DeColores Aims to Empower and Transform

Resistance. Oppression. Acceptance. Intersecting identities. Undocumented, queer and unafraid.

These were all commonly overheard phrases at a DeColores Queer Orange County event in Santa Ana earlier this month.

On June 11, the third annual conference was held at the El Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana with the theme “Mi Casa Es tu Casa: Empowering our Homes and Transforming Our Communities.”

Workshops hosted by volunteers included discussions about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) allies, homosexuality and religion, queer rights, the media and the reclaiming of the gay Latino identity.

There was also a discussion roundtable called La Familia 101 in which participants were encouraged to bring their parents or relatives to discuss matters relating to the LGBT community and their experiences.

This year’s conference had its biggest turn out, in which there were almost a hundred participants throughout the course of the day.

The keynote speaker for the event was San Jose based poet Yosimar Reyes. Reyes holds the title for the 2005 as well as the 2006 South Bay Teen Grand SLAM Champion. His words have opened up for concerts for Carlos Santana in his latest project Architects of a New Dawn, a multimedia project launched earlier this year (Aoand.com)

Reyes used his charismatic presence to combine both humorous stories of personal experience and beat poetry during his keynote speech. He touched on topics relating to the intersecting identities of a Mexican-American gay male living in modern society.

He started writing poetry as a teenager growing up East San Jose. He started a journey of self discovery through his writing and as time went on, others began connecting to his work. His poetry performances helped him overcome his shyness.

One of his personal stories was about accepting and reclaiming word “joto”, a derogatory word for homosexual males in Spanish.

He spoke about growing up and being outcasted and teased for befriending females and bringing books to recess instead of playing sports.

“Books had words that wouldn’t hurt me and stories about places better than my block,” he told the audience. “People overlooked the fact that I was different and instead just thought it was because I read books.”

He said through all of the reading he has done over the years, he knows the power of words and they can either be toxic or nurturing.

“I’ve been called every name in the book from joto to faggot to illegal and now I know better not to let it bother me,” he told the audience. “I’d rather focus on words of love than words of hate.”

At the end of the conference, the stage featured another group of speakers consisting of DeColores Queer OC members talking about their experiences with gender identity.

Gerson Cortes spoke about the taboo of a male wanting to wearing a skirt not to be feminine but to have to freedom to do so as a way to defy the standards of masculinity.

“Skirts are fun and they make me really want to dance,” he said. “I like the frilly ones and the ones that fluff up around you when you twirl. But I am not allowed to wear one as doing so would be seen as emasculating.”

Lizeth Zepeda spoke about the opposite. She yearned to wear pants growing up but was forced to wear dresses.

“I have always been fascinated by gender ambiguity,” she said to the audience. “However to this day, even at twenty three years old, I am still made to wear a skirt by my family at special occasions.”

After the conference, Steve Zamarripa said DeColores Queer OC was formed a little over three years ago as a space to address, mobilize and discuss issues that pertain to the Latino LGBT community.

“There are many of us who have lived in Orange County for most of our lives,” he said. “As this area is mostly conservative, we felt like there wasn’t an outlet for the gay Latino community.”

The group has held vigils for the recent gay youth suicides across the country as well as organized protests pertaining to undocumented immigrant rights.

A Spanish language meeting for gay youth and their parents organized by DeColores Queer OC takes place weekly and serves as an unofficial counterpart to PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Gays and Lesbians) for local families.

“We want to give back to youth in our community because we know how it is to be in high school trying to figure out who you are” he said. “I feel like if I had a support system like DeColores growing up, I would have been more accepting of myself at a younger age.”

He said the group has been successful and well-received from the local community and becoming a bigger and stronger grassroots organization.

“The opposition we encountered in our past empowers us,” he said. “The more resistance there is, the more we can empower ourselves to create groups like these that help others that are struggling with their identities.”

Amber Stephens
amber.stephens@gmail.com

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