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Latino Literature  
 
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Despite the proliferation of a Chicano and Latino literary renaissance in the wake of the Chicano movement of the 1960s, few Chicano and Latino gay men have been published to date. Although the early 1980s produced a distinct and influential tradition of Chicana and Latina lesbian writings, Chicano and Latino gay male writers have yet to approach such a degree of visibility. Such invisibility inevitably raises the question why are there so few published works by Latino gay men?

One way to approach this question is to recognize the omnipresence of machismo in Latino cultures. Machismo--the hyperinvestment in traditional masculinity and the consequent limited conceptions of gender and sexuality--contributes to the refusal of many Latino men who engage in same-sex activity to identify themselves as "gay." Moreover, the monumental influence of Catholicism on Latinos also increases the difficulty of proclaiming themselves "gay."

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Certainly the cultural forces of machismo and Catholicism among Latinos have combined to undervalue--if not foreclose--a Latino gay identity.

Another factor contributing to the paucity of writings by Latinos is located on the other side of the border. If Latino cultures are , U.S. culture exercises various forms of racism.

Chicano literary theorist José David Saldívar has noted, for instance, that the writings of various Latinos--including Chicano gay novelist Arturo Islas who died of AIDS complications in 1991--were rejected by various publishers and agents because the work was assumed to be either too limited or not "ethnic" enough. Self-identifying Latino gay male writers must therefore combat the dual forces of and racism.

Unlike Chicana and Latina lesbian writers who were able to form coalitions with other lesbians of color, with white lesbians, and with the multiracial nonlesbians within the feminist movement of the 1970s in order to facilitate the process of establishing their own publishing venues and opportunities, Latino gay men have neither experienced an overt politicization around a Latino gay identity nor had access to support from Latino and white gay male publishing institutions.

Finally, the AIDS pandemic has decimated the Latino gay male population in the United States. Homophobia, racism, and AIDS are, then, the major factors that begin to account for the lack of a Latino gay male literary heritage.

Yet Latino gay writers do publish books. Whether or not their writings participate in the construction of a North American gay literary tradition--let alone a Latino gay tradition--remains to be seen. The question points to the vexed and perhaps futile business of establishing criteria (themes, forms, subject-positions) that can be classified and contained within the rubric "gay."

Moreover, attempts to identify a distinct Latino literary tradition remain problematic since Latino must be understood as a diverse people living in the United States who trace their ethnicity to any of the countries of South America, Central America, the Caribbean, or Mexico, regardless of race. In many cases, the writings of Latino gay men are more accurately linked to the literary traditions of their country of origin or North American and European movements and trends rather than to a U.S. gay movement.

Nonetheless, Latino gay men have published novels, poetry, drama, and essays that deal directly with gay themes and issues. Certain characteristic themes and recurring motifs can be identified as central to Latino gay men.

Characteristic Themes and Recurring Motifs

The role of the Latino gay man within the traditional Latino family, the experience of a border identity and its ramifications within two distinct cultures, the attempts to assimilate into U.S. gay culture, and the efforts to cultivate a Latino gay culture in the United States are the most prevalent topics in Latino gay literature. Although Latino gay men employ various literary methods and traditions to tell their stories, social realism remains the primary mode of expression.

The Divided Focus of John Rechy

John Rechy, the most renowned Latino gay male writer, has written about gay issues since the publication of his enormously successful and influential novel City of Night in 1963. Rechy's canon, which includes nine novels, one nonfiction "documentary," a play, and numerous essays, varies in its focus on homosexuality. It is a topic that he writes about frequently but not exclusively.

Rechy's early works establish a pattern among Latino gay male writers that is typical of much of North American gay literature. His first gay novels concentrate on autobiographical aspects and speculate on the possibilities of a gay identity both before and after Stonewall. This exploration often involves a candid discussion of sexual practices and fantasies that have led many of his earliest critics to label his work pornographic.

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