"Pinche palabra," the boy onstage cries, cursing the constraints of a word that crosses cultures with the same vulgar connotation: homosexual. He is a depiction of someone's son, someone's struggle, of a young Jesús Alonzo, a local playwright who infuses his characters with a subtle sense of himself — a joto — one of many in Alonzo's new play, Jotos del Barrio. Presented as a series of poems, monologues, and vignettes, the play is a collection of striking stories exploring the lives of young gay Latinos, with local performer Maria Ibarra making her directing debut.

Alonzo wrote his anthology of gay identity while in college, as a "reaction piece" to a discussion moderated by a professor who wanted to examine how ethnicity is projected through "queer iconography." "Whatever the hell that means," says Alonzo. "I was taking a class called 'Queer Pictures,' and we watched videos, we had discussions, and we read articles. But the only thing was that it was a black-and-white issue — so you were either a black queer or a white queer. Here I am taking this course that I'm supposed to feel included in, but here I am being excluded once again." Alonzo's final paper was an angry response to this exclusion. "What I find is very interesting is that even though it was a reaction to this discussion, the piece is all San Antonio, it's all familia, and it's what I'd been fighting - all the internal strife, and all the internal battles that I fought. I did it for myself. It was like when you need to exhale or when you're underwater and you need to just come up for a breath, you're doing it for yourself."

Staged as a reading four years ago at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the piece makes its performance debut with an ensemble of local Latinos, featuring Anthony M. Flores, Miguel Pablo Gonzales, Ricardo C. Galvan, Jesús Sifuentes, and beauty queen Erica Salazar (aka Erica Andrews), who portrays Janie la Transie, a transgendered character to whom Salazar feels a compelling connection. "This play really touches a lot of different areas, as far as coming out," explains Salazar. "And I could really relate to this character."

"Janie is a motivational piece because I realize that we have a lot of internalized homophobia when it comes to transgenders," says Alonzo. "Where do we place them within our community? Are they just our entertainers? I've heard conversations where it's okay for us to act effeminate, but for us to actually take that on and physically manifest that identity is unacceptable. And she `Janie` speaks for everyone out there who is battling anything, regardless of their identity — going out there and getting what you want, defying those obstacles."

Salazar herself has sustained a successful career in defying obstacles and defining herself as a nationally acclaimed gay icon. Originally from Mexico, Salazar moved to Laredo with her family, and finally to San Antonio with a boyfriend. "I was just a gay boy back then," she laughs. "But I found myself here." In drag and in extensive hormone treatment, Salazar embarked upon an impressive excursion in entertainment, collecting pageant titles along the way: Miss San Antonio, Miss Texas US of A, and her crowning achievement as Miss Gay US of A 1999-2000. Director Ibarra challenges Salazar' versatility with an additional role as the biological mother of a young gay male — a challenge the actor accepted with a capable grace.

"Choosing Erica to play the mother is something that I've definitely thought about because I'm getting ready for someone to say, 'What the hell — what do you mean she's a mother? She doesn't know,'" says Ibarra. "But who's to say that Erica doesn't have those feelings, and has never thought of that — has never wanted to feel como la mama, feel those feelings of a woman?"

The play portrays trials as well as triumphs, and Alonzo's most forceful scene is one entitled "El Pinche Rapist," what Alonzo describes as a conglomeration of stories. "Three or four guys have talked to me about how they were raped when they were young — either because they were gay, or because someone saw it in them and just took it from them, took advantage of that. This character doesn't know, he tells that to his dad, he thinks there's something wrong with him, he just needs the space to work it out — and we don't allow for that. And physically, the father tells him 'no, no.'"

"The father is total machismo," adds Salazar. "When finally he gets through to his father, the father rapes him, to teach him a lesson that it's not right for two guys to love each other. It's very deep."

"I would like for people to realize that this is a facet of our community," says Gonzales. "Let's get the dialogues going, let's get more people writing. We don't have a lot of gay Latino writers — men or women — in San Antonio, who document our work, our history, our lives, because we've been taught that our lives are not worth documenting — it's not something that we want to write down, we're supposed to be ashamed of who we are. So let's get out there and start writing — issues of racism, sex, homophobia, homelessness, money trade, going out and trying to find a man to take care of you, prostitution, doing drugs, squatting with friends, it's not necessarily a pretty thing, but it exists, and we've got stories to tell." Gonzales likens the depictions in Jotos del Barrio to generational hand-me-downs — la Llorona, la Lechuza, el Cuicui — bedtime stories recited to incite fear, but ultimately "for our own protection."

"I was 19 when I wrote this — I'm 26 now — and having come back to this piece and put a lot of those ghosts to rest, living life as a gay San Antonian, as a professional, as everything that I am now, and being able to rewrite it and recreate and say, 'wow, that was me,'" Alonzo reflects. "I included that whole professional identity now, where I talk a lot about the silences of being queer and being within a professional scope, and what that means. Having this part of my life, having this identity that's completely detested by so many people, and knowing so many other gays, and still everyday going in and upholding the morals of middle-class America kills me, because sometimes it doesn't jive with our cultura — because my reality is something very different." Welcome to the barrio.

Jotos del Barrio
8pm Friday-Sunday
March 22-31
$12, $9 students & seniors
Jump-Start Theater
108 Blue Star, Building B

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