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Wild Tongues

Wild Tongues
Transnational Mexican Popular Culture

An innovative application of four social types—the downtrodden Peladita/Peladito and the zoot-suited Pachuca/Pachuco—that illuminates working-class subjects in a broad spectrum of Mexican and Mexican American cultural production.

Series: Chicana Matters Series, Deena J. González and Antonia Castañeda series editors

July 2012
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237 pages | 6 x 9 | 6 b&w illus. |

Tracing the configuration of the slapstick, destitute Peladita/Peladito and the Pachuca/Pachuco (depicted in flashy zoot suits) from 1928 to 2004, Wild Tongues is an ambitious, extensive examination of social order in Mexican and Chicana/o cultural productions in literature, theater, film, music, and performance art.

From the use of the Peladita and the Peladito as stock characters who criticized various aspects of the Mexican government in the 1920s and 1930s to contemporary performance art by María Elena Gaitán and Dan Guerrero, which yields a feminist and queer-studies interpretation, Rita Urquijo-Ruiz emphasizes the transnational capitalism at play in these comic voices. Her study encompasses both sides of the border, including the use of the Pachuca and the Pachuco as anti-establishment, marginal figures in the United States. The result is a historically grounded, interdisciplinary approach that reimagines the limitations of nation-centered thinking and reading.

Beginning with Daniel Venegas’s 1928 novel, Las aventuras de don Chipote o Cuando los pericos mamen, Rita Urquijo-Ruiz’s Wild Tongues demonstrates early uses of the Peladito to call attention to the brutal physical demands placed on the undocumented Mexican laborer. It explores Teatro de Carpa (tent theater) in-depth as well, bringing to light the experience of Mexican Peladita Amelia Wilhelmy, whose “La Willy” was famous for portraying a cross-dressing male soldier who criticizes the failed Revolution. In numerous other explorations such as these, the political, economic, and social power of creativity continually takes center stage.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface: Wild Tongues/Lenguas Necias
  • Chapter 1: From the Carpa to the Novel: The Peladito in Las aventuras de Don Chipote, o Cuando los pericos mamen
  • Chapter 2: Las Peladitas: Gender and Humor in Teatro de Carpa
  • Chapter 3: Transnational Pachucada: Artistic Representations in Film, Theater, and Music across the Border
  • Chapter 4: Of Wild Tongues and Restless Bodies: María Elena Gaitán's Performance Art
  • Chapter 5: Beyond the Comfort Zone: Dan Guerrero's ¡Gaytino!
  • Conclusion: Connecting the Past with the Present
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Rita E. Urquijo-Ruiz is Associate Professor of Spanish and Transnational Mexican Literature and Culture at Trinity University. Her areas of interest are Mexican and Chicana/o literatures and cultures, gender and sexuality, as well as theater and performance studies.


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Chapter 5: Beyond the Comfort Zone

Dan Guerrero's ¡Gaytino!

For my sister Olivia Urquijo Ruiz, who has always encouraged me to be comfortably queer.

During the summer of 2004 Dan Guerrero performed ¡Gaytino!, his one-man show, in Los Angeles, California, in a small community theater. Once he introduced himself, the sixty-five-year-old Chicano told the audience about his longtime love affair with the stage. Guerrero had never before performed his autoethnographical performance piece, which was a work in progress, and he welcomed the audience's feedback. Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez and Nancy Saporta Sternbach discuss the term "autoethnographical performance" based on Mary Louise Pratt's definition of the same: "First, there is the issue of the 'subaltern' or marginal subject who constructs an identity in relation to the one assigned to her by the metropolitan or dominant culture. Second, these works are addressed to the dominant culture as well as to the subject's own community . . . Finally, the fact that these performative texts constitute collaborations between the subjects themselves and their audiences, they may be said to materialize a space for negotiations and resistances in Pratt's celebrated 'contact zone,' the space of transculturation." But Dan Guerrero was no stranger to the stage; he had been in the world of show business since childhood with his father, the famous Chicano musician Lalo Guerrero, who took him to some of his shows.

The topic of ¡Gaytino!—a coming-of-age and coming-out story of a Chicano gay man, accompanied by various types of music—opened a much-needed space for Chicana/o and Latina/o queer subjectivity. Sandoval-Sánchez and Sternbach have observed that

[since] performance incorporates storytelling to a select audience, both its style and content allow for a politics of identity to emerge. For lesbian and gay performers, the performance may take the form of a coming-out story, which accents the community-building process that is often part and parcel of the performative experience. Audiences filling these performance spaces are multiethnic, multiracial, and multisexual, so the sense of solidarity and coalition that fills the performative space has become a regular constitutive element of performance.

The audience (a diverse group in terms of race, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation) recognized the need for his voice and congratulated him on the courage and honesty of his testimony.

In November 2005 Dan Guerrero arrived in San Antonio, Texas, to perform ¡Gaytino! (still as a work in progress), and the audience there also welcomed his performance. Guerrero's queer act remains the only solo performance that offers a first look into the archives of Chicana/o queer life from the 1940s to the present; most performance texts on the topic of Latina/o queer identity have been written and/or performed by a younger generation. Here, I examine issues pertaining to Chicana/o queer identity and the factors that enable this subject to become comfortably queer amid family, community, and institutional homophobic rejection, including hegemonic practices of racism. A Chicana/o queer subject is often pressured to privilege one aspect of her/his identity (sexual or ethnic) over the other and continually struggles to negotiate and integrate both. I propose the concept of queer zone of comfort for Chicana/o subjectivity as notions of self, home, family, and community are articulated within a racist and xenophobic society. Mary Louise Pratt has theorized that a contact zone is "the space of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict."

