Tag: homophobia

Look Back in Horror

I am the child of an immigrant. My mom is from El Salvador, so I grew up with the tastes and influences of a typical American teenager, all mixed with a strong awareness of Latino culture and history. I’m pretty grateful for the combo.

You know who else is the child of an immigrant? Omar Mateen, the psychopath who murdered 49 people in Orlando a few nights ago.

orlando-shooting-0612-large-169

Mateen and I clearly had different interpretations of the dichotomies that come with being members of the first generation to be born in America. For example, I blended a love of hamburgers with an appreciation for pupusas, and I gave the music of my mother’s homeland a fair listen before popping in a Soundgarden album. It was a bit of a mezcla.

But Omar Mateen wasn’t interested in mixing cultures. He found it easier to just embrace the problems, prejudices, and anger of his parents’ country. Mateen latched onto his father’s homophobia and the religious mania that is widespread in his family’s homeland. And in so doing, he set out to be more culturally authentic than his parents ever were.

This is not an issue of assimilation or integration, as so many people believe it to be. No, it is more of a cultural mindset.

It is a mindset that provokes young men, born and raised in America, to adopt the radical politics of their parents’ homelands. It is a mindset of fear and fury.

The massacre in Orlando — and the fact that so many of the victims were Latino — got me thinking about how this cultural perception forms one of the many roots of bigotry and violence.

Let’s ask, why are there no Latino terrorists, going on shooting sprees or strapping on bombs to avenge the pain and misery that the United States government has inflicted upon El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and other Latin American countries?

Indeed, there is ample reason for Hispanics to be more than a little pissed about our treatment and standing in the United States.

And yet, survey after survey shows that Latinos are more optimistic about the future and more positive about life in general than just about any other American demographic. We are pretty much the last people to use the injustices of the past to justify abhorrent behavior.

One reason for this is so obvious that it borders on the simplistic. But here it is: Latinos tend to look forward.

We pack up and move to new countries in search of better lives. We assume our kids will do better than us. We have faith that circumstances will improve.

And this forward-thinking mindset, this cultural tendency to dismiss the woes of the past, helps us to maintain optimism in the face of economic and political tribulations. It helps us to set aside our pain and disappointment, rather than hoist them upon our backs for all to see.

In contrast, angry and hate-filled people tend to look backward, toward some vague past, and then they threaten to make America, you know, “great again.”

And other people, like Omar Mateen, not only look backward — they glare at it with a white-hot obsession and rage. They believe that their culture’s best days are long behind them, that the present holds nothing more than humiliation and despair, and that someone — maybe American society or gays or left-handed dentists or whoever — is to blame.

Omar Mateen, in addition to being a pathetic and homicidal loser, was an unimaginative, scared person who had no faith in the future. And someone taught him that mindset, inculcating him with the belief that it was reality.

As for his victims — people with names like Almodovar and Guerrero and Rios and Flores — they most likely had great hopes for tomorrow and next year and the next decade. But that optimism and those dreams were cruelly taken from them by a furious man who could do nothing better with his life than stare backward into the distant past.

 


Well That Was Fun

So this past weekend, some blowhard megalomaniac hosted Saturday Night Live. Depending on your perspective, this event was a harmless pop culture happenstance, a dangerous promotion of xenophobia, or a tired comedy show jumping the shark into irrelevance once and for all.

In any case, everyone seemed to agree that it was 90 painfully unfunny minutes.

bored girl

As you may have heard, many Latinos were aghast at SNL for asking this lunatic to host, and demonstrations broke out against the show’s tone-deaf decision. And of course, many Hispanic groups urged viewers to boycott SNL, the NBC network, and its advertisers.

While I find the sentiment understandable, even commendable, I also find it to be futile.

You see, the protests only gave more publicity to this fiasco. In fact, this installment of SNL was the show’s highest-rated episode in years. So much for the power of demonstrations.

And I’m no economist, but it seems to me that boycotts in the modern world rarely if ever work. Weren’t right-wing Christians boycotting Disney for years over the company’s gay-friendly policies? And how did that turn out for the homophobes?

No, I prefer to refrain from giving the bigots and the nutjobs more attention. It only encourages them.

And to be honest, I haven’t watched SNL in years, so they wouldn’t even notice me boycotting them.

So it’s on to the next freakshow or outbreak of smug prejudice. And this time, maybe we should all just look away and not even talk about it.

 

 


Menomena

I was in the first generation of kids who grew up with Sesame Street. Even at a young age, I recognized how rare it was to see fellow Latinos on television, much less a happily married, well-adjusted couple like Maria and Luis.

