambiente” means atmosphere or environment in Spanish. It’s also a term proudly adopted by the Latino LGBTQ community.
Recently, the term has become a way to celebrate everything that makes the Latino LGBTQ community culturally unique. The word also honors a spirit of resistance against adversity, as Latino culture has traditionally been quite homophobic.
The show shines a spotlight on Latino drag performance and LGBTQ and AIDS activism in San Francisco from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Right now, the exhibit is at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco. It runs from Oct. 28, 2016, through February 2017. Members of the museum can experience the exhibit for free, while non-members pay $5.
Lopera, a queer woman, decided to launch this show because she wanted to pay tribute to people who played a crucial role in nurturing the queer Latinx community.
“This is my history, my community. The Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Colombians that paved the way for me to exist fully in my queer Latinidad,” she says.
Latino queers have not had a place (or a voice) in our history until very recently, and watching that change has been amazing.
The “Ambiente” collection showcases everything from documents to photographs to flyers and certificates. Here are 13 of the most intriguing photographs and documents on display:
1. The exhibit celebrates Cuban transgender activist Adela Vázquez.
2. It highlights comedy on the “queer Latino tip” like “Full Frontal Rudity.”
3. It includes priceless photos like this one taken on New Year’s 1994…
4. …and a letter from the mayor to gay rights activist George Raya.
5. There’s also an amazing moment of liberation captured in time.
6. And “exclusively for Chicana-Latina butches.” Why have we never seen these?
7. This show finally gives queer Latinos a spotlight.
8. You’ll also see a flyer for a project to fight AIDS called “Porno, Polaroids & God.” Catchy name.
9. Two words: Simply. Fabulous. This photo is amazing!
10. This certificate is a hidden gem of inclusivity we’re seeing for the first time.
11. The word “celebration” comes to mind with this photo. And deservedly so, thanks to the “Noche de Ambiente” exhibit.
Most of the items in the exhibit are personal mementos. They were saved in photo albums and boxes by people who played a crucial role in building the LGBTQ community between 1970 and 1990. The curators began collecting them five years ago in preparation for the exhibit.
Lopera says she hopes to shine a light on folks like Adela Vázquez in this exhibit.
Vázquez, a transgender Cuban activist, took Lopera under her wing and introduced her to all things Latinx upon moving to San Francisco.
Lopera says, “Listening to Adela, her friends and people in my chosen family retell their stories of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s while, at the same time, seeing no representation of their voices in mainstream queer history, awaken[ed] something in me.”
Vázquez-Concepción, the exhibit’s other curator, says he is keenly interested in how art exhibitions are apparatuses for brokering identities.
This exhibit helped him find a place in the conversation about queer Latinx visual and performance artists in San Francisco over the last 30 years.
He tells LGBT Weekly he heard the word “ambiente” a lot when he was a kid in the ’80s. “Later I came to understand the shielding effect it has. Like a spell, it turns the space it refers to into Latinx queer domain.”
This powerful exhibit is a piece of forgotten history, helping all of us learn about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans AIDS organizations that paved the way for incredible activism today.
“Latinos are an afterthought in all U.S. history, including queer history,” Lopera says. “Here, in this exhibit, we’re at the center. Our stories are the focal point. And, really, it’s past overdue.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
The exhibit runs from Oct. 28, 2016, through February 2017 at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco.
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