Although my term "queer zone of comfort" might immediately remind the reader of Pratt's term, I utilize the notion of contact zone to offer a new theoretical dimension. This queer zone of comfort is created and inhabited by a Chicana/o or Latina/o queer subject after negotiating his/her identity conflicts. It is a cultural territory where the subject is empowered by his sexual and ethnic cultural citizenship to create an ideological intervention through a politics of identity and difference. The queer zone of comfort is a safe space and a discursive location from which queers of color can decidedly contribute to the liberation of their respective communities. In order to fully inhabit this queer zone of comfort, the subject must create familial and familiar unbreakable bonds with other members of his/her community who support social change for the betterment of the group. This queer Chicana/o subject must feel empowered to shout her/his identity and confront any type of bigotry that precludes her/him from moving forward in the fight for liberation.

Creating Home: A Chicana Queer Theoretical Framework

A Chicana/o subject is expected to accept the patriarchal gender roles assigned to her/him. The moment s/he does not conform to those roles for whatever reason, but especially if s/he is queer, the subject is ostracized. Cherríe Moraga writes that due to homophobic attitudes toward Chicana/o queers, many have had to leave their "homes" and their biological families to "make familia from scratch . . . with strangers" if necessary in order to survive. In this exile, the concept of home becomes crucial as Gloria Anzaldúa associates it to homophobia when she describes the "fear of going home . . . and not being taken in . . . of being abandoned by the mother, the culture, la Raza for being unacceptable, faulty, damaged." The queer Chicana/o and Latina/o subject must learn to negotiate her/his identity and to create new spaces where s/he belongs by expanding her/his familial ties with others who embrace all aspects of her/his identity. This subject must confront and overcome the overwhelming fear of abandonment by embracing her/his queer identity fully instead of seeing it as intolerable, scandalous, and offensive.

Anzaldúa states that as a member of the jotería, one has a need for creating a home anywhere one goes in order to face marginalization. She writes: "I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry 'home' on my back." She also theorizes the issue of "betrayal" presented to those who have supposedly abandoned their communities: "I feel perfectly free to rebel and to rail against my culture. I fear no betrayal on my part."8 In addition, she acknowledges the strengths she must have to complete these tasks: "So mamá, Raza, how wonderful, no tener que rendir cuentas a nadie. To separate from my culture (as from my family) I had to feel competent enough on the outside and secure enough inside to live life on my own." And finally, as if this empowerment were not enough, Anzaldúa is not afraid to create an entirely new community of her own: "And if going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture—una cultura mestiza—with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture."

For Anzaldúa, it becomes important to not have to answer to anyone about her sexual orientation and to create her own zone of comfort as a Chicana queer by negotiating her identity and creating that space where she can exist as both: Chicana and queer. The Chicana/o queer subject then must become aware of the different attacks on her/his selfhood and confront all obstacles with the confidence to be openly queer. It is imperative that this subject become empowered through her/his new familial ties and home surroundings in order to confront homophobia and racism. The performance and narratives of many queers of color center-stage how they feel forced to abandon their families and communities because they are unable to exist without any aspect of their identity being denied, particularly their sexual identity. It takes courage to come out as a Chicana/o queer in a community that is culturally and ethnically nationalist, where homosexuality is condemned as a sin, a pathological degeneration, and/or scandalous and repulsive behavior. This same community also demands a selfless subject who will put her/his Raza first; one must first serve one's community and then the self in order to be considered a fruitful member of the group. But as Moraga has stated, the Chicana/o community needs to embrace its jotería in order to continue moving forward in the fight against a racist and imperialist nation.

Latina/o Queer Performance: Double/Triple Marginalization

In view of the homophobic and racist contexts in which the Chicana/o and Latina/o subjects exist, it is no surprise that voices such as Guerrero's were previously absent on the Chicana/o and Latina/o stages and on the white queer stage as well. As David Román has stated, "Latino gay male playwrights historically have been denied a place on the stage. Performances that foreground the perspectives of gay men—as was the case with women previously—are viewed as incongruent with the larger political movement." Román adds that gay issues . . ."are often understood by the reigning heterosexist ideology of cultural nationalism to be symptomatic of white domination"; thus "Latino gay performers often must maneuver between Latino conventions on the one hand and dominant white gay traditions on the other." This means that the work of Latina/o queer performers is double in terms of fighting the homophobia and racism of the Chicano/Latino and white queer communities, respectively. Luis Alfaro, a Chicano queer performance artist, playwright, and activist, articulates the issues in his eye-opening declaration that among Chicanas/os he acts "very queer" and that among white queers he acts "very Chicano" in order to have each group acknowledge and confront its bigotry. In order for a Chicana/o queer subject to be able to inhabit a queer zone of comfort she/he must feel empowered to speak loudly against any type of oppressive system and community that attempts to alienate her/his efforts for change.

A Gay, Latino Subject: The Creation of ¡Gaytino!

Despite the many struggles and obstacles he faced in his communities, Dan Guerrero decided it was time to intervene in these spaces by sharing his story: "I'm sixty-five years old, and I have nothing to lose. I am both 'gay' and 'Latino,' which makes me ¡Gaytino!" He vouched to take his space in both worlds. Guerrero combined both aspects of his identity to create a new hybrid term. This neologism indicates the interconnection between the sexual and ethnic aspects of identity and the impossibility of dividing himself into two. The two exclamation marks encase the new word to indicate a type of proud shout both in English and in Spanish simultaneously. He is at once queering the Latino and "Latinizing" the queer parts of him as he anchors himself in the Chicano queer zone of comfort. In Guerrero's autoethnobiographical journey, we witness his process of becoming comfortably queer by challenging his own internalized racism and homophobia. He must first feel and acknowledge the loss of abandoning the empowering aspects of his ethnic and sexual culture that he must re-adopt and utilize in order to create a queer zone of comfort.

