Sunday, 15 September 2013

Hispanic Heritage Month

Today the USA begins a month-long celebration of it’s Hispanic heritage. This is an ideal opportunity for me to celebrate with them and look at the rich heritage the Hispanic lgbt community has made around the world.

I feel quite attached to things Spanish. I love the history and culture of the country (shame about the food!) and I’ve dated a couple of Spanish guys. When I’m not cheering for the UK, Canada or Ireland I’m cheering for Spain. Why? Because I’ve got a lot of Spanish ancestry. Admittedly it goes back to medieval times and King Edward III of England. Through him I descend from the royal dynasties (both Christian and Muslim) of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarre, and I know that at least one inch of the miles of DNA in my body in inherited from El Cid. But then, I’m sure you have as well, you just haven’t found out.

The size of the Spanish Empire manes that Hispanic culture has spread to every continent on the planet, even to the Argentine and Chilean claims in Antarctica. It seems unreasonable not to celebrate without, as the same time, ignoring the other side of the coin – persecution of native cultures, slavery, invasion. All of these have influenced modern Hispanic countries and the lgbt communities.

The National Hispanic Heritage Month in the USA originates way back in the 1960s as a weak-long celebration. President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a calendar-month in length in 1988, making this it’s 25th anniversary.

The reason why 15th September was chosen to begin the celebration is because it is the date in 1821 when several central American countries declared independence from Spain – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Other Hispanic countries became independent in the following week. The heritage month last until a few days after the anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas on 12th October 1492.

Over the course of this heritage month I’ll take each continent in turn and look at its lgbt heritage and cultural development. I’ll take them in a kind of chronological order according to expansion, beginning with Europe, then Africa, the Americas, and finally Asia-Oceania.

Before that I want to bring in this year’s overall science theme. There are many lgbt scientists of Hispanic heritage. Here are just three.

When considering those of Hispanic heritage in the lgbt community the best place to start is with Juana Maria Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In her 2003 book “Queer Latinidad” Juana pointed out that it is impossible to take gender out of Hispanic culture because it’s very language is heavily gender based. As a means of unifying, or perhaps eliminating, the gender differentiation of the male Latino and female Latina identities Juana adopted the “@” symbol to produce a new word – Latin@ - to describe the whole Hispanic community.

Juana is one of the world’s leading experts on the Latin@ community in the lgbt world, though much of her work comes from research in her native California. The remarkable aspect of this is that Juana had no academic aspirations after school. It was only after a chance meeting with an old teacher in a gay bar that her interest in going into higher education and university was sparked.

One Hispanic scientist making another splash in the world, quite literally in his case, is Luis Eduardo Bahamon. Originally from Colombia Luis has both Hispanic and native Colombian blood. He is, perhaps, better known in the sporting lgbt community for his achievements in swimming and diving than for his work as a clinical cytogeneticist with Kaiser Permanente in California. Cytogenetics is the branch of genetics which deals with chromosomes and health conditions, such as hereditary diseases and DNA research.

Luis was a keen diver from childhood. He won his first medal, a bronze, at the age of 16 in high school in Colombia. Since then he has competed for his adopted country of the USA in both diving and swimming. Currently Luis is a member of West Hollywood Aquatics and is an adviser to International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics on diving issues. He competes regularly in US Masters competitions and lgbt events such as the Gay Games and Outgames. His most recent diving medals have been 2 silvers at the Gay Games in Cologne in 2010.

And last, but not least, a quick mention of Dr. Diana Eva Azcarate. She is a research scientist at the Institutio Argentino de Radioastronomia in Berazategui near Buenos Aries. Diana is one of just a handful of transgender scientists, and is a campaigner for transgender rights in Argentina.

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