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PRAA launches exhibit on Latinx LGBT activism
by Matt Simonette
2019-10-02

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Community members gathered Sept. 21 as Puerto Rican Arts Alliance ( PRAA ), 3000 N. Elbridge Ave., unveiled La Primera Parada: Chicago's Stonewall Moments, a photographic exhibition focusing on LGBT participation in events such as the Bud Billiken, Mexican and Puerto Rican parades.

According to a PRAA statement, "With this exhibit we celebrate the first Chicago queer people, trans women, drag queens, the boys, the dykes, and people of color who fought back and out of the closet to proudly say 'I'm Black, I'm Chicano, I'm Boricua, I'm queer and this is my parade.'"

Curator Jorge Felix said that the exhibition paid tribute to Latinx Chicagoans "who had the courage to think outside the box and participate in their community parades. But what we have here is a canvas, one with many spaces in between that we need to fill."

The exhibition will be at PRAA for nearly a year—much longer than the norm—and will be, subject to funding, supplemented by workshops and lectures shedding light on the people and events depicted in the exhibition. Among the proposed topics would be transgender participation and collaboration with other Chicago communities, Felix added.

Guest curator Milka Ramirez said the exhibit represented "a decade of dreams," adding that one inspiration for her was hearing an anecdote from activist Julio Rodriguez about marching in the Puerto Rican Day Parade as an LGBT activist for the first time.

"I thought, 'What a powerful story? Why are we not documenting these stories? Of course I partially know the answer to that. Historically, Black and Brown LGBTQ folks are not included in our history."

Rodriguez, who has long been active in Association of Latino/as/x Motivating Action ( ALMA ), was present Sept. 21 to describe that march further.

"It might not seem like a scary thing now, but my father was behind on another float the day ALMA marched in the Puerto Rican Day parade," he recalled. "I remember talking to my dad and saying, 'When I step off, there's no turning back.' Most of us who are Latino know that, when you are coming out, your family comes with you. I had been in that parade [before] and I had marched with my family. I remember, standing and holding that banner, shaking my fists. … When you walk, you walk past every memory and every person who knew you and your family. There really is no stepping back."

The exhibit will run through May 29, 2020.


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