Guerrero's monologue starts when he was four years old and ends as he turns sixty-five. In his autoethnobiographical performance he pays homage to two of his heroes: his father, Lalo Guerrero, and his closest friend, the well-known Chicano artist Carlos [Charles] Almaraz. Recounting his relationship with each man, Guerrero recalls his struggle to articulate his own identity and to empower himself by negotiating all of its aspects. At first he fights his ethnic identity; as a boy of Mexican descent in a racist society during World War II, he wants to assimilate. Later, he hides his sexual orientation from his family by moving far away from home to the East Coast. It is not until after much searching and struggling with his identities that he finally becomes comfortable with all aspects of it and accepts himself. At this point, he decides to draw on his own experiences and dedicate himself to enacting positive changes in the Latina/o and Chicana/o communities. What follows is my critical analysis of Guerrero's performance within the framework of his courageous act of being comfortably queer and coming back home to his community, from which he had run away, and embracing his jotería.

The performance begins in the 1940s when the protagonist's family lived in various cities in Southern California. At the age of four, Dan had his first encounter with racism when another child called him "Mexican" as an insult. During this time, California publicly displayed racist signs that read: "No dogs, no Mexicans allowed." But his father (of Mexican origin) and his mother (of Mexican-Irish origin) seemed to be prepared for this occasion by counteracting any sense of shame and discrimination:

[Mother speaking] Mi hijito, my little son . . . you're an American, but an American of Mexican descent. [Father speaking]—My parents, your Nana and Tata, were born in Mexico. But you were born in the United States like Mommy and Daddy, so we're all of Mexican descent. Mexico is a beautiful country with a rich history and culture. You must always be proud to be of Mexican descent.

Dan acknowledges the empowerment and support that his parents offer him on issues of racism against Mexican Americans. His parents are able to create an ethnic zone of comfort by protecting him from racism; but not knowing that their child will be gay, they are not prepared to protect him from homophobia. Dan's reply to his parents' statements is a clever one. He states that he's too young to understand what they mean: "I don't know what the hell they're talking about . . . I'm four! 'Descent.'"19 He accepts his Mexican identity from then on but confesses that as a teenager he did not "like the way being Mexican made [him] feel. Less than, not as good as. Limited."

The protagonist deals with these negative feelings about his ethnic identity by submerging himself in Broadway musicals and in his own made-up theatrical extravaganzas. At this time, most of his childhood friends are not Mexican except for Carlos "Charles" Almaraz, who is a year younger than Danny. Charles, Dan points out, reclaims his name in Spanish, Carlos, during the Chicano movement as a political stance and a gesture of ethnic pride. The two of them are inseparable, and Dan looks up to Almaraz as someone knowledgeable who can always protect him and who encourages him in his love of musicals and performance. To an avid audience, the fact that he loves Broadway musicals indicates his initiation in a queer white identity for whom Broadway emblemizes a source of empowerment and an artistic zone of comfort.

Lalo Guerrero: Disidentifying as "Mexican"

By his teenage years, Dan's father's career as a musician of Mexican music has taken off and he is now famous, a fact that Dan admires and rejects at the same time. Dan is fascinated with all things related to the performance arts and the stage but not necessarily with all things related to Mexican culture. At one point in the performance, the protagonist begins to sing a Mexican song: "Hoy que lleno de emociones/ me encuentro con mi jarana/ voy a rendir homenaje a la canción mexicana. Voy a rendir homenaje/ a la canción más galana/ la canción más primorosa/ que es la canción mexicana" (Today, I am very excited, wearing my jarana [Mexican attire], because I am paying homage to the Mexican song. I will pay homage to the most gallant and beautiful song, which is the Mexican song). The stage directions indicate that this song ends abruptly and with the sound of a needle scratching the record. Young Dan continues: "I can't stand that music. I think it's 'tacky.' Dad writes it. He writes 'La canción mexicana, the Mexican Song' when barely out of his teens back in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. There's no mariachi on the planet worth its margarita salt that doesn't play that song." Undoubtedly, the scratching registers his trauma and denial of seeing himself as a minority of color. One of the key issues in this scene is young Dan's creation of his own identity as a Mexican American male completely independent from anyone else in his family and especially from his famous father.

Dan goes further into his rejection: "I'm not into Mexican music in my teens and Dad's growing celebrity is embarrassing. I want to blend in—I do not want my father singing at a school assembly. I'm searching for my own identity and mine starts to get all mixed up in his." As a young man, he would like to assimilate and be like "any other American" kid. But what the young protagonist does not know is that his father's Mexican songs in Spanish have begun to create and reclaim new spaces for Chicana/o identity in mainstream racist society. As a Chicano musician, Lalo Guerrero, along with other musicians like himself, had been struggling against a racist music industry that had hoped to assimilate him by anglicizing his name and producing only his music in English. Ironically, the music that embarrasses Danny offers a much-needed ethnic and linguistic pride to its listeners. Chico Sesma, a famous Chicano jazz musician from California in the 1950s, expresses a similar sentiment in regard to his parents' music: "Their preferences were considerably different from what we youngsters enjoyed . . . [T]hey liked mariachis, boleros, things like that. I didn't care for it at all." And like Dan, not until he is an adult did Sesma learn to appreciate, to claim, his parents' music and to incorporate it into his life as one of the first Chicano disc jockeys in Los Angeles. A similar reappropriation of his father's music will later help Dan to create his queer zone of comfort where his ethnic identity is not only accepted but defended.

