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Anthony Christian Ocampo's latest book is 'Brown and Gay in LA'


After the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016, Anthony Christian Ocampo well understood that the lives of the LGBTQ community remained under threat. Looking for a connection as a gay man himself, he decided to interview the gay sons of Latino and Filipino immigrants in Los Angeles.

ANTHONY CHRISTIAN OCAMPO: LA means a lot of things for a lot of people. For immigrants, it's the land of opportunity, but for a very long time in history, LA has been the safe haven for gay people across the country and across the world. And so I see LA as this place where queer people of color had the liberty to experiment and discover who they were.

MARTÍNEZ: Ocampo writes about all of this in his latest book, "Brown And Gay In LA: The Lives Of Immigrant Sons." He says while some things have gotten better in recent years, other things have changed for the worse. Ocampo spent many a night at West Hollywood's gay bars, a welcoming space for him and others like him.

OCAMPO: Same-sex marriage became federal law in 2015, but at the same time, technological advances really have reshaped everyday gay life. So before, when you used the internet to meet other gay people, you had to, like, sit down at a computer and find folks through a website, right? Nowadays we have smartphones where you can meet someone pretty much anywhere you go. And while that is definitely an advantage, I think what it did is it changed the landscape of gay communities. For example, people didn't have to go to the club to meet people. But when you have to go to these queer POC clubs, there's something almost sacred about those spaces when that's the only place where you have the oxygen to breathe.

MARTÍNEZ: It makes me think, too - you mentioned how same-sex marriage happened in 2015. The Pulse shooting happened almost a year after that in 2016. I mean, it just seems like it was a very ugly reminder that for gay men, equality didn't mean erasing fear and living in fear.

OCAMPO: Not at all. And as you can see from what's happening in states like Florida and other states where they're penalizing parents who are supporting their trans children, the fear is not in any way disappearing.

MARTÍNEZ: So let's get into that, about parents and especially immigrant parents when it comes to their sons who are gay, who are living a life that they haven't exactly been their true, honest selves yet, at least to their parents. Why is that different than, say, anyone else?

OCAMPO: If there's one thing that unites children of immigrants, this second-generation group, it's that they know very much from a young age that their parents sacrificed a lot to be here. They moved to a different country. They may not have known anyone. They might have started down and out when they arrived in the United States and then sort of fought their way to a middle-class existence. And I think that because they're aware of these trials and tribulations that their immigrant parents went through, they feel a need to honor that by being their best selves - doing well in school, going to college, getting a good job, potentially supporting them. And I think part of that narrative is also making sure that they can start a family in the way their parents had envisioned it. There's one story that I open the book with, this young man named Franklin Flores. He's a college student. He embodies an immigrant parent's American dream. He's doing well in school. He was going to go to grad school. But he told me quite often in our conversation, I'm afraid that me being gay is going to somehow ruin my parents' dreams for us in this country.

MARTÍNEZ: And how often does that happen where parents completely see their own children in a different light after that announcement happens?

OCAMPO: So I interviewed over 60 young men of Mexican, Filipino, Salvadoran descent, and out of all of them, all but two had experiences coming out that were very difficult. Their parents denied it, rejected them, reacted in ways that were not very supportive, citing the Bible as a reason why they can't be gay. And some took them to therapy. Some even took them to conversion therapy. And I think that those were difficult moments because for these young men that finally come to terms with being gay, that should be a liberating moment. That's an exciting moment. And so to have the people that you would expect would support you most react in the opposite way - it was really traumatic for a lot of folks.

I'm thinking about this one Mexican American young man who said that he tried to do everything to make his parents happy. He graduated top of his class. He went to a fancy East Coast college. And at the end of his college career, he was going to come out to his mom. He thought that she would react supportively, but in fact, she reacted incredibly harshly. She said, I thought I gave birth to a boy. I didn't think I gave birth to a girl. And he tried to insist that, Mom, I'm still a boy. I'm just a boy who likes boys. And when his mom rejected him, it sort of prompted him to spiral in a really downward direction.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, this book in a lot of ways is almost autobiographical for you because you were 22 when you came out to your family. There was one thing in this book that the guy we mentioned before, Franklin Flores, told you that stood out to me. Can you read what he told you?

OCAMPO: Yeah. He said, I want to have a closer relationship to my mom. And this was when he was thinking about coming out. He said, (reading) I think there are parts of me I won't be able to understand until I come out, until I can have conversations with my mom about her relationships or where I can open up to my mom about what the meaning of love is or how you know that you're in love. When I can have those conversations with my mom, I think I will better understand my own history.

MARTÍNEZ: So I'm going to throw that question to you then. What were you able to understand better about your own history and about your family once you finally came out?

OCAMPO: I'm pausing because it's bringing me back to that moment 20 years ago, but I think one of the things that I learned is that parents love their kids, and even if they don't have the language to express that love, I think my parents found ways to try to relate to me. I remember when I went through my first breakup with someone significant, and there were moments when my mom tried to relate her own dating history to my experience. And, you know, even though she's not joining PFLAG, which is, like, that organization for parents of gay kids, it really meant a lot that she was willing to share her own story of her first heartbreak. And I think that even if it was a difficult experience for me to go through that, the silver lining was that I learned a lot more about who my mom was before she was my mom.

MARTÍNEZ: And what did you learn about you?

OCAMPO: I actually learned that there's a lot of similarities between me and my mom. We're both very petty and vengeful, and we're all about proving people wrong when we're doubted. And I would have never discovered that had I not heard about the way my mom spoke about how resilient she was and how petty she was about her first breakup. I absolutely love that we were able to share that story of our first breakup with each other.

MARTÍNEZ: Anthony Christian Ocampo's book is called "Brown And Gay In LA: The Lives Of Immigrant Sons." Anthony, thanks a lot for coming in.

OCAMPO: Thanks for having me.

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