I wasn’t even traumatized when Grover would get all quiet, lean in to whisper to a little Hispanic child, and then start shouting and waving his spindly arms around. Seriously, he did that a lot.

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Principle, Ploy, or Pandering?

Earlier this month, some polls implied that President Obama’s support among Latinos was so high that he was “close to maxing out” his lead over Mitt Romney. Think about that — Obama statistically could not get any more popular with Hispanics. The president might explode or something.

But then Obama went ahead and said that he supported gay marriage, and Republicans shouted that Latinos were so outraged that they were going to abandon the Democratic Party and vote for Romney, who of course, is semi-pseudo-quasi Mexican. The only problem with this GOP wishful thinking is that it is not based in reality.

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Why the Bombshell?

OK, this is going to come out as self-righteous, but I’m going to say it anyway.

I’m a straight guy who was raised Catholic. I grew up doing things like Boy Scouts and high school football. When I was a kid, depictions of gay people were rare, and overwhelmingly negative. But despite my relentlessly religious, hetro background, even as a teenager I couldn’t understand why anybody had a problem with gay people.

So I’m mystified why, after decades of social pressure, grown adults are only now saying, “I guess it’s not cool to hate on gays.” Of course, even more amazing is the fact that millions of Americans are still saying, “Yes, it is, because God told me to.”

President Obama’s decision this week to come out in support of gay marriage is breathtaking not only for its boldness, but for the fact that there is any controversy at all. I’m sorry, but try as I might to respect everyone’s religious beliefs, I can’t get past the idea that the supposedly principled stance against homosexuality is nothing more than fear, ignorance, and prejudice.

Now, those are subjects that Latinos know a thing or two about. Perhaps because we’ve felt what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those emotions, support for gay marriage is higher among Hispanics than among the general population. Yes, as I’ve written before, Latinos are no longer as socially conservative as they once were, and Republicans who insist that Obama will lose the Hispanic vote because of his announcement are deluding themselves.

In essence, twenty or so years from now, when gay marriage is legal in every state, you will have a hard time finding anyone who will admit that they once voted to deny fellow Americans their civil rights. It will be just like the old Southerners who insist they never called a black person a derogatory name in the 1970s.

Who knows, maybe even Arizona, by that point, will stop frisking Hispanic kids. We can dream.

 


Don’t Flaunt It

Yes, you’ve heard the code phrases.

People often disguise their prejudices by explaining that they’re not filled with fear or hatred toward a particular group; it’s just that they want that group to act, you know, more “normal.” In this context, “normal” means avoiding any behaviors that indicate different perspectives from the majority culture.

For example, we hear a lot about Hispanic immigrants assimilating. As I’ve written before, this can be an admirable goal…or it can imply that something is fundamentally wrong with Latino culture.

More than anything, Hispanics are not to flaunt their ethnic identity. There are, of course, a host of behaviors that draw attention to a Latino identity. Potential offensive behaviors include everything from speaking Spanish in public to bringing up the complexities of Latino healthcare.

Committing such sins can lead to serious disapproval.

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Love Thy Neighbor

Recently, everyone’s most charismatic anti-Semitic homophobe, Mel Gibson, expanded his repertoire. According to widely distributed recordings, Gibson has gone beyond disliking just gays and Jews. He also despises women, blacks, and Latinos. I’m talking about those direct threats to his ex-girlfriend and his causal dropping of both the N-word and the W-word.

Now, a common question, besides the snide pondering of what his pals Danny Glover and Jodie Foster think of all this, is how could such a devoutly religious man be so filled with hatred? After all, Gibson directed The Passion of the Christ (a slice of hardcore propaganda for Christianity if ever there was one) and has been vocal about his faith.

As a brief aside, I may have mentioned – once or several hundred times – that I was raised Catholic, as many Hispanics are. I dropped out of the Church when I was a teenager.

One reason I left the Church was that I grew weary of being told I should feel guilty for every thought or action, no matter how innocuous. But I will give credit to my old parish for one thing: It at least told me that I should feel bad if I ignored Jesus Christ’s teachings.

To my surprise, many Americans don’t even have the self-respect to acknowledge when they are contradicting their spiritual foundation. I’m referring, of course, about the recent study that found a positive correlation between religion and racism.

We all know that most U.S. churches are racially homogenous (over 90 percent of them, by some estimates). But this study found that in these ethnically pure places of worship, “strong religious in-group identity was associated with derogation of racial out-groups.” This means that many Christians are looking at one of Christ’s great commands – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) – and amending it with the phrase “unless they look different than you.”

