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Latino Literature  
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In the novels that attempt to foreground questions of sexuality, Rechy places the interrogation of ethnicity on the sidelines. Conversely, in the novels that focus on Latino experiences, homosexuality is not a major subject. In all of his work, Rechy relies on realist techniques to depict the experiences of ethnic and sexual minorities.

Rechy is best understood as a writer who emerged from a specific historical moment in gay history, a time before gay men of color were politically organized. His writings--including his nongay work--chart the history of a gay culture that continues to ask many gay men of color to choose between their ethnic or racial identities and their sexual identities.

For Rechy, these categories have remained discrete in his work. And yet, to understand his oeuvre and its seemingly inherent contradictions, it is necessary to recognize the social forces of racism and homophobia that have historically positioned Latino gay men and lesbians to choose between these categories in the first place.

Arturo Islas and the Reconciliation of Sexuality and Ethnicity

Other Latino gay men have faced this dual oppression and have made their simultaneous experience of racism and homophobia the focus of their writing.

The poetic novels of Chicano writer Arturo Islas, The Rain God (1984) and Migrant Souls (1990), describe the life and times of Miguel Chico, a closeted Chicano gay man. The two novels--the first and second parts of an unfinished trilogy--focus on Chico's struggles to form an identity that will resolve the tensions of his conservative Southwest Latino heritage and his new life in the gay urban culture of San Francisco.

Yet rather than focusing exclusively on the perspective of Miguel Chico, Islas provides snapshots of the various members of his extended family. These stories of other family members are told in third-person narratives that move backward and forward in time and provide multiple perspectives on various intratextual events.

Such narratives demonstrate the sociohistorical forces that combine to produce Miguel Chico's crisis of identity. Like William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, Islas combines elements of social realism with magical and psychological realism to engage the reader in a complex poetic network of associative images and events.

Islas is most interested in exploring the concept of a border identity: How does one reconcile sexuality with ethnicity? What are the effects of this dilemma in the traditional and conservative Latino kinship structure? What possible spiritual growth can stem from this crisis? Islas poses these questions effectively in the domain of tragedy where individuals struggle in defeat against the social forces that undo them.

The Comic Reconciliation of Jaime Manrique

If Islas describes Latino gay identity as fundamentally tragic, Colombian born writer Jaime Manrique, in his successful cross-over novel Latin Moon in Manhattan (1992), offers the comic antidote to Islas's tragic novels.

Manrique's novel describes the adventures of Santiago Martínez, a Colombian gay male immigrant living in New York City. Manrique also provides his readers with a wide-ranging portrait of his protagonist's extended family and friends, including a boyhood friend who dies of AIDS complications and a Latina lesbian motorcyclist whom his family plans for him to marry.

In place of Islas's tragic approach, however, Manrique traces Santiago's madcap journey from Bogota to Times Square with full comic flair. Unlike the protagonists in the novels of Rechy and Islas, Manrique's central character is able to reconcile the various configurations of his identity.

Rather than focusing on the formation of his character's pysche, Manrique chooses to concentrate on his character's multifaceted experiences as a Latino gay immigrant. By the end of the novel, when all the various plots and subplots are resolved, Manrique's protagonist is shown in the midst of his newly fashioned community, which includes family members, other nongay Latino neighbors, and non-Latino gays.

The novel concludes with the central character, surrounded by his loved ones, aware finally that his life in New York, though always quirky and complicated, is joyful.

Manrique's entertaining humor, reminiscent of that of the Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, marks a turning point in Latino gay fiction. When read in the context of the earlier Latino gay fiction of Rechy and Islas, Manrique's novel demonstrates the diversity of styles and approaches available to Latino gay male writers who write about similar themes.

Significantly, Latin Moon in Manhattan is unequivocally a comedy. It is the first novel by a Latino gay male writer to address issues of identity and culture with irony.

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