Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hispanic America

The Americas constitute the biggest concentration of Hispanic heritage of any continent, including Europe, due, of course, to the empire-building of Spain and Portugal from the moment Columbus returned from his voyages.

I won’t mention every Hispanic nation in the Americas because there’s too many of them. As with other European colonists the Spanish and Portuguese imposed their own sexual morals on their conquered territories which suppressed any indigenous sexual conventions that were different. Throughout the Americas there were examples of same-sex activity among men which the Europeans didn’t understand. From the Great Lakes down to Patagonia indigenous cultures practised same-sex under various circumstances, the most common being a show of power and dominance, either militarily or politically.

The conquerors saw no variation in the reason for same-sex activity. They saw it all as immoral and anti-Christian. To the indigenous cultures same-sex activity was not seen as immoral but helped to reinforce the masculinity and power of their leaders. This was not unknown in European cultures around the Mediterranean where the conquerors originated but the Christian morality dominated the Spanish and Portuguese fanaticism to convert the New World from paganism, as they saw it.

Fortunately, the American civilisations were strong enough to retain parts of their culture despite Christian suppression. This can be seen today in the lgbt culture. The colonial term “berdache” came to be used for native men who practised same-sex or exhibited feminine characteristics. It was a name used extensively well into the 20th century. It is not a popular term today as it was used to describe many different sexual practices and genders and each American culture now prefers their own self-chosen terms (e.g. the Native Americans use the term Two Spirit).

The Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century extended to the Americas. In Europe it was the civil authorities, not the church, who executed men for “sodomy”. In the Americas the indigenous people also escaped Catholic punishment due to the belief that they were “incapable of reason” and not intelligent enough to know they had been doing something “wrong”. The priests converted these “perverted sodomites” and told them they would receive their punishment after death. European colonists, however, were still executed by the civil authorities. Despite this persecution same-sex activity by European colonists continued in secret, and in Brazil and Mexico City there are records of extended communities of colonial homosexuals who survived through the Inquisition.

Throughout the imperial centuries the indigenous people mingled and interbred with descendants of the conquerors. Today is it very difficult to find true full-blood indigenous Americans in the major population centres in many Hispanic countries.

Even as the modern concept of an lgbt community has developed there developed also issues of racial identity. Across the USA the Hispanic community was treated with almost as much prejudice as the black or Native Americas communities. Yet all three have developed their own lgbt culture and identity and use a wide range of names to describe themselves (e.g. latino/a, chicana/o, which are also used outside the lgbt community).

The early gay rights movement in the USA during the 1950s and 60s contained several Hispanics who were influential in its development. These included José Sarria who died earlier this year. He was a San Francisco drag performer who was the first openly gay man to run for public office. José is as much a pioneer of modern drag entertainment as he was for the battle to allow open lgbt people to run for office.

The Hispanic heritage in the lgbt community in the Americas continues to be a major feature, with more Hispanic lgbt organisations than on any continent (that’s north and south America combined) outside the Iberian peninsula itself. Today there are many more lgbt Hispanic-Americans known around the world than any other on the continent. People from the past like Manuel Puig (Argentina, 1932-1990, author of “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) or the artist Frida Kahlo (Mexico, 1907-1954) join names of the present like Ricki Martin and Gigi Fernandez and José Sarria in bringing Hispanic lgbt heritage to the fore. The combination of a racial and lgbt heritage looks like a becoming a legacy for the future which we all can welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment