By Rick Braatz
An intimate view of the migration of gay Mexicans to San Diego
The following is the second part of an interview with scholar Hector Carrillo that began in the last issue of Gay San Diego (bit.ly/2J7EAfk). Carrillo is a professor of sociology at Northwestern University in Illinois. His recently released book, “Pathways of Desire: The Sexual Migration of Mexican Gay Men,” is a study of local gay Mexican immigrants’ experiences of migrating from Mexico to the San Diego metropolitan area. In the first part of the interview, Carrillo touched on the men’s experiences back home, their access to Hillcrest, and the impact of our community’s cultural assumptions. In this final part, Carrillo discusses power dynamics in the men’s relationships with white men, the men’s impact on local LGBT culture and how they related to the stereotype that Latino’s are “sexually passionate.” We return to the interview on the topic of attraction.
Rick Braatz (RB) Your book addresses attraction, particularly the attitudes and perceptions that can underlie interracial attraction. Can you speak a little about that?
Hector Carillo (HC) It was one of the harder topics in the book, I should say, because it’s uncomfortable to talk about attraction that is based on racial difference. Now, the tension that I tried to capture in my analysis was the tension between uncomfortable racial objectification and the alternative understanding of just having a preference for someone who looks different from you. I really tried to tackle with the complexity of those two: how it’s easier for all of us to understand our choices as a preference and the choices of others as objectification. While we all somehow participate in both. We all objectify. We all have preferences. Then the next step in the analysis was to get at — without necessarily vilifying the idea of preference or objectification — that we do need to pay attention to the issue of power, particularly in the context of relationships or encounters that have some power inequality. My data and data from other literature does show that the partner who has less power seems to suffer more consequences from inequality than the other. And so, you mix that all together into one and you end with this complexity of attraction and power. Of course, some relationships can be very supportive, but others can be very abusive on the part of the person who has more power in them.
(RB) And that definitely came out in chapter 10 on power, in the men’s relationships with white American men. Can you speak a little about with what you found in terms of power in the men’s interracial relationships?
(HC) I would say my effort was really to get to the bottom of the dynamics of relationships — both the good things and the more complicated things that can happen in them. At the same time, I was trying to note the effects on the immigrants of those discrepancies or disparities of power. As I said, of course there were relationships between Mexican immigrants and white American gay men that were entirely supportive, where the white partner was doing anything and everything they could do to support his Mexican partner. But some of the men were originally anti-immigrant, but then when they got into being in this relationship, they understood that there was more to it than just an ideology. On the other hand, there were examples of people who, when relationships went sour, or in situations when not everything went perfect, then they sometimes use their greater economic status or knowledge of their partner’s immigration status to try to dominate him. There were also situations where assumptions and stereotypes about Mexican immigrants came across very strongly.
I don’t know if you recall that one example of the guy who got into a car with someone who was hooking up with him on the street. He was in Hillcrest waiting for the bus and a guy who was driving around in a car, made eye contact with him and stopped and they talked. And the young Mexican immigrant thought, ‘Oh, this is a hook up, right? I might get laid!’ He got in the car, and the guy basically pulled out his wallet and threw a $100 bill. And that part in the book, the comment that this participant made in the interview was: he realized that this guy wanted to buy him, and he said, ‘But I wasn’t there as a sex worker!’ It raised questions about the assumptions that people make when they meet someone about who the other is. In cases like this one, this kind of ‘othering’ bothered some of my participants, because they would think, ‘This is not what I was doing. Why would he think I was doing that?’
(RB) Do you have any final thoughts about this book?
(HC) In the end, I tried to balance all this with the degree to which my immigrant participants often felt that San Diego had changed them in very positive ways. San Diego provided the space where they could find their sexual autonomy if they wanted. Sometimes the U.S./Mexico border also provided them that kind of imaginary separation from the world they had left in Mexico so that they could pursue what they wanted out here; so that their families wouldn’t be constantly watching over their shoulders. They felt very positive about that.
On the other hand, I also wanted to capture their sense that they were not just receiving something by coming to San Diego, but that they had something to offer to gay life and gay culture in San Diego as well. They talked about collective life and ways in which they valued it. And American men also talked about the things that their Mexican immigrant partners were exposing them to — for example a different sense of family life and forms of interactions that were new to them, as well as forms of interaction that fall under the discourse or trope of Mexican sexual passion, that I discuss quite a bit in the book. Participants used their sense of collectivity and passion as a way to signal things they felt were possible [gay] Mexican contributions to gay life in San Diego.
(RB) On that point I found interesting because your conclusion was they took the stereotype of the ‘Latin lover’ as a sign of strength.
(HC) Well, exactly, they turned around [what] in some ways could be seen as a stereotype. I mean, if you think about it, it’s not something uncommon. Even our use of the word ‘queer’ in the way in queer people use it as opposed to people who use it to denigrate. It’s a way in which a group of people turned around the stereotype of being queer into something positive.
(RB) I feel like we’ve only barely scratched the surface of this substantial work, but I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
(HC) Thank you. I tend to think of it as a project of love. I had a wonderful research team, and the men who participated were incredibly generous. We not only worked in Hillcrest but expanded from there to talking to and recruiting participants all over San Diego. We even managed to recruit some of our participants outside Catholic mass on Sunday in the Mexican parts of San Diego and people responded very well. People said, ‘I want to be interviewed.’ And that is to say that doing this project showed me the power of doing research that takes risks at finding people where they are and how much people want to talk about their lives and see them reflected in an analysis and contribute to research. I am eternally grateful to the 150 men who participated in the study because they really opened up about telling us about their life, and that was the best part.
‘Pathways of Desire: The Sexual Migration of Mexican Gay Men,’ published by the University of Chicago Press, can be purchased from many online sellers or locally at the San Diego Museum of Art Store or the UCSD Bookstore. Or preview the book at books.google.com. For those looking to borrow, currently no local city, county or university library carries the book, but if you have a San Diego Public Library (SDPL) card, you can request it from an outside library through SDPL’s interlibrary loan program at any one of their branches or online here: goo.gl/ZpwA9K.
— Rick Braatz is a sociologist, social worker, journalist and a former editor of Gay San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.