qvFocus | February/March 1998

Wishing on a 'Star
Victor Sanchez, Director of Youth Services at Bienestar, helps young Latinos deal with the problems they face with being QV and Latino!

Victor Sanchez, 24, doesn't seem bothered that a lot of the clients that come to Bienestar Youth Center in East L.A. are almost the same age as he is. In fact, his age seems to create an immediate bond with the young Latino men who seek knowledge, hope, respect, and the keys to succeeding in the world, in addition, to the challenges they will face as young Latinos.

His activism started in high school where he helped established Latino leadership committees and programs that helped the Latino gente of his generation. These community efforts led him to become the Director of Bienestar Youth Services. QV talked with him about the many issues he and his staff face surrounding the Latino Community.

QV MAGAZINE: What are the problems that face the Latino men that come to Bienestar?

VICTOR SANCHEZ: A lot of what drives people to come to a center like this is the mere acknowledgement that there is somebody who can deal with both their sexuality and their cultura. Other centers offer excellent services, but aren't necessarily culturally specific.


QV: Do you feel that the older Latino generation (10-15 years ago) didn't get the education they deserved because programs like Bienestar weren't around.

VS: Education for our younger generation is definitely more accessible. There are actually books on queer Latino identity...and a whole powerhouse of knowledge out there investigating our identity. Ten years ago none of that existed. The older generation basically paved the way for us to at least have access to it and to now go a step further and start to contribute to it. To think of the milestones that we've reached, I mean look at QV Magazine, a queer Latino magazine-that is a hallmark and a sign of the times as to where we're at and how our community is still mobilizing.


QV: Has the risk of the AIDS virus declined in this Latino generation?

VS: No, it's still very high, and it's very frustrating to us as a staff. It's frustrating when you go to say, Escándalo, Arena, or Circus and you know (such large numbers of) our gente is out there. Our groups can range from 25-30 people, which is phenomenal, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the number of queer Latinos out there. It's very difficult to deal with the stigma of offering HIV prevention when our community is still very much in denial or are ashamed to ask for help... We still find that promiscuity is prevalent and STDs are very high.


QV: What's it like having a Latino agency in the middle of East LA? What's different about it?

VS: Some of our gente come in to the center and they say, "God, I never thought that there was a space like this for me." For them to be able to walk in and see that we have the Virgen de Guadalupe and an altar for her and different Latino icons up on our walls is very comforting. That's why we're known on the streets as, "La Casa." Sometimes, gente walk in off the street by chance and say, "Whose house is this?"... There are also a lot of community gangs in the area that we try to maintain good relationships with. We have a heroine intervention team, the Pops Team, that is predominantly heterosexual, predominantly veteranos from some of the neighborhood gangs, and we have a very good working relationship with them. We did have a problem with some of our staff being hit up by some gang members who would ask, "What gang are you from?" but the Pops Team helped us to bridge that gap.


QV: What is unique about Bienestar from what other QV and lesbian service organizations offer?

VS: Many other centers collapse a lot of different cultures into one based upon sexuality. Other organizations deal only with men-Latino men with no age restrictions. Personally, when I came out of school, there was nothing for young Latinos. Society continues to punish our youth for being at the clubs, for being at the T-parties, for being at places that are very drug and alcohol induced. Those were factors that led me here...to give them (the youth) an alternative space to meet each other, educate themselves, and where they get to know each other as people. And we're co-gender here so we can learn from each other and have a symbiotic relationship with the mujeres. Some people (in the larger queer community) have asked me, "Why do you discriminate and offer services only to Latinos?" But it's like, what space do we have out there? It's not discrimination, it's just asking for a space for me that's going to deal with me as a total person. There's nobody mobilizing our younger community and that's where a lot of the prevention needs to take place. Young people want to hang with young people. They want a safe space where they're going to peer identify and learn from each other.


QV: Rainbow flags, necklaces, pink triangles...does the Latino in general accept or reject these beliefs?

VS: A large portion rejects them. Although they're QV, the symbols still go back to a "Eurocentric" belief system. The iconography is based in Greek and Roman times with the Pride Flag, and in the Jewish Holocaust with the upside-down triangle. As a symbol of pride, I think they're very important. As Latinos, I don't think that we have to go to another culture to look back into our own history. Our logo, for example, is the Mayan Crown that was used during a ceremony in which QV and lesbian tribal members were crowned. As native people of this land, we were once celebrated for who we were-we were considered to be judges and rulers because we were dual spirited. Why not go back to your own history, your own roots and raza and actually learn and be proud?


QV: What are the goals for the future of The Bienestar Youth Service Center?

VS: In the future, I would like to see more community mobilization. This, in turn, would bridge the gap between not only all the Latino service centers but the different aspects of the community in general. Also, to create more awareness that these service centers are available for anybody to walk in and request help.


For more info and weekly gatherings on Bienestar Human Services, please call (213) 727.7897.

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