In his "disidentification" with his father's music and ethnicity Danny attempts to negotiate his racist society's contempt for all things Mexican. Instead, the protagonist proceeds to reveal his indulgence in records of Broadway musicals, "I come home every day from Garfield [High School], . . . get out my play clothes, hang up my school clothes and go to my magic carpet of shiny black vinyl. My escape." He sings to every imaginable Broadway musical record available, from My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Bells Are Ringing" to Bye, Bye Birdie. The only way for the protagonist to identify with anything related to Latina/o culture is for it to be part of the musicals, like Chita Rivera's song "Spanish Rose," which Dan sassily performs on stage. In order for Dan to accommodate his ethnicity at this time, he must look for the very few pseudo-Latino references, like Rivera's song, in his Broadway musicals. This is yet another example of Dan's rejection of and discomfort with the Mexican/Chicano aspect of his identity.

Broadway Musicals: "Who Wouldn't Want to Do That?"

Dan's introduction to the world of Broadway musicals begins in junior high school when his encouraging drama teacher, Mrs. Jourdane, takes her class and Dan's friend Charles (at the protagonist's request) to the opening of the movie musical Oklahoma in Hollywood. This experience is described as one of the most exciting events in his life: "Huge screen. Music. Technicolor blue sky. White puffy clouds. Gordon McRae . . . Young, curly-haired, cowboy hat pushed back . . . My jaw drops. And that's just for Gordon McRae! More music. Dancers! Jumping. Leaping. Turning. Mid-air! . . . Singing and dancing through life. Who wouldn't want to do that?" The protagonist is seduced by the glamour and make-believe machine of Hollywood with the "mother of all musicals" that portrays a hegemonic nationalist discourse in a fun and exciting way. As a naïve young man, Danny gives in to this seduction as an escape; he appropriates these musicals as white queers appropriated them early on, as a sign of a queer imagined community. He is now going to make them his by performing them in the privacy and comfort of his own room, where he feels free to be himself and enact what he calls his "Judy Garland secret"—obviously his own euphemism for "being gay."

The protagonist's first encounter with homophobia occurs that same day after seeing Oklahoma as he gets on the school bus. His class peers began to shout, "Hey queer, Maric[ó]n" and make kissing sounds. Young Dan makes his body do the talking by freezing and staging silence: "I can't move. Everyone is staring at me. I wish I was invisible. I'll pretend I didn't hear. I've done it before. Walk straight ahead. Don't look left. Don't look right. Where is Mrs. Jourdane? Keep walking. Is Charles behind me? Sit real quiet. They won't notice me." This experience of panic and terror is not explained nor dealt with in the performance piece; in a way the dominating silence surrounding it makes it even more present and powerful. Dan's wish for invisibility, secrecy, and silence is related to what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick calls "closetedness": "a performance initiated as such by the speech act of silence—not a particular silence, but a silence that accrues particularity by fits and starts, in relation to the discourse that surrounds and differentially constitutes it." There are some instances when silence or closetedness becomes a necessary survival mechanism for a queer subject; however, in order to carelessly inhabit the queer zone of comfort, the subject must be able to not only speak but shout and celebrate his queer identity as Dan does toward the end of his performance once he completely inhabits the queer zone of comfort.

But for now, this self-imposed closetedness and self-enforced silence continues even when his father asks him specifically if he's gay. Dan states:

I'm studying my teenage face in the mirror one day—very matter of fact—seeing who I am and what I have to offer the world once I get out there. Not bad looking. I hate this stupid nose that goes up. Bad temper. Impatient. Kids think I'm funny. Pretty smart. Nice teeth since I got my braces off! I'm queer. It's the first time I say it out loud. I'm not upset. I don't go out and buy confetti either. I'm not exactly sure what it means. I know it means I like boys. I don't know what it'll mean in my life. I accept it. It's part of who I am. Dad asks me once, around this time—basically, if I like boys. "Your mother and I will understand. We just want to know. You act different around some boys. Like flirting." I deny it.

Clearly, Dan states his sexual identity very matter-of-factly, and he is not "upset" by his assertion. However, the fact that he denies his queerness to his father points to his fear of doing so even when his father reassures him that everything will be fine. This is an example of what Anzaldúa considers internalized homophobia: "To avoid rejection, some of us conform to the values of the culture, push the unacceptable parts [of ourselves] into the shadows."

Dan's acceptance of himself in terms of his queerness is a private act. The protagonist will remain in the closet for some time, not even sharing his secret with his best friend, Charles, until later. By now, the audience knows that he is not comfortable in his own skin. He has experienced several types of discrimination that slowly start to separate him from his everyday reality. Dan makes the audience aware that he doesn't feel like he fits into his family, his community, his city. Furthermore, he silences his body's desires and his queer preferences. At this point, we understand that he must come to terms with both the ethnic and sexual traumatic aspects of his identity in order to be fully comfortable as a Chicano queer. Dan evades any positionality in a zone of comfort that encompasses his ethnicity and sexuality.

