By Dale Reynolds, Senor Arts Writer
That gay folk (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered-Questioning) are advancing in our society is a fact. That Latino gays are becoming more open, in spite of the interference of religion and custom, is also a fact. And it’s demonstrable in the upcoming 2nd Annual Brown and Out Theatre Festival at Boyle Heights’ Casa 0101, September 28th to October 21st. 2012.
Produced by El Monte-native Miguel Garcia, 27, a blue-collar son of Mexican immigrants, a 2007 graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a struggling playwright, the festival will premiere eleven short plays (1-to-18 minutes each) that are written by local LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ playwrights.
Garcia came out as a gayman to his family while at university, which because of its the number of rich-kids who attend and its earned status of high-achieving alumni, was a marvel for the poor and browned-skinned kid from the San Gabriel Valley. “I had come from a place where my kind were in the majority, and to land in a school where I was three-times a minority [Latino, economically disadvantaged, and gay], was an extreme culture-shock. Still, it was a great experience, which clarified my lens on the world, of what makes America, America.”
It was a fortuitous landing, as he found the freedom to express his sexuality without fear of being hurt – at a Catholic University! – was an eye-opener. There he found gay student groups and workshops on being a minority. “It was fantastic for me to be in that kind of community, with a real place for Latino visibility. I became President of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aslan), a nationwide student network that promotes higher education, culture, and history. ”
MECha began in the 1960s in Santa Barbara, a student-led organization which demanded Chicano/Latino Studies in universities. During Garcia’s term of office, it acted as both a social club and as a refuge from the non-Latino world, in addition to fighting for the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform. “The administration was accommodating, but they didn’t realize how different the experience was for U.S.-born Latinos than the rest of Latin America.”
But Garcia was helped in his life early on by the Harvey Mudd Upward Bound Program, a college preparatory curriculum for the San Gabriel Valley. “Since the early 1980s, they offer [and pay for] a six-week residential immersion semester in four different colleges, including Georgetown. I graduated from El Monte High School in ’03, but the school lacked the resources to help us excel, so the Mudd Program was a wake-up call for my life, that a higher education was available to me, from their four-year tutoring program.”
Excelling in that program, he received a full-scholarship grant from the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which allowed Garcia to attend Georgetown. (The grant is for American People of Color, including the rights to earn an MA, MS, or PhD.)
At Georgetown, Garcia majored in Creative Writing with a minor in Theatre, allowing. him to nurture his writer’s voice, especially in playwriting. “I felt like I was evolving because every year I was given a staged reading of any play I’d written, produced by the students. It gave me an early taste of being a theatre person – and I wanted more.”
So, how did the Out and Brown Festival come about last year? “After Georgetown, I moved back home. But I missed writing. In college I had read Josefina Lopez’ Real Women Have Curves. I loved her writing and I found out about CASA 0101 and that she was teaching a writing class there. She encouraged me to write as a gay Latino and the coming out to my family, the acceptance of friends, the traumas of dating – trying to find myself throughout that process, ‘cause in your early 20s and post-college, ‘Who do you want to be? What are your dreams?’ Well, you gotta work at it.”
Lopez produced his first post-school play, the short MAYHAM, at their new works/short play festival in the Little Casa Theatre in 2009. “It was a Queer Latino play, set in a small gay cholo bar in East LA, based on a real place I knew, exposing a real subculture amongst us.”
On the strength of that experience, Lopez asked him to produce the first Brown and Out Festival to showcase LGBTQ voices. “We gave the young writers some ideas, showed them the stage and said, ‘Go for it!’” Four of the ten short plays were written by Garcia, with the balance from young writers in the area. “It was a powerful time for CASA, what with opening the new theatre place, and the 20th anniversary of Real Woman Have Curves.” They ran the show for ten performances, surprising everyone when they sold out six of those shows. “The idea of a gay show in Boyle Heights making a profit was unexpected!” The audience, he says, was a mixture of gay and straight, families and theatre-lovers.
This year, the producers have involved Jovanes, Inc, a homeless facility for transitional boys, with a strong contingent of Queer youth, who wrote five weeks’ of material in their journals on their issues with parents, love, how they came to be homeless. “We wanted to show the need for more resources on the Eastside and that we have far too many throwaway kids in our Community. We took the journals and had Corky Dominguez adapt their vision to the stage.”
The shows are professionally mounted, using a combination of pro and amateur actors, and “the results have risen in quality ten-fold, especially in the new theatre,” which is gorgeous and very state-of-the-art, technically. Still, no amount of money can make up for a lack of talent and taste, and the all-Latino cast, according to Garcia, has no weak links. So, go and salute emerging youth voices in the Latino LGBTQ communities!