A Queer Xicano writer of Rarámuri descent, Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano is the author of a recent collection of queer Chicano poetry, 'Amorcito Maricón,' exploring the dichotomies between queerness and Chicano Culture. A member of the Macondo Writers community, his work appears in 'Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry (Floricanto Press)'; 'Queer in Aztlán: Chicano Male Recollections of Consciousness and Coming Out' (Cognella);  and many more. Lorenzo is also the founder of Chicano publishing house, Kórima Press. Latin Times sat down with Lorenzo to discuss his latest collection. 

LT: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in San Jose, California and then when I was 10 my family moved back to a small town in Chihuahua, Mexico. I grew up between the two, but I moved back to the US when I was 16, but those years in Mexico were so formative that I say I really grew up there.

LT: When did you start being interested in poetry?

I got interested when I was about 12 and living in this small ranchito. It started with a fascination with music, with lyrics. I was this small gay boy living in a small town and there weren’t really many outlets for expressing myself as far as what was going on internally for me. So I basically surrounded myself with music. I actually thought originally what I wanted to do was write music. So that’s how it really started, and that later turned into a fascination with poetry.

LT: Were there any particular poets who inspired you in particular?

I would say  at the top of the list would be Sandra Cisneros, Reinaldo Arenas, and Pablo Neruda.

LT: What about in music – who inspired you when you were growing up?

I think that early on, when I was 12 or 13 years old and Ricardo Arjona was coming on the scene, and I was mesmerized by what I thought were amazing lyrics that were at the same time very pedestrian, that talked about everyday life. And also how blasphemous some of his lyrics were considered, and I wanted to have that in my poetry. I am of course a die hard fan of Juan Gabriel, who really influenced me as well. And lastly I would say the earlier years of Shakira, before she started translating.

LT: So what was it like growing up gay in this little Mexican town?

For all its practicality I don’t think it was that difficult. I was part of a group of young men who were coming of age and were exploring and experimenting with each other, so I was a part of that. But there was no emotion of course – we were trained to be in love with women. And so while we were experimenting with each other at the time it wasn’t possible for me to imagine anything serious with a man because there were no gay role models around me. But we would also say “Cada pueblito tiene su jotito,” so someone who was exceptional but also loved and respected by the community. He who didn’t really get to express their desires but he was an observer, the confidant of the wives, and of the children and, occasionally, the lover of the husbands. But it was always in secrecy. But that didn’t really make sense to me. So I suppressed it and I tried dating girls. But it wasn’t until much later when I was older that the idea of being out, being gay and being Latino was even a possibility.

LT: What was the coming out process like for you?

It was really fast. I was Pentecostal at the time of my coming out, and my first love, if you will, was the son of a neighboring church’s pastor.  It was a two year affair and it was beautiful and terrible and full of torment all at the same time. We were both really young and trying to be good by the standards society had set for us, but still really in love with each other. So it was ultimately really challenging and I decided I couldn’t do it anymore and I couldn’t live the double life, so I decided to come out. I was at a church one Sunday and by the following Sunday I was at a gay club in San Francisco. So, I came out running and I never looked back. I was 19 when this happened.

LT: How did your family react?

My family struggled, especially at the beginning. My family in Mexico was really supportive, actually, but my family in the US struggled a bit. Particularly my mother, you know, there was a lot of ‘how did she not raise me right?’ That kind of stuff. But over the years, it’s been fourteen or fifteen years now, and they’ve come full circle. They are very loving and very supportive, they are very supportive of my compañero, we’ve been together 13 years. And I can’t show up at their house without them asking me where he is. So it’s been really great.

LT: Do you think there is more homophobia or more resistance in Latino communities?