The researchers found that “religion is practiced largely within race” and as such, “religious in-group identity promotes general ethnocentrism.” This study focused on white Protestants, but the researchers believe that their findings apply to other groups because “all religions teach moral superiority.”

I’d like to say that all this surprises me, but it doesn’t. I’m sure we have all met religious people who struck us as somewhat less than holy. I still remember the older man who told anyone who would listen that he was saved, because he had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. And then he dropped a few choice comments about minorities.

And my wife told me about the time she was stuck in a car with a group of well-to-do (and supposedly devout) Christians. To her surprise, her fellow passengers joked about running over African Americans on the way to their destination. They were going, of course, to a wedding… in church.

My wife is no longer friends with these people.

What amazes me is the overt contradiction that these feelings should create. Yet there seems to be little internal conflict.

Even religious homophobes who are secretly gay spend time praying to “cure” their supposed affliction. Their tragically wrongheaded approach at least causes them angst.

But many Christians apparently see nothing wrong with praising Jesus and then dismissing one of his central principles. Perhaps the more studious racists in the study can justify it with the ancient argument that all the other races are decedents of Ham, Noah’s ostracized son, and are therefore worthy of scorn. But somehow, I doubt this theological viewpoint comes up too much.

Regardless of how religious people justify it, the effect is real. The researchers “failed to find that racial tolerance arises from humanitarian values, consistent with the idea that religious humanitarianism is largely expressed to in-group members.”

In sum, I can say I’m a good person if I’m nice to people at my church. And it’s best if I don’t think about it too much beyond that.

As such, Mel Gibson has plenty of company.

Again, the study implies that every religion has this dirty little secret. One could argue, in fact, that modern religion demands a certain level of hatred for the mythical Other.

For example, the Amish are as religious as it gets, submitting their lives to a strict version of what they believe God wants. And yet, this very devotion to spiritual belief also requires a certain level of xenophobia. It’s necessary to maintain their theological (and theoretical) purity. Even if the Amish went looking for converts, I doubt they would be in a big hurry to accept a black person (by the way, if the Wayans brothers would like to develop this concept into a zany comedy, tell them to call me and we’ll do lunch).

So was there anything positive about this study? Did the researchers find any group that might offer some hope for the future?

Yes, there was. The researchers said, almost as an aside, that “only religious agnostics were racially tolerant.”

Well, that’s just great. How are we supposed to fit that into a sermon?


It's Not All About the Music

Recently, two-hit wonder and famed hip shaker Ricky Martin announced the least surprising celebrity news since we found out about Charlie Sheen and all those hookers. The man confirmed, of course, that he is gay.

Martin’s announcement, as anticlimactic as it was, still upset those Americans who believe that even whispering the word “homosexual” will cause their marriages to implode and their children to start cross-dressing. But most people accepted it with a shrug.

Even the Hispanic community, more or less, refrained from calling for Martin’s head. However, it seems to me that this has less to do with increased tolerance for gay Latinos than it does with the fact that Martin’s star has dimmed and, as I stated, we all kind of knew the guy’s status in the first place.

Just about every culture has a powerful strain of homophobia. Well, maybe the British don’t – in fact, I think a minimal amount of homosexual experimentation is actually required there. But just about everybody else has issues with gays.

Still, Latino culture, as I’ve written before, has a particularly virulent strain of hatred for homosexuality. It’s the double whammy of fervent Catholicism and traditional images of machismo.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, “maricon” was never said lightly. It meant somebody, either the taunter or the object of the accusation, was going to get his ass kicked.

You might say, “Hey Fanatic, that was a long time ago. Younger Latinos have dropped the homophobia that plagued you aging Gen Xers and sad Baby Boomers.”

It’s a valid point, and I agree that the older generation is more to blame for spewing hatred. As if to verify this, mere days before Martin publically waved the rainbow flag, the rancheras singer Paquita la del Barrio let us know that older Hispanics may never join the twenty-first century.

The singer, a Mexican woman in her sixties, said, “I’d rather see a kid die” than allow him to be adopted by gay parents. For emphasis, she added that it was better for a child to die alone in the streets than to be “adopted by them.”

Now, I admit that I had never heard of this woman. I’ll add that I believe ranchera music – along with polka and Celine Dion’s greatest hits – will be the tunes that blare over Satan’s Army as it materializes for Armageddon.

Regardless, it’s telling that Paquita la del Barrio (who has a large American fan base, by the way) felt not the slightest shame in making her statements. She doesn’t see her viewpoint as remotely unreasonable, and she knows that plenty of her fans will agree with her. It’s a sad commentary on older Latinos.

