Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Days of mourning – Part 2: COLEGA and Eddie Garzon

1. Eddie Garzon and Marlene Forero, Undated photo, Flushing Meadows Park
2. Composite image of the COLEGA float designed by Eddie Garzon

Eddie Garzon had come to the Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA) in 1996 through Fernando G., another organization founder. Having first-knowledge of Eddie’s stage and costume design skills, Fernando had convinced Eddie to work with COLEGA in designing that year’s Queens and Manhattan Pride costumes. That first year, Eddie came at a late stage in the planning so we ended up doing something simple, with long Colombian flags floating in the wind and a bunch of huge helium filled balloons with the yellow, red and blue colors of the Colombian flag.

But for 1997, Fernando and others wanted something more grandiose so, as Fernando was prone to do, he exaggerated the number of volunteers and the fiscal support that COLEGA would be able to provide, invited Eddie once again - and then quickly disappeared when it came to crunch time. The result? A few volunteers spent almost five days and nights helping Eddie and some of his closest friends needle, cut, paste, twist and mold some body costumes shaped like coffee cups, a huge coffee pot, two big straw bags which looked like coffee sacs and, once those were over, paint, cut, saw and carry a horse-shaped wood figure which we then mounted on top of a jeep the night before the Heritage of Pride Parade. The theme? “100% Colombian coffee, 100% gay Colombian” – a play on gay and national pride.

On the day of the actual Heritage of Pride March, the huge coffee pot failed to vent white vapor from its spout as it was supposed to do, six of the twelve coffee cup costumes did not arrive on time (nor the dancers inside them), and it seemed as if the stress nearly drove everyone to leave the organization even as we were marching. Nevertheless, we all looked amazing and were featured in most of the nightly news that night. One of the most vivid memories that day was running up 5th Avenue from 32nd Street back to 56th Street with Eddie running at my side when we were told that the additional costumes had finally arrived, then taking a cab ride sans costumes when we realized that the dancers had left when they did not find the contingent.

With us in the cab, Marlene Forero, a single straight woman and mother, who had been with us every night as we put together the costumes and the float. Marlene had met Eddie at a performance of Estampas Negras (Black Pictures), a Colombian folk dance company in which Eddie also performed. Though not familiar with gays, Marlene struck the closest of friendships with Eddie almost immediately based - at first - on their common nostalgia for their country of origin but evolving to the point where Marlene would call Eddie when she was at the supermarket and ask him if he was missing anything in his kitchen. Eddie, who was incredibly charismatic and seemed to know just about everyone in Queens Latino gay circles, started presenting his friends to Marlene. Soon, Marlene’s home had become the place where all these beautiful boys would stop by for some Colombian food, no-nonsense advice from a woman who adored them and to dish (her friends, mostly a group of single and married Colombian middle-age women, chided her at first for hanging out with so many gays but then grew jealous of the fun Marlene was having going out with them to the bars and special events and ultimately started to join her on her 'gay expeditions.')

That was the last year that COLEGA would participate in the Heritage of Pride march and, though I saw Eddie a couple of times after that, by the time he was accosted, we had lost track of each other.

So, four years later, in light of the news reports, it made sense to reach out to Marlene, who was the first one at the hospital on the night of the attack. She quickly brought me up to date: Eddie was in a coma four days after the attack and his prognosis was uncertain, his parents were flying from Florida the next day and they wanted to have a prayer ceremony at the chapel inside Elmhurst Hospital for close friends and family. I told her I’d be there. By then, the police had put up some flyers alerting the community of the crime, asking for leads, the attack was being investigated as a ‘hate crime,’ and people in the bars were slowly finding out what had happened.

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