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A Homeboy Explains His Problem With the Mission LGBT Mural 

Wednesday, Jul 8 2015
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In June 2014, Galeria de la Raza at 24th and Bryant streets mounted a digital mural that portrayed three transgender Latina women waving the pink, blue, and white transgender flag. In June 2013, the Pride month mural at the Galeria featured portraits of six undocumented youths, along with the message, "I Am UndocuQueer!"

Both murals celebrated queer people within Latino communities, yet neither elicited the backlash that greeted this year's Pride mural, which depicts two couples — one gay, one lesbian — and a trans man. Titled "Por Vida," the mural has been defaced with graffiti three times, and on the night of June 29, it was set on fire.

The vandalism has distressed queer Latinos and their allies, several hundred of whom gathered last Thursday in front of the charred mural to express love for LGBT people and support for the Galeria.

"There's a lot of homophobia and transphobia in the Latino culture," Susana Cáceres, the executive director of El/La Para TransLatinas (a Mission-based transgender Latino support organization), says. "This is just surfacing something that's always been there."

But according to Barrio2Barrio, one of the most outspoken critics of the mural, the negative response is not about depicting gay people, but depicting gay people as cholos — a slang term for Mexican gang members.

"It's not saying that there are no gay people that are gang members. That's like saying there's no gay mechanics," Barrio2Barrio said last week by phone. "What's being depicted here is an appropriation."

Barrio2Barrio is the social media handle of a 35-year-old East Bay documentarian and promoter of the cholo lifestyle. Between his Instagram feed (10,500 followers), Tumblr, and his DVDs, Barrio2Barrio chronicles the lowrider aesthetic of cholos and homeboys in barrios across California. For him, being a cholo means being part of a gang and enduring police harassment, violence, poverty, and prison. He says the mural glamorizes a lifestyle that isn't glamorous and shows homosexuality in a way that's not realistic.

"The majority of homegirls that I got — they look like dudes, " Barrio2Barrio says. "They're butch lesbians. It's a machismo culture." What you won't see in that culture is two gay cholos publicly embracing each other. That's unrealistic, Barrio2Barrio says, and a sign that outsiders — such as the Los Angeles-based artists who created the mural — feel "entitled" to cholo lifestyle "just because they're brown."

Barrio2Barrio says there's been a resurgence of interest in the cholo aesthetic and that it profits off the good while ignoring the bad. "Look at Mike Giant," he says, referring to the popular tattoo and graffiti artist. "He does nothing but cholo, and he makes bank on it. Everybody from Gwen Stefani to Fergie to Justin Bieber's girlfriend is trying to be cholo now."

The anger Barrio2Barrio expresses unites him with anti-gentrification activists such as Roberto Hernandez of Our Mission No Eviction. After all, the Mission District is ground zero for the fight against outsiders who want to consume the products of Latino culture while displacing Latino people.

But while Hernandez rallied in support of the mural on Thursday, Barrio2Barrio is standing his ground. "They say it's just art," says Barrio2Barrio, "but I'm saying, if there was a mural in your neighborhood that was a black Nazi, or a Confederate flag, what would you do? The Confederate flag? They took that down."

About The Author

Julia Carrie Wong

Julia Carrie Wong's work has appeared in numerous local and national titles including 48hills, Salon, In These Times, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

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