The protagonist's discomfort and lack of self-acceptance are an essential step in a subject's struggle to create a zone of comfort and to live as a complete person. But first, Dan must go through the necessary steps of negation, isolation, and removal. That is, he must negate his ethnic and queer identities, isolate himself from family and friends, and eventually move far away from family and community in order to accept his queerness. Once his queer identity is solidly established, Dan must begin to search for his ethnic identity and be able to fuse the two in order to inhabit and embody the queer zone of comfort. For Dan, the exploration of his queerness continues when he gets a volunteer job as an usher at the Philharmonic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. There, he witnesses Ethel Merman singing Stephen Sondheim's "Some People," as he states, "just to [him]." Then, Dan imitates Merman singing: "Some people can be content/ playin' bingo and payin' rent/ that's OK for some people/ who don't know [they're] alive." Dan proceeds with admiration for the actor: "Wow! Then Ethel looks for me. She wants me to hear the rest of the lyrics. She comes in for the kill. 'Some people can thrive and bloom,/ living life in a living room,/ that's perfect for some people/ of one hundred and five." At the conclusion of the song, Dan has decided that he and Charles have to leave Los Angeles for New York City in order to fulfill their dreams of acting in musicals and studying art, respectively. They arrive in a gay mecca in 1962, seven years before Stonewall.

New York: Free to Be Queer?

Once in New York, Charles and Dan rely on each other for everything. For Dan, Charles becomes a clear example of the "familia" that Moraga writes about regarding Chicana/o queers: "We get jobs quickly. The first weeks, all about discovery. We discover one Mexican restaurant in all of Manhattan . . . Mom sends us flour tortillas and chorizo . . . She sends them frozen, special delivery airmail. They arrive thawed. We cook the chorizo, heat the tortilla. Home cooking." It is clear that Dan and Charles have created a familial bond and have made a home together away from L.A. Dan describes his affection for Charles in terms of endearment and emotional survival: "If you're really lucky, you get that one best friend who helps get you through. We're that for each other. We like the same things, have the same sense of humor. We're always laughing . . . He is family."

But Charles had made a deal with Dan that he would only take a semester off from school to go with Dan to New York, and when the time was over, he chose to return. Upon his friend's departure Dan realizes his personal attachment and dependency on him: "The day Charles leaves is the loneliest day of my life . . . I stand there a long time after he's gone . . . I'm so lonely. I never consider going back to L.A. I'm a New Yorker. I know it the day we arrive." It is admirable and telling that even in his loneliness Dan still chooses to stay in New York to enjoy his newfound freedom: "I'm liberated! Free from the constraints I feel in L.A. as a Mexican-American. Free from the Judy Garland secret I keep from my family. No one here cares. They are too busy." Dan is willing to remain in the city in order to create his own zone of comfort around his queer identity and away from the constraints of his ethnicity. New York offers him the possibility and freedom of outing himself as gay because here he has anonymity, a choice of a few queer spaces, and a mostly white and middle- to upper-class queer community.

This migration to a faraway place in search of a feeling of liberation is a common theme in Latino/a queer literature and drama. Sandoval-Sánchez writes about this topic in Puerto Rican literature: "Once [a queer] moves to New York [from Puerto Rico], cruising, sexual encounters, and erotic pleasures determine his gay life away from the Island's homophobic environment. On the Island there was no social space for queers. Neither was there a possibility to construct a gay identity." Dan welcomes and completely embraces this sexual freedom. But given that this was pre-Stonewall New York, there are still several instances when the protagonist does not feel as free or as safe: "Gay life is still very much underground, even here. There are gay bars but I'm too insecure to play the pick and choose game." Dan must learn to navigate this new space in order to appropriate it. He does not have to imitate everyone else since others do not necessarily have to struggle with the same aspects of his subjectivity. Dan must learn to create his own zone of comfort from what is available to him.

Instead of playing the dating game at some bars as other queers do, Dan decides to have sexual encounters with older, rich, white men who afford him a life of luxury. Dan describes them in the following way: "They're successful, have money and [are] very often married with a wife and family up in Connecticut or Hastings on the Hudson."At one point the protagonist has a relationship of several years with one of these men until Dan is dumped for a much younger guy. Up until then, Dan has seemed content with his way of life, but he is still not completely comfortable. He expresses great discontent in being traded for a younger version of himself, an action that indicates his lack of uniqueness and that he is not irreplaceable. Until he succeeds in creating a queer zone of comfort by expanding his familial network, Dan continues to struggle with his identity.

Although queer life in New York is still hidden, those who know where to go can always find sexual encounters. Dan joins an acting troupe he finds himself in the middle of a sexual revolution, "a dozen hormone-raging young men and women in their 20s, away from home, parents. Throw in a lecherous comic character of dubious age and sexual preference—it's a sex pit, with a piano and drums. Sex is so rampant—I have sex with a woman. I don't need to do it again." He obviously feels sexually liberated in these spaces. The line about feeling so free that he even had sex with a woman becomes hilarious to the audience that by now sees Dan as gay and couldn't possibly imagine him engaged in heterosexual sex. At this point, ¡Gaytino! has succeeded in inverting heteronormativity by queering it. In regard to the sexual freedom that Dan experiences, Sandoval-Sánchez points to the experiences of Latino gay men: "New York means a scandalous and promiscuous liberation of the body and the mind . . . [Gay men are] free to be gay, to have gay sex. In fact, migration is the factor that makes possible the construction of a gay identity and facilitates writing on a subject which is a social, cultural, and sexual taboo."