Perhaps Paquita la del Barrio will get her comeuppance via a public backlash or a karmic twist of fate. Or maybe there will be no fallout over her unrepentant homophobia. At the very least, however, the woman has completely blown her chance to sing a duet with Ricky Martin.


Can a Latino “Sex in the City” Character Be Far Behind?

I’m still not back to a 100% focus on the blog… actually, I doubt I ever had that level of commitment. But you get my point. I’m coming out of mega-distraction mode now that our move to California is complete and the last box has been unpacked. All I need to do now is address that pesky question of how I’m going to bring in money…

Don’t worry, I’m not turning this into one of those pathetic “please support my blog” pledge drives where I ask for donations. But I am going to cop out on the updates a few more times and issue short posts about news items until I can devote proper energy to being insightful, or least fanatical.

So that’s why I’m just going to pass along this information, courtesy of CNN: “Openly gay Latino public figures… are rare.”

Yes, that’s pretty fast-breaking stuff. To be fair, the gist of CNN’s article is that the virulent homophobia prevalent in Hispanic culture may be dying out.

I wrote about this a few months ago, when Proposition 8 passed here in California. As I pointed out then, much of the support for denying gays their basic civil rights came from Latinos. That’s because homosexuality doesn’t fit easily within a Catholic-dominated culture that invented machismo.

Still, gay Hispanics have always seemed to find some way to subtly express themselves:

Gay Latinos

In any case, CNN claims that straight Latinos are finally catching on and becoming ever so tolerant. The article points out that “El Diario La Prensa, one of the oldest and largest Spanish-language newspapers in the U.S., recently endorsed the rights of same-sex couples to marry.” And it goes on to say that “while harassment in schools for Latino gay students remains high… these students have more support than in past generations.”

So maybe someday it won’t just be white, upper-class teens with hip parents who get to come out. Maybe the tortured, conflicted Pedros of America will finally be able to explain to their parents why they’d rather design a spring ensemble than work on the low-rider.

Of course, the CNN article loses credibility for me because they laud Perez Hilton as a role model. I mean, what could be more ridiculous that praising a blogger?


The Rebuttal

One of my recent pieces (“Muy Fabuloso”) also appeared on the Huffington Post last week. The post was about homophobia in Latino culture. On the Huffington site, I received numerous comments.

Many were supportive. Several were insightful and thought-provoking. Others were diatribes. But as usual, what I focused on were the bitchy ones.

I heard that I was fanning the flames to turn this into a racial issue. I was accused of saying all Hispanics were Catholic and all Catholics were homophobes (could someone Venn diagram this for me?). I found out that I was “scapegoating Latinos” and “pitting minority groups against one another.” I discovered that I was spreading “anti-religious heterophobia,” which I’m pretty sure is a brand-new term (and concept). Finally, I learned that I simply “don’t understand the dynamics” of California, which is hilarious considering that I lived in the heart of Los Angeles for half a decade.

But my point wasn’t about California. It wasn’t about Catholic dogma. It wasn’t about Hispanics and blacks and gays all fighting it out, like we’re fireflies shook up in a jar. It wasn’t even about Proposition 8.

It was about homophobia in Hispanic culture.

As I said in my response on the Huffington Post, Hispanic culture has a powerful one-two punch in traditional machismo and religious upbringing that makes homophobia tough to eradicate.

I stand by that.

Again, using Proposition 8 as a rough gauge, we see that more Latinos supported rescinding gay rights than did the general population (53% versus 52%) The fact that it was close diminishes in comfort when one sees that an actual minority of white and Asian voters (49% of each) supported the proposition, meaning that only blacks were more likely to vote yes on this.

Add to this the fact that Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama (Asian voters were less enthusiastic, and whites were more likely to pick McCain), and we see that it is not a powerful strain of social conservatism that drove the vote. Hispanics are more likely to agree with Democratic or even liberal ideas. So clearly, there is something in the culture specifically about gays that many Latinos don’t like.

The glimmer of hope, as some commentators pointed out, is that younger Hispanics are rejecting the gay-bashing of their elders. As such, they mirror the general population, providing further proof that assimilation is taking place, despite what so many conservatives insist (but that’s another topic).

Still, the feedback has prompted me to emphasize once more what I’m trying to say with this blog. My goal has been to praise and celebrate a culture that is largely ignored (except during election season) by mainstream America. However, my additional goal is to point out the flaws in this culture in the hopes that they will be rectified.

I may not always be successful, but I will continue to strive for that balance between lifting up and tearing down.


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