National Hispanic Heritage Month and Hispanic Lesbian History

4 Oct

September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when Americans honor the contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. I live in New Mexico, a state with a rich Hispanic culture, and I study history at the University of New Mexico. My current project uncovers how lesbians and gay men constructed formative identities, cultures, and activism in New Mexico in the 1920s through the 1980s, which has been a challenging task because of the paucity of written sources on LGBTQ history in the state. It has been even more difficult to find Hispanic lesbian voices. Hispanic women began writing about their lesbianism in fictional terms and this literature first addressed their virtual absence in history. With the rise of the Third World women’s movement and the publication of texts, starting with the work of Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, a new field emerged in the 1980s.

Expanding on these beginnings, two important anthologies demonstrated the continued growth of the field: Juanita Ramos’ Campaneras: Latina Lesbians (1987) and Carla Trujillo’s Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About (1990). Trujillo was born in New Mexico and her anthology includes three other women born and raised in the state and one that moved there later in life. New Mexico affords scholars an opportunity to better understand the flourishing of Hispanic lesbian representations. One space in which I have uncovered Hispanic lesbians’ historic lives is in rural areas and small towns. As historian Yolanda Chavez Leyva argues, Hispanic lesbian histories challenges the urban-based paradigm in the field as many lived at home or close to family members and negotiated their sexual orientation within familial structures rather than in large cities. I am curious to hear from other scholars who work in this field to see what spaces they have examined. Church? Work? Bars? How might LGBTQ scholars better incorporate Hispanic gay men and lesbians’ experiences into our field?


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