However, given that this is still pre-Stonewall New York, the freedom to be gay still has its restrictions. Dan recounts two moments when he is forced to acknowledge certain limitations and fears of being queer. The first example is when Bette Midler's performance at a gay bathhouse exposes queer life in the city: "Straight America starts to peek at Gay America. It's uncomfortable. They're not supposed to know this much about us. I'm not ready to come out, to be judged." The second example is about traveling to Fire Island—a queer paradise par excellence—where for the first time he sees gay men holding hands in public and becomes conscious of homophobia: "This simple act makes me realize how oppressed my life is, as a gay man. Always careful. Alert. On guard. It's so second nature, I don't notice, anymore." This critical awareness is a source of empowerment and agency. Dan realizes how his feelings of discomfort define and confine queers to silence and isolation. Now he can choose to accept his queerness and to begin to look for a stable queer relationship that he does not have to hide. At this point, Dan can begin to set the foundation for his queer zone of comfort where he can be completely free as an individual who is always proud of himself regardless of whether or not he has a partner or lover. Dan finally begins to create his queer zone of comfort with Richard, a younger, handsome, white man who has just graduated from the University of Notre Dame.

The Queer Zone of Comfort in New York

Although the protagonist has clearly begun to inhabit a queer zone of comfort in regard to his sexual orientation as long as he is in New York, his ethnic identity is still denied and/or ignored. Dan pursues his acting career, although not very successfully. Since there are not many actors of Mexican descent in New York during the 1960s, at times he is rejected and told that he looks "too Mediterranean" or "too exotic" for a given part. Consequently, instead of becoming an actor, he maneuvers the troubled waters of show business and becomes an agent. In the meantime he continues to visit his family in L.A. for a few days at a time each year. Once in L.A. he always reconnects with Charles, who has now changed his name back to Carlos. By the late 1960s Almaraz has made a name for himself nationally and internationally as a Chicano artist and is fully involved in the Chicano movement. Dan starts to reconnect with his roots: "Back in L.A. for the holidays, Carlos introduces me to Chicano writers, artists, and political activists. We go back and forth from English to Spanish. It's familiar. Comfortable. I hear what they say. Something important is happening. I want to be involved. It all stays in L.A. when I go back to New York." Although Dan leaves all this behind, for the first time he acknowledges the familiarity and comfort that he feels when he's around Chicanas and Chicanos. He has finally had an opportunity to feel completely at ease among a familial network composed of people from his same ethnic group with whom he can identity linguistically and otherwise. There is no doubt that he finally feels at home and that he has learned to "create familia" with this group of people. The familial ties have allowed him to completely inhabit the ethnic and queer zone of comfort. This invites him to eventually find his way back to his community in order to feel fully accepted and acceptable as both Chicano and queer, even as he returns to the East Coast.

During the rest of his time in New York, the protagonist continues to explore his talents and to enjoy his sexual freedom secretly away from his family. However, he continues to think about the Chicano civil rights movement in California. One day Carlos, who has remained in touch with Dan's family, sends him a note stating that Dan's father had invited him to lunch and wanted to know if Dan was gay. Carlos told Dan's father the truth. Now the secret was open and the silence broken: "Dad is totally accepting when we talk on the phone after the infamous lunch. He always knew . . . Why haven't I told my parents myself? The time. Distance. I never felt the need. I live my life freely—in New York. A week in L.A. at holiday time? I'm just used to things that way." This becomes a turning point in Dan's life. His father has pushed him to acknowledge his sexual orientation to him. After the conversation, both of them decide not to tell his mother, but she finds out a few years later when she asks Dan's brother. She also immediately embraces his identity fully and welcomes his partner into the family as her third son. This family support becomes important in Dan's full acceptance of his identity. He does not have a need to abandon his biological family forever like many queer Chicanos/as and Latinos/as have had to do. Once again, this is another step closer into the queer zone of comfort.

Guerrero is privileged to have his family's support and acceptance. Not all queers of color have this luxury or are able to move away from their homophobic families. One of the aspects of Guerrero's life that is not emphasized in his performance is social class. It is understood that he never really struggles financially, but we are not given any details about this. His economic comfort aids him greatly in his mobility and freedom to choose the zones and spaces he inhabits. For those who are not able to live away from their families, there is often a code and culture of silence among all members of the group in regard to the subject's queerness. This silence does not necessarily always imply homophobia but instead a certain unspoken acceptance of the subject's queerness.

Zoot Suit on Broadway: "Home Comes to New York"

Up to this point in the performance, the protagonist still does not feel fully comfortable inhabiting the queer and ethnic zones of comfort. However, an important Chicana/o historical theatrical event helps him to make the final transition. In 1979 a group of Chicanas and Chicanos arrives on Broadway with the Teatro Campesino in the musical production of Zoot Suit. Lalo Guerrero, whose music is featured in the play, also accompanies the cast. At that time, this was the only Chicana/o play that had made it to the New York stage. Dan's worlds—Broadway and L.A., Chicanas/os and queers—finally intersect. Although he does not recognize any of the actors in the show, this event becomes one of the most important moments in his life: "Opening night at Sardi's—East meets West. When my worlds collide. I spend many a Broadway opening night there, the room filled with famous faces. Lauren Bacall, Zero Mostel, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Ethel Merman. This night, Lupe Ontiveros, Tony Plana, Rose Portillo, Edward James Olmos. I don't know any of these 'Zoot Suit' actors at the time—in a few years they're all familia." Although Zoot Suit did not succeed on Broadway, this became an empowering night in the protagonist's life.

For the first time Dan, literally and figuratively, displaces and replaces his white world of show business with a Chicana/o world. He no longer needs to inhabit the zone where only white people are his show-business family. It is finally after this event that Dan acquires a sense of empowerment, agency, and pride in being Chicano. From this moment forward, he can fully acknowledge that his family circle has expanded, feeling that he is ready to inhabit the queer zone of comfort once and for all. Dan is able to be himself without denying the fundamental part of his subjectivity, his ethnicity, embracing it in order to move forward. Indeed, such acknowledgement is centered in his performance.