I don’t think that it’s more difficult – I don’t think it makes sense to rank it. I think all communities struggle with it. I think we have our own set of ideas and values that inform our type of homophobia but I don’t think we’re more than others. And I also think that there are examples of how we react differently and more positively. I hear of many white friends who have been kicked out of their homes and had nowhere to go. And I was disowned for a couple of years, and I know of other Latinos that were kicked out. But when they were disowned by their parents, the tia or the abuela would always step in. So I think there’s a way that our family looks different that means we react differently to people coming out. So even when my immediate family couldn’t deal with it, I was never on the street and I think there is something to be said about that as well.

LT: What inspired this particular collection, “Amorcito Maricón”?

Well this book came out ten years after my first book, which was really a coming of age story. And it really took me this long because I wanted to explore a few things. Essentially I was interested in exploring love, sex and death, which are the three themes I am most interested in when I write. And wanting to use different lenses. So the first lens being 80s pop culture, and what it was like growing up in the US in that time and going back and forth to Mexico and the little things that I remember at that time. And then going into the second part of the book, I wanted to pull from my years in Mexico so I wanted to pull from imagery of iconography of living in a rancho, my family were campesinos. And then the last one being my coming of age as a Chicano in the US, of being both from the US and from Mexico but being from neither the US or Mexico. I also pulled from a lot of precolombian imagery, to look at love, sex and death with images like ‘La Aguila Y La Serpiente,’ and what that image means to you when you wake up with a lover. So I wanted to see what those three things meant through these various lenses.

Amorcito Maricon Cover The cover of Amorcito Maricon. KorrimaPress

LT: Can you talk a bit about language and your use of words like ‘puto,’  ‘joto,’ and ‘maricon,’ which you’ve kind of appropriated and given new meaning. Is that something you were conscious of?

Yes, and I think that I’m following the footsteps of many great writers who have reclaimed the words ‘joto’ and ‘maricón,’ just like there are writers in Puerto Rico reclaiming the word ‘pato.’ I wanted to take the language that is used to hurt us, and to take that word and attach love to it at that moment, so I turn to my fellow maricón and say ‘It’s you that I love, you’re my amorcito.’ And also that particular poem, the title poem pulls from Pedro Infante song, ‘Amorcito Corazón’ and to take this song that was sung by this very macho guy and make it something tender between two men.

LT: And so what’s next for you?

I started a small press, a few years ago, called Korima Press, and so right now I’m focusing on that. We have 11 books out at the moment and are working with several poets, novelists, playwrights and non-fiction writers. I’m also working on anthology called ‘Joto,’ speaking of reclaiming the word. And it is an anthology of gay Chicano men through poetry. Right now it has about 65 Chicanos in it, so it’s a big anthology.

LT: Does your press have a particular focus?

It’s a queer Chicano press. The reason for that is that I wanted to start with what was most familiar to me and then grow it from there. And I wanted to start with Chicano voices because I’m really interested in infusing the Chicano and Chicana literary canon with modern work. So I see this as more of a Chicano or Chicano press than a queer press.

LT: So the idea of Chicano-ness has this hyper-masculine, kind of gangster culture – is this something you’re trying to investigate?

I think there are many Chicano identities. You have an urban identity, the farm worker identity, there is the young student identity from the 60s and 70s, there’s the ‘Tejano’ identity. So I think there are several layers and I’m interested in how we investigate, interrogate and unpack what it means to be Chicano and Chicana, and I don’t think it can be easily defined – I think it’s about expanding the limits of what that can possibly mean, especially as we enter the realm of queerness, what gender expression means.

LT: One last more superfluous question. What’s your opinion of the whole ‘puto’ controversy during the World Cup?

Speaking from a very personal place, I’m not offended by it. I don’t feel that they are talking about me when they yell it, but I understand how people could be offended by it. It makes me nervous when we start to institutionalize censorship, whether on the corporate or, even more so, the government level. I am a big believer in freedom of expression. And freedom of speech. So any move to censor people makes me very nervous. And I think there are ways to have conversations about this and explain why this hurts me, without resorting to institutionalized censorship.

To find out more about Lorenzo's work check out http://korimapress.com and http://herreraylozano.com