Latino Speakers Discuss Art, Sexuality in World AIDS Panel

While the AIDS epidemic raged, Joey Terrill
painted.

Terrill’s
painting, “Still Life with Zerit,” eclectically combines commercial
aesthetics, representations of queerness and Chicano and New York culture. Terrill, a
second-generation Chicano man who has devoted his life to art and activism, was HIV positive while working on the painting. 

Pitzer College’s World AIDS Day panel, “Queer Latinidad: Histories of AIDS Consciousness from Los
Angeles,” featured three Latino speakers, who each shared their personal experiences
about HIV/AIDS, art, sexuality and the Chicano/a and Latino/a identities Dec. 2 in Benson Auditorium. Terrill
was joined by Monica Palacios, an acclaimed lesbian writer and performer, and Dr.
Robb Hernandez, a specialist in queer archival politics of Chicanos in Los
Angeles.

The
presentation is part of a series on
viruses sponsored by Pitzer’s Monroe Center for Social Inquiry. The program invites
experts to speak about a special topic—in this case, viruses—every Tuesday.
Interpretations of this topic have ranged from plant diseases to computer
viruses to other conceptions of virality, and HIV/AIDS fits in with the larger
discussion about viral dynamics.

Tuesday’s talk was organized by Dr. Alexandra Juhasz, a professor of media studies and the director of the Monroe Center; and Pablo Alvarez, a doctoral
student at Claremont Graduate University. Alvarez organized Los Angeles’ first
exhibition of HIV/AIDS artwork in a project entitled, “Queer
Latinidad: A History of HIV/AIDS Art Consciousness in L.A.”  

Hernandez’s interests lie in Los Angeles’ Chicano
community and how queer politics are represented through visual, spatial and
archival mediums. Specifically, he examined how the HIV/AIDS epidemic impacted Chicano
art, memory and culture. Speaking first, Hernandez presented several pieces of art and analyzed their origins, including Terrill’s
painting and Teddy Sandoval’s “Angel Baby.”

Sandoval’s painting depicts a winged boxer with a tattoo and religious iconography.
Quetzalcoatl, the mystical Mesoamerican snake who served as the patron of arts
and culture, sits in the top corner. Sandoval himself was living with AIDS
during the epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s.  

“The
painting evokes a familiar ethnography associated with Chicano muralists,” Hernandez said. “There’s a sense of working class virility among all the religious
iconography.”

Palacios followed Hernandez’s presentation with a performance about her sexuality and experiences as a Chicana comedian. She began by speaking about her time at Chico State University and how she was a “unique, really [messed]
up, socially awkward” art major.

A tomboy since childhood, Palacios preferred bug collections to ballet and
tuxedos to prom dresses. Coming from a Mexican Catholic household, however, she still felt the need to embrace the standard notions of femininity. 

“I
was confused,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Relief came in the form of a LGBTQ group at her college. Having skipped the
first Mardi Gras mixer, she attended the second one with more confidence and
ended up exchanging her “first tender kiss” with another girl. She embraced her identity as a Chicana lesbian
artist and became a successful comedian in California. 

Palacios hosted fundraisers and performed at benefits during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She established VIVA Lesbian and Gay Latino Artists, a
groundbreaking queer arts collective and the enormously popular
“Chicks and Salsa” event, which became a gathering place for queer Latina
artists and performers. Palacios’s contributions have not gone unnoticed; her work has garnered her a special “Monica Palacios” day—October 12—by
the mayor of Los Angeles.

Terrill ended the afternoon with a sobering presentation about AIDS statistics
and the criminalization of HIV/AIDS. An extremely successful queer and Chicano
artist in Los Angeles, Terrill also serves as a board member of VIVA.  

Approximately 1.2 million Americans are infected with HIV, but only 37 percent of those are in
care, and 33 percent seek treatment, according to Terrill. Approximately 60,000 L.A. residents don’t know their status because they have never been tested. Compared to the United Kingdom, France, Brazil and Thailand, the United States is far behind in providing care for those with HIV. 

Terrill remains concerned about HIV criminalization laws. Just by exposing
someone to the disease or failing to disclose it, an individual can receive up to
20 years in prison. Offenders in some states are also labeled “sex offenders,” meaning
they are subject to the same restrictions and public shaming as pedophiles and
rapists.

“One
infected person in Texas spat on a police officer who had arrested him,” he
said. “He received 10 extra years because it classified as ‘assault with a
deadly weapon.’”

Alvarez
ended the talk with a poem by Los Angeles-based, queer writer Gil
Cuadros, who died of AIDS in 1996. The poem, entitled “There are places you
don’t walk at night, alone,” is a disturbing account of homophobia in the city. The haunting words added to the emotion of the event for many attendees. 

“The presentation really resonated with me,” Amanda McCullough PO ’18 said. “I’m Latina and interested in art and politics,
so it was fascinating to see how those three interacted during the AIDS
epidemic.” 

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