Now aware of the Chicana/o cultural world he left behind, Dan recognizes that in his twenty years away from California, things have not changed much for Chicanas/os and Latinas/os. He decides to move back to L.A. to help bring about change in the entertainment industry: "Going home has been on my mind for a while. Family ties become more important as we mature. Not just immediate family. A larger family is also pulling me back. The familia from [Zoot Suit] . . . and those I meet through Carlos in L.A. Change is coming . . . I want to be a part of it." At this point, Dan has accepted the Chicana/o actors and activists that he has come in touch with as part of his intimate family circle. His community has expanded, and therefore his queer zone of comfort now encompasses a bigger group. He no longer has a need to remain within a white, upper-class, gay community in New York.

Eventually, the protagonist and his partner head to Los Angeles, where they re-create their home and reinscribe themselves into Dan's family and community. Dan does not hesitate in expressing his sense of belonging: "We like our new life 'on the coast.' I dedicate myself to the Latino community with a vengeance. I start casting and bring in Latino actors even when the part doesn't call for one . . . My New York friends label me a born-again Hispanic." This rebirth encompasses Dan's identity in its entirety. He finally feels that he belongs in his community, culturally and politically. He can be queer and Chicano openly.

The protagonist is finally able to come to terms with his identity and has re-created his home and his family circle. He is finally comfortably queer. Most important, Dan is able to reconnect with Carlos and celebrates living again in the same city with him: "We spend a lot of time together over the next few years and when we're not, we're on the phone just like [during childhood]." But tragedy strikes; Carlos becomes very ill and after a series of tests is diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. Dan cannot accept the news: "No. No, Carlos. No, no. That's impossible. They made a mistake. Sometimes tests are wrong." After the initial shock, Dan's zone of comfort collapses: "I can't process it. It's not just the horrific news. My entire belief system is shattered. I lose so many friends and colleagues and people I care about in New York. It's hard to keep count. But no one in my inner circle." When this crisis affects his loved ones, not only is the protagonist in complete shock, but he experiences how vulnerable and fragile the zone of comfort that queers inhabit is, especially when threatened by AIDS.

Although AIDS is not a central topic of this performance piece, it is important to recognize that as Román and Sandoval-Sánchez have stated "[More than twenty] years into the epidemic, it is no longer possible to stage a gay representation without invoking the experience of AIDS . . . regardless of the actual content of the representation." Carlos dies of AIDS complications shortly after being diagnosed. By the year 2005, there are only few reminders that the AIDS epidemic was still claiming victims every day, especially in communities of color. It was mostly through a few cultural productions such as ¡Gaytino! that AIDS was publicly acknowledged and the silence was broken. One hardly hears about it any more; indeed, the famous slogan "Silence = Death" is even more true and applicable now. Because of AIDS, Dan's queer zone of comfort is shaken up; he assumes that his intimate and familial circle was supposed to be safe and untouched by this disease. Dan is forever changed by Carlos' friendship and life experiences, and in sharing this intimate aspect of Carlos' life in his performance, the audience becomes politically incorporated into his family circle. As Sandoval-Sánchez states in his critical reading of Quinceañera, a Chicano performance that center-stages the fifteenth anniversary of AIDS, "[In the performance space] AIDS is familiarized, that is it is turned into . . . a comfortable occasion that brings family and community together. Hence, AIDS is something that can be spoken within the realm of the familia." Undoubtedly, the queer zone of comfort must accommodate and incorporate all of its members—including the sick and the dying—especially when a member of this network faces tremendous challenges such as the death of a loved one. This is when that familial support carries the members of the group through and encourages them to continue to move forward in their lives and in their activism. In these terms, "performances about AIDS, like Quinceañera, are practices of social activism that strategically employ dramatic devices for the interpellation of the audience into a community of activism."

As Dan's activism continues, he submerges himself into the Chicana/o and Latina/o worlds. Most important, his performance also becomes a tribute to his father, who emblematizes Chicana/o culture: "Dad and I work together a lot. It takes him a minute to think of me as a producer and not just his kid telling him what to do. One show stands out. Paris. I produce a night of Chicano Music at the Cite de la Musique, thank you very much. Dad's first time abroad." Although the young Danny left L.A. feeling uncomfortable being "Mexican" and rejected his father's music, once the protagonist inhabits the queer zone of comfort that he has successfully created within the domain of the family and community, he welcomes and promotes everything he rejected before: "I sit there watching [Dad] perform, bringing our culture to Paris, through me. I see him capture an audience like I've seen him do for more than fifty years . . . I'm so proud—of both of us." When Dan uses the phrase "our culture" in the statement above to refer specifically to Chicana/o culture, we know that he has finally arrived at and inhabits the queer zone of comfort without any reservation. At any other previous point in his performance, if he would have said "our culture" he would have been referring to "queer" and/or "white" culture/s in particular, but the example above indicates that his has recodified his identity to incorporate all aspects of it in harmony. He no longer has a need to disidentify with being of Mexican descent or with being queer, which is precisely his reward for inhabiting the queer zone of comfort.

Dan's Activism: "Born-Again Hispanic"?

