mexican icons

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Juan Gabriel, Gay Mexican Icon

(January 7, 1950 – August 28, 2016)

With his glittery capes, slinky dance moves and ultra-romantic lyrics, Mexican superstar Juan Gabriel was an unlikely king in a country known for its machismo. He never spoke about his sexuality, yet was widely assumed to be gay. It’s no surprise that the singer was an icon in Mexico’s gay subculture.

Having sold over 100 million copies worldwide, Gabriel is among Latin America’s best-selling singer-songwriters. His eighteenth studio album, Recuerdos, Vol. II, holds the distinction of being the best-selling album of all-time in Mexico, with over eight million copies sold.

During his career, Gabriel wrote around 1,800 songs. Releasing 35 albums over the course of his 45-year career, he became beloved by multiple generations of fans in Latin America, Spain and the United States. His genres varied widely, from mariachi to salsa to disco.

In 2002, a few years before Mexico City legalized gay marriage, the famously effeminate singer shut down a journalist who asked if he was gay.  “You don’t ask about what can be seen,” he said.

Although Gabriel never publicly claimed the gay community, that community certainly claimed him, with his romantic Spanish-language ballads belted late into the night in drag bars on both sides of the border.

Many have credited Juan Gabriel with opening the door to greater expression of gender and sexuality, even if he never explicitly called for it. Like Prince, or David Bowie, Juan Gabriel was known for his gender-bending clothing and occasional touch of eye makeup.

“I think he made a deep cultural change not by talking about his sexuality but by living it out on stage,” said Alejandro Madrazo, a law professor in Mexico who is an expert on the legal battle for same-sex marriage in the country. “Juan Gabriel taught us how to be feminine.”

Madrazo recalled seeing Juan Gabriel perform before a large crowd at a cockfight, a sport that exemplifies Mexico’s machismo culture.  

“He would dance in a way that was sexy and provocative in front of all these stereotypes of a Mexican man,” Madrazo said. “He would literally shake … in their faces, and they would go crazy.”

In an homage to Juan Gabriel published on the website of Mexico’s Millenio newspaper, journalist Alvaro Cueva recalled friends making fun of Juan Gabriel for his effeminate stage presence. At some schools, his name was used as an anti-gay slur.

Cueva called Juan Gabriel subversive. “You … became an idol in a country of macho men,” he wrote. “You made homophobic people sing and dance.”

Eduardo C. Corral, the gay Chicano poet, shared a story on Twitter about how it was easier for his parents to accept him after he came out to them because of Juan Gabriel. “In high school, I came out first to my mom. She told my dad when he got off work at midnight. She was nervous. Afraid of his reaction. My dad’s response? He said, in Spanish, ‘So what? So is Juan Gabriel,’” Corral wrote.

The poet relayed an experience that was common for LGBT Latinos and their families. “Over the years, Juan Gabriel became part of many Mexican families. Yes, he was mocked. But there he was. In our homes. Familiar & strange. Queerness, then, became a presence in Mexican homes. In my home. This familiarity with queerness helped my father to keep loving his son,” tweeted the poet.

In all his glory, Juan Gabriel was an incredible performer and singer-songwriter, but it is his impact on the LGBT Latino community that must not be erased from the narrative of his legacy.

Ernesto García Chango Cabral (1890 - 1968) was an artist, painter and icon of Mexican Art Deco and Nouveau, famous for his contributions as a cartoonist to the magazine Revista de Revistas. His work covers almost 25,000 documents.

The strange cult of “El Moz“

Steven Patrick Morrissey, born May 22nd of 1959 in Lancashire, to a working-class Irish migrant family, Morrissey grew up in Manchester where he established the well known band The Smiths in 1982. Six years later he would launch his solo act as Morrissey which is still going on. He has been acclaimed as one of the greatest lyricists in the history of rock with themes that diverge from the typical Rock themes of bravado and glorification. Morrissey is often referred to as one of the most influential artists of modern times, he has been a gay icon and animal’s right activist…but did you know he is also the cult icon of a strange Mexican subculture?

Of all the bizarre connections in the world of music, one of the strangest by far is that of Morrissey and Mexican people. In a culture that is notable for its firm machismo that despises anything that has to do with feelings and expression…why is Morrissey so popular? The answer is in the question, the toxic masculinity of the Mexican culture can only go so far before men themselves begin to feel asphyxiated by it. When you are taught from an early age that men don’t have feelings and men don’t cry and they have to be tough as nails, something snaps.  In comes Morrissey singing of that sense of estrangement and longing that can be found in traditional Mariachi and Ranchera songs of Mexico…the only difference is that men are allowed to feel.

Rancheras often speak of heartbreak and hurt in the only way they are allowed to without showing any emotions that are not manly, this often reduces the themes to anger. Anger that she left, anger that she is sleeping with another. Then the protagonist gets drunk and maybe fires a gun or rides a horse into the sunset. Well everything is different in Morrissey’s lyrics, they have the sentiment of a true Ranchera and the hurt and heartbreak, but it can be manifested in sadness and longing that is not patriotic or hyper-masculine. Basically Morrissey tells us that Boys cry too, and it’s OK.

In the spring of 2000, after seven years of silence, Morrissey decided to tour Latin America for the first time ever. The ¡Oye Esteban! Tour was obviously aimed at his extensive Latino-based fans which had grown out of proportion during those seven years. John Schaefer, host of WNYC’s “Soundcheck,” said about that run of dates. “At a time where he couldn’t get a record contract, here was this audience that was loyal and perhaps kind of unexpected, and he went and played to them. For many of us, that was the first inkling we had that there was something unusual and peculiar going on there.”

This new found awareness took music critics by surprise, they started to question why was Morrissey such a huge deal south of the border? Some made the association between Mexican folk music and Morrissey’s music. Others noticed how Morrissey’s style makes an appeal to the greaser culture of Hot Rods–and-pompadours that’s also quite popular among certain Latinos. Some ethnographers decided to look closer to home and found another answer in the Chicano community. A new generation of American born Mexicans felt displaced in their new land. With Latin roots and traditions but lost at sea in a country where you are not wanted felt the same angst that Morrissey was singing about; a deep-seated melancholy about where to belong. It’s easy to see how many of Morrissey’s lyrics deal with that identity crisis, with a sense of alienation, of being an “other” appeal to the entire Chicano community.

Morrissey took notice of this and for the past 15 years he has been making this link very explicit. His most famous recognition of this was during his ¡Oye Esteban! Tour where he declared in the middle of the concert “I wish I was born Mexican, but it’s too late for that now.” Other examples include him strutting around wearing the uniform of the Mexican soccer team Chivas de Guadalajara, rocking shirts with the most iconic Mexican saint La Virgen de Guadalupe. And then there’s Mexico, one of Morrissey’s newer songs which could double as an anthem of Chicano love for the homeland.

On the other side, in Mexico there are countless Morrissey and The Smiths tribute bands, most of them created by kids that call themselves neo-Mozzers. There are conventions, clubs and events with the only purpose of venerating one Steven Patrick Morrissey.

Is Morrissey’s love affaire with Mexican people legitimate? or only a shrewd business strategy? Only time will tell but the love that people south of the border feel for him is true and is pure as a light that never goes out.

-Schlimazelbabe

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Fans who have dreamed of stepping inside the surreal imagination of Guillermo del Toro now have their chance. Opening today at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters offers a rare look at more than six hundred pieces from the iconic Mexican filmmaker’s private collection of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts.

Inside the Guillermo del Toro Collection