Empowerment means different things to different people, but the question is how do we, as Latinos, empower ourselves? To be empowered is to be free to seek the goals, dreams, and aspirations that we have set for ourselves. Usually, these are set when we are very young, but due to negative societal and cultural attitudes towards being Latino and QV, many of us stop pursuing our dreams. This is detrimental to ourselves and to our community at large, for when we do not reach for our goals we are in essence, short-changing our community and ourselves. No one person or thing-including our own insecurities-should prevent us from reaching towards our goals and dreams. Of course, it is easier said than done, but one must start somewhere, and that somewhere may very well be making a conscious decision to "empower" oneself. You must believe that you can accomplish anything you set your mind out to do and be able to say to yourself, "This is my life, and I am going to work towards reaching my goals, dreams, and aspirations." We have interviewed several Latino QV men who have found a way of empowering themselves and through their work, directly or indirectly, empower the Latino QV community. The following is what these men had to say about empowerment.
Was confidence something you learned in school? Not in class, but outside of class. I was involved in student government, and I was the president of a Latino fraternity, Delta Sigma Chi. When I became president, I had no experience speaking or leading an organization so I had to learn (how to do those things) on my own. A lot of people were against me so I had to have faith, be proud of myself, and believe in myself.
What is the most important thing to remember when you are pursuing your dreams? When I came out back in 1994, that's when I really started to know what the QV community was all about-especially the Latino community. What I saw was that it was a community that was lacking leadership, media outlets, and venues for Latinos to come together in their own community to socialize or just feel at home. I noticed that we seemed to have some type of inferiority complex in that we had to rely on West Hollywood as a social outlet. What we needed was to empower ourselves within our own community in order for us to feel at home.
What are some of the major obstacles and challenges that you have faced in reaching your goals? Coming out. I had girlfriends in college, even though I knew I was QV, but I was in denial. After I would drop off my girlfriend, I would head off to a QV bar.
Another obstacle was dealing with myself as a person, not necessarily in terms of sexuality. In college, it is very confusing because you don't know exactly who you are, what you want to be, or what talents you have inside of you.
Do you think your sexuality has shaped your dreams? Yes. Even to this day I still have a lot of challenges and questions about myself. It's not easy being QV and Latino-especially when you live in a society where many people tell you (being QV) is a sin and that it's not normal, but you have to deal with that. On television, you don't see two grown-up men living a happy life together. We have no role models. For the Latino community, it's hard to find a direction in which to go-especially for the QV/lesbian community.
There are also issues such as AIDS. I remember when I was in the closet and I would go out, fool around, and have unsafe sex. When I came out and realized how big AIDS was in the QV community, I was scared. I was scared to get tested and, in kind of a weird way, that was why I became involved with The Wall Project. It motivated me to get tested, and to help others that were in the same boat I was. I wanted to help others be proud of who they are and overcome their fears. Working within the AIDS industry has helped me to not just deal with the fear of AIDS, but also deal with myself as a QV man.
If there is one word that best describes you, what would it be and why? The best word that I can think of is the word "faith." The reason I say that is because life is such a challenge and obstacles have always came my way ever since I was a kid. I was verbally and mentally abused; I was very overweight, and I was teased a lot. In high school, I was never taught how to write an essay-all I had to do was copy from an encyclopedia, and I would get an A for that. When I went to college, I didn't know how to write a research paper. To overcome all these things, I had to really have a lot of faith in myself. I had to tell myself, "It's tough right now, but there's going to be a light at the end of the tunnel." I always believe that no matter what happens to me, things will get better. I know that life isn't going to be a piece of cake, so I have to have a lot of faith to overcome it. There are a lot men out there who need to have faith in themselves, build their self esteem, be proud of who they are, find their inner beauty, and let that beauty come out.
What is the most important thing to remember as you pursue your goals and dreams? When I set a goal, I just keep focused on that goal and remember to be organized. There's not always just one way to reach your goal, but once you figure out the right steps, you have to keep yourself in check and not be distracted.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in reaching your goals? A lot of the major obstacles have to do with doubting yourself. That will always stop you from going forward. I have never really had any obstacles put in front of me because of my sexuality or my ethnicity because I never put those out myself.
Is the artist community you work with more accepting that you are QV and Latino? I've never really thought about it because the people that I get along with are other artists so it has always been fine. Also, I have always worked for myself and been independent. My jobs have always been related to art, so I've pretty much done whatever I've wanted to do.
Has your sexuality shaped the way you do things? I would say that in order to be successful, you have to do things that interest you and that you really like. I am QV, and I paint what I like-which is other men. It is a source of inspiration-though I will paint anyone. I've never hid my sexuality from my friends or from people that I work with so it's never been an issue. When people, even straight people, see my paintings, they look at the ones they like because I have so many different variations. I never limit myself to just being or painting about QV issues-it's about everything.
What's the word that best describes yourself? Organized. I am very organized and very methodical about everything I do. I plan everything out. I have to because if I'm not organized, I'll forget everything!
What does empowerment mean to you? A friend of mine who is a psychologist recently told me that people are moved by two things: fear and love. For me, empowerment is just doing things-like applying to school and living life-and not being fearful of what will happen. Once I get there, I realize that it's not that big a deal. Whenever you fear something, you should just do it. Just going out with guys was always really scary to me, but I realized that I had to suck in my pride and just do it. If you live life in fear, then you're not really going to move ahead and reach your potential. The same goes for school: if you don't apply to the best schools in the country, then how do you know you won't get in? I believe that everyone can be the best: they can be geniuses and go to Harvard or whatever. I've met lots of people from Harvard, and trust me, they're not geniuses. The reason they get in is because they're not afraid.
When you're reaching toward your goals, what are some of the most important things you have to keep in mind? You have to be really aware of who you are. If you are never really in touch with your dreams, who you are, how you learn, and all these other things, then it's really easy to be swayed by other peoples' dreams and to cling onto others.
What are some of the major challenges that you've faced in pursuing your dream? I think not believing in myself.
Has your sexuality shaped the way you have pursued your dreams? I think so. In the same way that being Latino and working class has shaped them. All these things have made me who I am. In graduate school, there were a lot of other people of color, and inevitably, there were those of us who were QV, and we all stuck together. When you go into a room, and there are mostly white people, you look at it differently than if it were mixed with many races. And the same goes for sexual orientation. I don't think I would ever be in a situation again where I was the only person of color or QV person in a work environment. However, I don't think my sexuality has as much of a say as my ethnicity, though. People look at me and they can easily see I'm Latino, and they already have these preconceived notions. But most people can't tell that I'm QV, and it's none of their business either!
If you had one word that would describe yourself, what would it be? Honest! I think I've lived my life as honestly with myself as I can. Because of that, I think it comes out to others that I am honest in other things too.