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A Publishing Press Goes to a Bar…

Before this year, we at Aunt Lute Books couldn’t have predicted hosting a multimedia fashion event at The Stud, San Francisco’s iconic gay bar. But, that is exactly what we did on December 6th, for a show curated by Juliana Delgado Lopera and Rebeka Rodriguez.

Each year, we try to connect with different Bay Area-based Aunt Lute authors for programming, and when we sat down with Juliana Delgado Lopera (¡Cuéntamelo! Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants, 2017), the first thing she said was, “I don’t want to just do another Cuéntamelo reading.” (Our Cuéntamelo book launch was at The Laundry in San Francisco, in 2017). This excited us: while we love readings, we also love supporting authors as they ask, Where next? Including Cuéntamelo, Juliana dedicates much of her creative work to breathing new life into how queer history is archived and shared. So, how could the histories in Cuéntamelo be brought to a stage in a new way? After some brainstorming, Juliana decided to explore how aesthetics threaded these local histories together. From there, we put together an evening of, as Juliana wrote in a Facebook post, “UNA NOCHE DE FANTASIA celebrando LOOKZ, dress-up, drag-- celebrando brushing your wigs, walking to the fabric store, glueing rhinestones for hours.” The tender ritual of assembling a look, counting down the days until a drag performance, and, finally, the moment when the music begins.

In Cuéntamelo, a landscape of San Francisco gay Latino bars comes to life, including La India Bonita, Los Portales, Finocchio’s, and the last to go, Esta Noche—a constellation of now-shuttered queer meccas for gay Latinos in San Francisco. In the words of contributor Mahogany Sanchez, “During the 1980s there was money—lots of tips, everything was a fabulous escándolo.” This was the landscape our event would pay homage to.

“Would You Be Caught Dead in That Outfit?”

December 6th, 2018. The Stud, San Francisco.

Drawing by Jose Joaquin Figueroa‎

Across from the bar, sharing the room with an old pool table, played a slideshow featuring stunning photos from the ‘80s and ‘80s integrated with quotes from the oral histories in Cuéntamelo. In the same room, the show’s co-curator, Rebeka Rodriguez, set up a photo booth with a glittery gold backdrop. On the main stage, scenes from VIVA 16, a 1994 documentary on “SF joteria in the early 90s” by Tina Valentin Aguirre and Augie Robles played.

At 7:30 the show began, MC'd by Juliana Delgado Lopera in a sparkling emerald blazer, rhinestone-studded face, and metallic platform boots. First off was a fashion show, in which audience members and performers were invited to strut across the main stage of the Stud, and describe their outfits: a sweet nod to everyday aesthetics, modelling fashions from Target, handmade pants, “knock-off Versace” and more.

Next up was a panel moderated by Juliana, featuring Nelson / Catherine White, contributor to Cuéntamelo, and Chavela, a San Jose-based performer. Both spoke to their outfits—Catherine described her outfit as “90s goth”, and Chavela modeled the beauty of her folklorico dress from Chiapas. The panel captured the ways in which aesthetics and queer clubbing offered, in addition to their glamour, resources for survival: a network to find work, friends, sexual hookups, and medical help; a place away from the everyday violence of homophobia; a space to cope with the AIDS epidemic. A moment that struck me was a story Chavela shared, about drag performers raising money to send the body of a fellow performer back to their home country, since the performer’s family had disowned them for being gay. It was hard not to think about how drag performances are infused with everything: laughter and chisme, death and mourning, joy and sex in each ripple of fabric, as performers sashay across a divey stage.

Following the panel was a durational performance by Catherine White, painting her makeup on in a glowing vanity mirror across from the main stage, as VIVA 16 resumed: this was a pause in the night, a moment to digest and buy another round.

The evening closed with a final performance by Catherine White, who blessed us with a rendition of “Amor Eterno” by Rocío Durcal, and who wore a platinum bob with a dress reminiscent of a chiffon rose, tipped in silver-toed black boots. After the final applause, the stage lights went out and the show was over.

This is not the final event that Juliana Delgado Lopera and Rebeka Rodriguez will do, exploring the ways in which aesthetics are intertwined with queer and trans Latinx survival. “Would You Be Caught Dead in That Outfit?” was just a taste of a larger project, that will continue to evolve, with new collaborators and new angles to bring to life. We’re excited to see what they do next.

To see some archival photos featured at the event, visit our Facebook event page.

Event photos by Rebeka Rodriguez to be featured soon.

Thank you to everyone who came out. Order your copy of ¡Cuéntamelo! Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants today.

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