Historic Borders Conference Explores Queer Latino/a Sexualities
Crossing National and Sexual Borders, a three-day conference on queer sexualities in Latin American and Latino communities in the United States, kicked off October 3 with a showcase of some of the finest queer performance artists from Latin America and the US. Performing to a full house in the The Graduate Center, CUNY’s Proshansky Auditorium were the legendary Carmelita Tropicana, Marga G6mez, Jorge Merced, Tito Vasconcelos, and Mirkala Crystal. Merced performed a stunning piece based on a short story by the New York Puerto Rican author Manuel Ramos Otero, who died of AIDS in 1990. Francisco Casas and Pedro Lemebel, the Chilean poets/performers also known as “Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis” or the “Fags of the Apocalypse,” set up an installation in the auditorium’s foyer in tribute to one of Latin America’s most important poets and queer scholars, Nestor Perlongher, who also died of AIDS. Energized by this opening, the conference got off to a great start the next day. Conference organizers Elena M. Martinez, Oscar Montero, and CLAGS Executive Director Jill Dolan, gave welcoming remarks that underscored the historical importance of the conference, the first to bring together a wide spectrum of activists, scholars, and artists from Latin America and the US. Ana-Mita Betancourt spoke in loving memory of Michael C.P. Ryan (1956- 1995), a lawyer committed to Latin American and Latino lesbian and gay rights. A generous bequest from his estate underwrote a significant portion of the conference. The first panel, “Border Crossings: Homosexualities and Migration,” examined the diverse histories of Latin American and Latino queer immigrants. Their histories of migration from Latin America to the US, from towns to metropolitan areas, and from one gender to another, as well as their strategies for survival, were analyzed by Brad Epps, Tiffany Ana L6pez, Frances Negr6nMuntaner, Achy Obejas, Ruben RfosAvila, and Alberto Sandoval Sanchez. In the afternoon, a panel of scholars and activists addressed the relationship between Latin/o American queer identities and politics. Panelists discussed the quest for lesbian political visibi lity in Mexico (Claudia Hinojosa), the challenges of community organizing as an openly Latina lesbian (Graciela Sanchez), the formation of Latino HIV-positive identity (Robert Vazquez-Pachecho), and the imperial ist politics of some gay multinational identity movements Oorge Cortinas). The Brazilian scholar and activist, Luiz Mott, winner of the Filipa de Sousa Award for Human Rights sponsored by the International Gay and Lesbian Rights Commission, spoke eloquently about the history of gay militance in Brazi l. The second day of the conference was held at New York University, whose Humanities Council co-sponsored the conference. Sylvia Molloy, Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities, opened the day’s events. Speaking to a full house, participants discu ssed in the first panel of the day the representation of queer desire in Latin/o American arts and letters. Presentations addressed the formation of a queer Latin/o American writer (Diana Bellessi, Jaime Manrique), the representation of queer desire in writers’ correspondence Oose Quiroga), the representation of queer desire in Latina performance and visual art (Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano), and censorship in the media (Eiiana Ortega). In the afternoon, a distinguished group of panelists gathered to discuss the state of Latin/o American queer activism. Carmen Vazquez, Francisco X. Alarc6n, Juan David Acosta, Marcelo Feldman, Daisy de Jesus, Carmen Chavez, and Luis L6pez Detres analyzed the state of queer civi I rights in Latin/o America, the lessons learned from the various queer movements, and the possibility of a broad coalition among Latin/o Americans and with other marginalized groups. The final panel, a round table discussion with performance artists on the evolution of their work, included the artists Marga G6mez, Carmelita Tropicana, Pedro Lemebel, Francisco Casas, and Tito Vasconcelos, Homovisiones producer Gonzalo Aburto, and critics David Roman and Ricardo Ortiz. Perhaps the most moving moment of the conference was supplied by Pedro Lemebel, from Chile, who pulled out gold lame pumps and told the crowd he was in New York to walk the city streets for his friend, a drag queen from a poor neighborhood in Santiago who had always dreamed of coming to New York and had recently died of AIDS. The closing session was facilitated by conference organizers Arnalda Cruz-Malave, Licia Fioi-Matta, Suzanne Kaebnick, Robert Irwin, Elena M. Martinez, Oscar Montero, Jose Esteban Munoz, and Carlos Rodriguez-Matos. Questions about the relationship between scholarship and activism, between CLAGS and the various Latino communities• in the city, and suggestions for future collaboration were revisited in a lively manner. The conference ended with a party held at Flamingo East where participants, especially the organizers, partied to the sounds of salsa, merengue, and cumbia.