Published in The Huffington Post on 04/05/2012
It is natural for parents to daydream about their children’s future and to worry about the things which may cause misery or harm to them. In many Hispanic families — which tend to be socially conservative — a child being gay is often seen in a negative light, because of the family members’ own beliefs or due to fears of how others will treat their loved ones.
These were not easy questions for Olga Valenzuela Moreno, who came from Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, to live in Phoenix, Arizona many years ago. Both, her daughter and son, came out as gay 11 years ago, as they describe in a new documentary video produced by the civil rights advocacy group Cuéntame.
“Dad asked me to go outside, and he goes, ‘what’s wrong with your mom’, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ ‘What’s wrong with your mom?’ He was smoking a cigarette, and I said, ‘Well, ok, I’m gay.’ He happened to be inhaling at the time and he inhaled extremely deeply, like he was going to maybe ingest the whole cigarette,” said Samantha Moreno, 33, in the video.
She was the first to come out, but was followed soon after by her brother, Guillermo Moreno, age 29. “I told my mom and she jerked her head and my dad came walking, crying, and told her, you know, we have another child that is, you know, gay,” said Guillermo — who at the time was studying to become a priest (he is now a graphic designer and entrepreneur).
Cuéntame, part of the non-profit Brave New Foundation, is “a production and documentary campaign organization for Latinos, by Latinos,” according to Axel Caballero, the Mexican-born founding director of the group, in an interview with The Huffington Post.
“The video is part of a larger series called ‘An Honest Conversation,’ and tells stories that come from the voices heard in the community,” said Caballero. “It is a sober, honest, direct approach about LGBT Latino youth and their friends, families, and the community at large. We cover stories from bullying to abuse and from struggle to triumph. Our work aims to break taboos within the Latino community.”
How did the Morenos become involved in the project? “When we started the series we asked for stories in social media, Facebook and Youtube and started receiving comments. Guillermo contacted me and said he had a unique story; saying “it’s not only myself, but also my sister. We’re both gay,” said Caballero.
The Morenos are a tight-knit, fervently Catholic Latino family, full of traditional customs and rituals. Having two kids coming out as gay was not easy. “It hurts, it still hurts,” said Olga Moreno, the mother. “Just because you have one does not make the second one any easier. You go through the same thing again,” she explained in the video.
The brief documentary shows the three hugging, playing, smiling, eating and crying together.
But someone is missing: the father. “I’m gonna be with my girlfriend for 12 years in August,” said Samantha with tears in her eyes, “It’s gonna be 12 years in August since my dad even said a word to her. Does that hurt? Yes.”
The Huffington Post interviewed Guillermo Moreno on Thursday, asking him about their father. “My father doesn’t want to talk about it,” he said. “He cares about us; he is happy as long as we are happy. He never disrespected us,” he added, nor did their older brother, Manuel, 35.
On the video, the three speak candidly about traditional Hispanic roles and culture, how the family practiced their religion and how, ultimately, all of this is related to their coming out. “My parents tried to make sure that I was the queen of the church. I had my quinceañera with a big dress, and I did feel like a princess,” stated Samantha, showing photos of her 15th birthday celebration, a traditional Latino ritual in which families mark the transition of their daughter into womanhood. A ceremony is held in a church, and the daughter wears makeup and a formal ball gown to celebrate this rite of passage, usually with a full court of friends to accompany her.
“Another thing, is that our culture is ruled by God,” said Mrs. Moreno, adding, “I have a cousin, she took Samantha to the church,” and Samantha finishes her mother’s words as they say the same thing at the same time, smiling and mimicking the aunt’s thoughts of exorcising the young Samantha. “Just the thought that you are going to take the gayness out of me just because you pray for me; well, it was just a little bit too weird,” Samantha added.
In the end, the three agreed that the two children coming out actually strengthened the family union. They speak honestly and openly, noting that, even if their father didn’t wish to appear in the video, he still speaks to them, and he loves and accepts them. Because, in the end, they said, “this is all we have, the family.”
Over the phone, Guillermo seemed to want to stress this point, saying “You can see in the video that we are a close family, very loving, and what you see is not acting. It’s the real deal. [When we came out] we couldn’t expect them to jump for joy, but for the most part they took it very positively. There was never any objection or rude comments.”