American Literary History 17.3 (2005) 542-549
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In the Manner of a Prologue for the Articulation of AIDS Latino Queer Identities
Memories are archipelagos of islands surfacing on the horizon waiting to be revisited. With the AIDS epidemic, my memories are anchored in floating cemeteries in an ocean of pleasure and death, remembrance and oblivion, suspiros y cenizas. Wherever I go I carry mis muertos conmigo, en mis recuerdos, a generation of Latino gay men that in a self-imposed s/exile migrated to the US from the Caribbean and Latin America in search of independence and sex, satisfaction and love. The gay party that started with the Stonewall riots in 1969 was over by 1982 with the intrusion of AIDS. We all witnessed the time when Thanatos killed Eros with the mirrored disco ball on the dance floor. Gone with it are the beams of light which penetrated every single heart to the beat of Donna Summer's erotic cadence of "I love to love you baby." Ay! Ay! Ay! Gone are the dancing bodies covered in sweat, smelling sex, desiring an orgasm that would be a fatal attraction.
Uno tras otro, one after the other, succumbed to AIDS. Enrique from Cuba, Hern·n from Colombia, Comrado from Puerto Rico, Orlando from Venezuela, Manuel from El Salvador, JosÈ from Mexico, Luis from Panama.
You name your own dead ones.
El silencio es la muerte.
Silence is death. I have heard.
Although now I am aware that speaking out for some may mean death.
Y ahora aquí, we all carry nuestros muertos in our skin, in our eyes, in our lips, in our tongues, en nuestros culos, en nuestras pingas, en nuestros corazones, en nuestra sangre, 'til death do us part. Since [End Page 542] 1981, with AIDS, vivimos immersed in a sea of abjection. The undead survived with the fear of contagion, with the horror of pollution, with the agony of memories of living dead young men who either went to their homeland to die or whose dead bodies and ashes were brought home to their families to pay their final respects. How many coffins and secrets remained sealed to hide the disfigured and decaying cadavers? How were their early deaths explained en una sociedad latinoamericana que vive del que dirán, where homosexuality and AIDS are taboos? How many broken hearts and shattered dreams did they leave behind? How many were forced to return in the face of death? I still cry for them.
After my own AIDS diagnosis in 1990, I had no escape. Either I stayed or surrendered. I rebelled. In a cry of anger and survival, I openly refused to go back sick or to be buried in my native Puerto Rico. I decided to stay in charge of my illness, my career, mi vida y mi cuerpo. I could not leave my lover behind. Nor mi familia that I had made from scratch.1 I could not give up the freedom that migration had provided me, particularly the opportunity to articulate a gay identity shaped by a Latino consciousness. With AIDS, just as after migration, I had to reinvent mi vida and my notion of home. This time in the shadow of death, en las entrañas del monstruo.
As a Latino gay man with AIDS and as a scholar, there is no way I can draw a line between my body and my scholarship: my body always pushes me to the limits, my writing always makes me put into practice the interdependency between body and mind. I cannot privilege the mind over the body. Con el SIDA, I must constantly challenge the mind-body dualism that reigns in Western civilization. I am a body; therefore, I am. In spite of constant struggles with health complications caused by a damaged immune system and an endless process of negotiations with a wasting body, I have always managed to think with my body, through my body. For my survival, I make...