United Latino Pride hopes to bring together community in celebration

United Latino Pride hopes to bring together community in celebration
Kara Carrell La Mas Mejor Pantoja poses with girl at ULP Loteria
United Latino Pride hopes to bring together community in celebration
Kara Carrell La Mas Mejor Pantoja poses with girl at ULP Loteria

United Latino Pride hopes to bring together community in celebration

(Kara Carrell) La Mas Mejor Pantoja poses with girl at ULP Loteria

June brings another month of Pride to Chicago, the LGBTQA community’s annual celebration of, resilience and progress. Pride is a call for remembrance and for visibility, and events like Dyke March and TGIF 2013 use our collective voice to say we are here, we have survived and we will thrive. Our bodies speak louder than words.

Although the month is an ode to our diversity, we too often think of Pride as a Boystown event, a celebration of men on half-naked white men on floats dancing to Katy Perry.

United Latino Pride is working to shift that and remind us what Pride can be. For organizer ULP Danny Olvera Orozco, pride is “an absence of shame, a refusal to apologize for who you are.” Being gay and Latino, Olvera Orozco stated that his community experiences Pride at “the intersections of possibility.” Olvera Orozco said, “We’re both and more. Pride is showing our beautiful queer and brown selves.”

Because of the “multiplicities in both communities,” Olvera Orozco stated that its important that queer Latinos come together to celebrate the diversity of the greater queer community and of their own. Olvera Orozco said, “There’s little celebration of womanhood or other gender presentations, and even in the Latino community, it’s often about gay, cisgender males. We’re fighting the oppression that erases a lot of other peoples’ stories.”

United Latino Pride began in 2010 as an initiative to bring together the various segments of the community to celebrate the “intersection of culture, gender identity and sexuality.” According to ULP organizer Jessica Carrillo, the first meeting drew around 20 people to organize the group’s first pride week. Carrillo said, “We planned the entire week of events in six weeks. The energy was insane — but amazing. It was amazing to hear the power of organizing and working together for common goals.”

Pedro Serrano felt that United Latino Pride’s founding addressed a variety of different needs in the community. “When we began organizing, people were looking to do more,” Serrano said. According to Serrano, they began to ask “how these smaller businesses can work together to put together programming for the community, programming that celebrates every facet of who you are.”

Serrano told me that the Latino community is “often isolated.” Serrano said, “You have Amigas Latinas creating programs for women and ALMA creating events for men, but what are we doing to work better together?”

It’s a difficult question, but ULP works to address’ Latinos’ need for shared community by creating “opportunities for support networks” and giving small grassroots organizations the chance to pool their resources. For groups with limited funding or manpower, they hope to get them in contact with other organizations that can help. “We want to connect people and to be a support for the work people are doing,” Carrillo said.

Initially, they faced resistance in the community. Serrano said, “We were told that these organizations don’t want to work together, but we showed them it was possible.”

Every year, United Latino Pride holds events on the West Side and in predominantly Latino areas in order to bring people together and “open up a space for conversation.” According to Serrano, there are few “educational events where we can bring together parents, families and friends in a safe space.” Serrano wants parents to have an opportunity to ask their children what it means to be queer or give children a chance to talk back.

Jessica Carrillo feels that family is central to the Latino concept of community. Ms. Carrillo said, “Latino families have Latino parties, but [queerness] isn’t something you celebrate. If you have to hide part of your identity, it can make it difficult to connect.”

Carrillo told me that her sisters often talk about their daily lives with their husbands, but it’s different for her. “My sisters can say something like, ‘When we woke up this morning, the dog jumped into bed with us.’” However, Carrillo said that “we” is the problem. “With my partner and I, they don’t want that mental picture.”

Serrano has fought many of the same struggles for acceptance in his family. “As someone who has always been very liberal with my words and thoughts, it’s all in the open, but it doesn’t mean my family wants to talk about it,” Serrano said. “It’s out of respect. They don’t want to cause trouble.”

He continued, “Some of our parents who have come from other countries. It’s a different story depending on their background, religious faith and what their upbringing was like. Our differences are geographic and generational.”

By having events in Little Village and Pilsen for the Latino community, United Latino Pride hopes to bridge that divide by having difficult dialogues. “We want to be where the families are,” Carrillo said. “We could easily go into safe neighborhoods, but we have to have events in neighborhoods where the support isn’t necessarily at. We have to create some uncomfortable spaces because that’s where you find real growth.”

According to Ms. Carrillo, United Latino Pride is “making real strides on the issue.” “We’re taking baby steps,” Carrillo said.

In the build up to United Latino Pride week, the organization recently held a Loteria to kick off this year’s programming. The evening was hosted by La Mas Mejor Pantoja, a local drag queen, and Carrillo told me that children were coming up all night to tip her.

Jessica Carrillo mentioned that Alexis Martinez, an influential organizer in the trans and Latino communities, came up to her and said that in all of her years, she’s “never seen anything” like that evening. “All evening people were letting their guard down and actually getting to know each other,” Carrillo said. “This is why we are doing what we are doing.”

Danny Olvera Orozco hopes these events give Latinos the opportunities to “create family.” Olvera Orozco said, “If you’re born in a toxic space, sometimes it doesn’t work out. People need to know that it’s okay, because you have family elsewhere.”

United Latino Pride week kicks off June 2nd with a fashion show highlighting local Latino designers and the week’s programming includes a trans social, youth summit, summer dance party and conversations on spirituality and marriage, respectively hosted by ALMA and Lambda Legal. The week will also feature a keynote address from Rick Garcia of The Civil Rights Agenda.

However, ULP knows a week isn’t enough and are working to create programming for the entire year. To announce their calendar, ULP is having a media launch on Thursday. They hope this will give local outlets a chance to get to know United Latino Pride and move the conversation about queer Chicago outside of Boystown.

“Even if Boystown were an ideal space, it still wouldn’t be enough,” Serrano said. “If we used that model, there would be one central library instead of branches in all of the neighborhoods. One neighborhood can’t speak for the entire community.”

Carrillo hopes these events can address the needs of those who feel like they aren’t being spoken for. “Anyone can be a part of ULP,” Carrillo said. “We are all ULP. Pride and Latino Pride belong to each and every one of us.”

Nico Lang writes about LGBTQ issues in Chicago. You can find Nico on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.