The Latino Closet

A Spanish-born Venezuelan gay immigrant reflects on his personal hurdles

The Latino Artists Round Table, which just completed its Second International Congress, “Multiple Realities, Multiple Fictions,” in New York, showcased a significant group of gay and lesbian artists, but can we compare the gay rights movement with the Latino or the black rights movement?

I must confess that I’ve lived in many closets: the first one was a “Spaniard” closet. I was born in Spain and moved to Venezuela when I was only four. Being a Spaniard in Venezuela was viewed as despicable––the legacy of an old hatred that came from the colonial era. I got rid of my Spanish accent, lied about my country of birth, and tried to pass for Venezuelan to survive and be accepted.

The second was my gay closet. This one needs little explanation, but the fears were the same––being singled out, ashamed, and ostracized.

When I moved to New York, I left behind those two closets. But here, I built my third one, the Latino closet. I built it by learning English as fast as I could, trying to get rid of my accent––which I might never be able to do––and learning to relate in acceptable ways for the “Anglo” culture.

One of my first lessons came from my friend Tina who stopped talking to me because I called her on a Friday with a simple question: “What are you doing tonight?”

“How dare you assume that I have nothing to do on a Friday night? Do you think I’m a loser?” she replied.

In Venezuela, people don’t make plans weeks in advance, so it’s okay to call anyone at the last minute for a spontaneous “rendezvous.” But here in New York, it can be the worst possible insult: suggesting one is a loser. As it turned out, Tina had nothing to do that night, but she preferred to stay home, angry rather than go out with me. That night I learned to curb my spontaneity, and plan my every move.

I also learned to “pencil” things in my calendar, lower my voice, and got used to people flocking away from me in the subway every time I sneezed. The most important lesson came from my friend Inma Heredia, who taught me that it’s in poor taste to explain your problems to someone who asks you “How are you doing?” The only acceptable answer is “good,” so be aware that if you’re doing “bad,” you should keep it to yourself. Any other information you choose to disclose is unsolicited, and will be treated as such.

A big problem was that I also learned to look down on other immigrants who don’t have the fortune to learn the language as fast as I did. I exercised my disdain with the same enthusiastic self-hatred that drives straight-acting homos to reject “fems.” That’s when I realized that it was time to come out of the closet again.

It’s clear that artists are always ahead of their times, and having a Latino Artists Round Table that compares the gay struggle with the Latino struggle is certainly visionary. In my personal experience, there has been no difference between them, and furthermore, the Latino movement has a lot to learn from the gay movement. Homosexuals became acceptable when we became marketable. With a population of more than 40 million Latinos in the U.S., we in the Latino community are starting to receive the embrace of the marketers. “We shop therefore we exist” seems to be our motto.

So my advice to my Latino brothers and sisters is that we must remember that our cash should buy us rights, and not only trinkets.

Alberto Ferreras is an executive producer at HBO in the On-Air Promotion department. He is also an independent filmmaker.

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