Hispanic Heritage Month was proclaimed in 1968 as National Hispanic Heritage Week by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, and was expanded to a month-long celebration in 1988. The month celebrates the cultures, traditions and heritage of all Americans who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico, and any of the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
September 15th was chosen because it is the anniversary of the independence of five countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition to this, Mexico celebrates its independence on September 15th, and Chile on September 18th.
Here at Bear World, we have taken the time this month to celebrate the achievements of transgender LGBTQ+ activist Sylvia Rivera, as well as highlight the experiences of four Hispanic/Latinx/Afro-Latinx members of our community. To close out Hispanic Heritage Month, we have a reflection from International Leather Bear 2019-2020, Ali Lopez, about his culture and his experiences as a Afro-Latino Bear in the community.
“Being Afro-Latino features strongly in my life. I was born in the United States to Puerto Rican parents (My father served in the U.S. Army for 24 years, and I was born in Ft. Carson,Co.). Growing up in my hometown of Dorado, Puerto Rico allowed me to learn the rich culture of the “Isla del Encanto”, African, Taino and European run in my blood, and my family embraced every aspect of our heritage.
My maternal grandfather was born into slavery, and he was the great grandson of Jacinto Lopez Martinez, the town founder — We celebrated all aspects of it! Bomba, Plena, Salsa and Danza were all a part of our daily lives (and I can dance all of them, as well as Flamingo, Bitch!!). ” La Mancha de Platano” or “Puerto Rican Pride” is always in my heart.
As a Blatino in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. LGBTQ community, not all of my interactions with the community I chose were amicable. At the time, I was told by the President of the Chesapeake Bay Bears that it didn’t have a home for me as a Person of Color in my first foray. However, with the support of Bears and other people in the community that saw me as an asset, not only did I endure it, I thrived!
The rejection became the fuel that fed my fire to ensure that no other Bears or People of Color of any race would have to suffer what I did. “No one puts Baby in the corner…Not anymore!!”
Great strides have been made since the 1990’s. The first winner of International Bears Rendezvous in 1992 in the Mr. Bear category was John Caldera, a Mexican-American. In 2004, Juan Viera from Spain was crowned I.B.R. Mr. Cub, and in 2006 Pedro Veral from Spain took I.B.R. Mr. Bear while I took I.B.R. Daddy Bear.
It has not stopped there! People like Max Charriez, Mr. Puerto Rico Leather Bear 2019-20, Kylar Maldonado, Mr. Connecticut Bear 2020, Mr. RockBear 2020, Jaime Santiago, and so many other Latinx and Bears of Color have had the courage to represent their communities. Representation of Latinx and People of Color has increased over the years, but it still under represented in media, art and much more.
Our sights must also be with our brothers and sisters on the island of Puerto Rico, who don’t have the support that we do here in the “Mainland”. The fight that many of them suffer at the hands of the government, the religious and social persecution, and not to mention the murder of trans individuals on the island, have all been compounded by the political, economic and structural damage that has been brought upon the island since hurricane Maria in September of 2017. Now, like many other Latin communities, they are facing COVID-19.
We must never forget that 51 years ago Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman and Sylvia Rivera, a Latinx trans woman, led an uprising in order for us to walk tall and proud. Let’s honor and remember their legacy, and fight for the rights of ALL and not the MANY!
‘In complete darkness, we are all the same. It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separate us. Don’t let the dark deceive you.’ — Janet Jackson”