As Dan becomes more and more immersed in this new zone of comfort, he continues his activism working with Chicana/o and Latina/o artists and especially with another one of his heroes, the labor rights activist César Chávez. Dan schedules Chávez into several talk shows for special appearances to promote his lifelong work on behalf of farmworkers, labor organizing, and the UFW: "The response from viewers after his appearance is so overwhelming. [Chávez] asks me to book him on other talk shows . . . I'm glad to return a long ago favor . . . Years before the UFW, a young Cesar Chavez goes to all of my dad's dances whenever Dad plays in California's Central Valley. Cesar gives dad good advice" about where to play according to the agricultural picking seasons and places. When Chávez dies unexpectedly in 1993, Dan is asked to take Latino Hollywood to the funeral, which had thousands of people in attendance. Then the funeral was broadcast internationally, and it became a performance in itself. Dan reveals how the memorial becomes a political issue for him and why he has to intervene. He has an argument with the funeral procession organizers as to where the Latina/o actors would be situated in relationship to Chávez's casket and the Kennedy family members in attendance. After he sees Jesse Jackson stand right next to the Kennedys without asking for permission, Dan decides to situate the Latina/o actors in that same space for the cameras of the world to see them as important members of the community. Even at the funeral, Dan creates a political zone of comfort for Chicanas/os expanding his own comfort zone: "'Come on!' I shout to my Latino Love Boat. I grab Eddie and Paul and Cheech and everyone and stand them with the campesinos right next to Ethel [Kennedy] and Jesse [Jackson]. We have to take our space." With this action, the protagonist teaches his community to physically and metaphorically make their presence known and assert their importance in the community. The protagonist has center-staged his community once again in the same way that Guerrero has continued to do by producing and promoting Latina/o talent in the mainstream stages and screens. Unquestionably, his philosophy and political slogan is "We have to take our space." Such an act of intervention is possible as a result of intersecting his queer and Chicano agendas and political consciousness as he has created his own zones of comfort.

By the end of his performance, Dan has made it clear and convinced the audience that he has become completely comfortable with all aspects of his identity and has learned to embrace them. But it becomes evident that for Guerrero, inhabiting the queer zone of comfort does not necessarily mean giving up his male privilege. With his performance as a tribute to Carlos, to his father, and to Chávez, he situates himself within the Chicano patriarchal lineage by honoring his male heroes: "I lost Dad earlier this year. Carlos and Dad. My heroes. Carlos stolen away too early. A life cut short. I still wonder about all that would have been. Dad was 88. A rich, full life lived exactly as he wanted. It was time . . . The thing about heroes? They never die." As he is honoring his male heroes and situating himself among them, Guerrero performs and exemplifies the queer zone of comfort as a gay male. One would have to wonder what this queer zone of comfort looks like for female queers who are not part of the Chicana/o and Latina/o heteronormative and hegemonic patriarchal imaginary.

Guerrero's performance forms a full circle in regard to his identity when he states toward the very end, "I'm looking in the mirror not long ago. Very matter-of-fact. See how I'm holding up. Teeth straight. All mine. Pushed up nose? Ehh. Temper better, for the most part. Still impatient. People still think I'm funny. I'm Gay. Latino. Chicano! And I'm sixty-five years old!" Then he finishes his performance with one of his father's famous songs, "El Chicano," which addresses the issue of accommodating all aspects of his Chicano identity as someone who lives between two worlds (Mexico and the United States) and is not fully accepted by either one: "I am Chicano, yes sir,/ I was born in the U.S./ In Mexico I am a pocho/ My compatriots don't accept me/ White people discriminate against me/ as if I were a foreigner/ even though this land/ belonged to Mexico first/ Because I am bilingual/ I speak 'Chicano and gringo'/ This pocho says 'Goodbye'/ See you later! I'll be watching you!" With this song, both Guerreros create new spaces for their identities. Lalo Guerrero fights to create a zone of comfort for Chicanas/os who have been marginalized in terms of their linguistic and cultural identities in both countries.

On the other hand, although the song does not mention anything about being gay, Dan pushes his father's lyrics further to metaphorically incorporate all aspects of his identity, including queerness. By now it is clear that ethnicity and queerness cannot be separated, that he cannot split his subjectivity if he is to live his life fully comfortably. He has finally come to terms with being who he is to the point of shouting it to the world in order to create a space for change in a homophobic and racist society. In the words of Chicana activist and performance artist Mónica Palacios, there is always hope and room for transformation: "I figure artists are going to save this planet. So I must continue with my plan. Weaving the lesbian side of me with the Mexican side of me. And writing about it. And talking about it. And pushing for and demanding change!"

It is through queer Latina/o and Chicana/o performances like Guerrero's and those of Mónica Palacios, Beto Araiza, Marga Gómez, Luis Alfaro, and Carmelita Tropicana that queer Chicanas/os and Latinas/os can continue to create new spaces and familial ties within their communities. Homophobia and racism still remain present, but one must continue to strive to become comfortably queer and inscribe one's voice and presence where necessary. There is still hope that Moraga's dream of a "Queer Aztlán" will become a reality—our ultimate utopian zone of comfort. Meanwhile—within the context of the present wave of openly homophobic, xenophobic, and racist attacks against queers, immigrants, and people of color—voices such as the ones mentioned above need to be heard loud and clear in order to humanize and validate these subjects' experiences to continue enacting positive changes. Inhabiting the queer zone of comfort for Chicana/o and Latina/o queers cannot be a privilege afforded to the chosen few but a necessity for all. Then, and only then, can the social and civil rights movements for people of color remain on their course toward complete emancipation.


During the performance in San Antonio, Guerrero became aware that Vikki Carr—a San Antonio resident and his longtime friend—was in the audience. At the end of the show Carr initiated a question-and-answer period. She congratulated him for his courage to share his story and for tackling difficult issues such as homophobia, racism, and AIDS. Carr embraced Dan's identity fully and welcomed him back into the community as he freely inhabited the queer zone of comfort. The rest of the audience also embraced his performance, and in doing this, everyone became a witness of Guerrero's journey as a sixty-five-year-old gay Chicano man with an important story to share. The audience joined Guerrero in inhabiting a safe queer zone of comfort.



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