Code Switch
5:18 pm
Thu January 23, 2014

Raised In The U.S. And Coming Out To Immigrant Parents

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 5:32 pm

Editor's Note: This week Code Switch has been bringing you a series of stories prompted by a poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. And one of the findings that stood out was a striking difference between Latinos born and raised in the U.S. and immigrants when it comes to the degree of openness when it comes to talking about sexual orientation. NPR's Jasmine Garsd explored how some Latin American immigrant parents interact with their gay children who were born or raised in the U.S.

Oscar Martinez was 9 years old when his family moved to the U.S., but he still remembers life in Honduras.

"When I was growing up in Honduras LGBT people were invisible. They would only come out at night, and they were sort of like urban myths" says Martinez. "Just like in the song by Willie Colón."

Martinez is referring to "El Gran Varón," a famous salsa song during the 1980s about a young man, Simon, who immigrates to the U.S. and becomes trans. He then dies of AIDS at age 30. Martinez says he used to hear his family talk about the song and it made him feel sad. He was in college when he told his parents he was gay. Even though they are now completely accepting, his father told him he was giving up the chance of having children. And his mother was scared

"She starts crying and says, 'We love you no matter what and will be as supportive as possible. But do you realize you are already a brown Latino man? How are you going to handle another label?' "

The Martinez family is emblematic of a finding in our survey: 15 percent of the immigrants we surveyed declined to reveal their sexual orientation — gay or straight — while nearly all Latinos born in the U.S. were much more open; 99 percent gave us that information.

Life for people in the LGBT communities of Latin America can be rough — very rough. And those memories can be hard to forget.

Camila Fierro was born to Chilean immigrants who fled the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. She came out to her parents in college. She says her mother still carries the memory of what life used to be like in Chile. "It was so closed and shuttered, and gay people where ostracized, and terrible things did happen. And they still think it's that way."

Those fears are not unfounded; there are violent acts in Latin America against gays and lesbians. At the same time, gay marriage has been legalized in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and parts of Mexico.

And in the United States, a majority of Latinos now favor same-sex marriage, according to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center. That represents a significant shift in opinion.

Gladys Rodriguez, a Peruvian nanny living in Chicago, remembers when her son told her he is gay. She feared his schoolmates would bully or reject him. And some parents did forbid their children to hang out with him. But many others came forward to support him.

Rodriguez says, "Parents also have to come out of the closet and be openly supportive of their gay children."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

This week, we're bringing you a series of stories about Latinos in America. Our reporting is inspired by a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. One of the findings that stood out was a striking difference in openness about sexual orientation. The poll indicates that Latinos born in the U.S. approach the issue quite differently than immigrants do.

NPR's Jasmine Garsd explores how some Latin American immigrant parents have responded to their gay children.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Oscar Martinez was nine when his family immigrated to the U.S., but he still remembers life in Honduras.

OSCAR MARTINEZ: When I was growing up in the '90s in Honduras, LGBT people were invisible. They would only come out at night and they were sort of like urban myths. (Foreign language spoken) Willie Colon, no?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL GRAN VARÓN")

WILLIE COLON: (Singing in foreign language)

GARSD: Martinez is referring to "El Gran Varon," a famous salsa song about a young man, Simon, who emigrated to the U.S. to become trans, only to die of AIDS at age 30. Oscar says he used to hear his family talk about the song and he felt sad. Oscar was angry as a teenager. He thinks it was because he didn't understand that he was gay up until college. One night, while visiting on vacation, he came out to his father. He was in college when he told his parents he was gay. Even though they are now completely accepting, his father told him he was giving up the chance of having children. And his mother was scared

MARTINEZ: What I said was, you know, Dad, you know I'm never going to marry a woman. He was really quiet and sort of pale...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTINEZ: ...even though my father is very dark skinned.

GARSD: Even though they're now completely accepting, his father told him he was giving up the chance of having children. His mother was scared.

MARTINEZ: She starts crying and then she told me: You know, we love you no matter what, and we'll be as supportive as possible. But do you realize that you're already a Latino, brown man? How are you going to handle another label?

GARSD: The Martinez family is emblematic of a finding in our survey: 15 percent of the immigrants we surveyed declined to reveal their sexual orientation - gay or straight - while nearly all Latinos born in the U.S. were much more open, 99 percent gave us that information.

Life for people in the LGBT communities of Latin America can be rough - very rough. And those memories can be hard to forget.

CAMILA FIERRO: My mom is from Talca. Dad is from Santiago.

GARSD: Camila Fierro was born to Chilean immigrants who fleeing the brutal Pinochet dictatorship. She came out to her parents in college.

FIERRO: Life would be harder, she just said that. She says it's so much harder. It's already so hard as a woman and it's already so hard as a Latina woman. And my point was, like, I am already brown. I am already a woman, like, why not.

GARSD: She says her mother still struggles with the memory of life in Chile.

FIERRO: It was so closed and shuttered and people where ostracized, and terrible things did happen that they think it's still the same way.

GARSD: Their fears are not unfounded. Days before I meet Fierro for the first time, four Chilean youths are handed life sentences for torturing and killing a gay man. In the days around the sentencing, another gay man was beaten into a coma.

Professor Lourdes Torres teaches Latin American and Latino Studies at DePaul University. She points out that in the last decade, gay marriage has been legalized in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and parts of Mexico.

LOURDES TORRES: There's this idea that while white middle-class are progressing, everybody else is still stuck in this static, old-fashioned, kind of primitive ideology.

GARSD: A recent survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, points out that a majority of Latinos favor same-sex marriage, a major shift in a short amount of time.

Gladys Rodriguez, a nanny from Peru living in Chicago, remembers when her son told her he's gay.

GLADYS RODRIQUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

GARSD: She says she was afraid that his schoolmates would bully or reject him. And some parents did forbid their children to hang out with him. But many others came forward to support him.

RODRIQUEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

GARSD: Parents, she says, also have to come out of the closet and be openly supportive of their gay children.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.