During a break, I walked over the table where Oscar De La O was sitting (he is the Executive Director of the largest Latino HIV service agency in the country, Bienestar, which is based in California) and found him having an angry discussion with others. He wasn't angry with those at the table, mind you, but he was discussing comments made earlier that week by popular Mexican ranchera music singer Paquita la del Barrio on the topic of adoption rights for gays in Mexico.
The singer, known for her outrageous lyrics and for taking strong positions against Mexican sexist male culture, had appeared on "Al Punto" on Univision on February 21st and had the following exchange with anchor Jorge Ramos (if you click on the link, jump to the 4:30 mark):
Jorge Ramos: On March 4th, in Mexico City, gay marriages will be allowed. Mexico City is taking the leading role in this... well, in this angle, and many times, in Latin America, what do you think of this?I had seen the interview after it aired but wasn't necessarily as incensed as Oscar. Instead I was struck by the dichotomy of someone who would claim to love her gay friends and support their right to marry, on the one hand, but also state that children might be driven insane if they were adopted by a gay couple. I might be in the minority out there, but I actually think she was being sincere in both respects.
Paquita la del Barrio: Very wrong.
PLDB: Because, no, eh... OK, I'm still in agreement with a couple getting married but, in what, eh, is... adopting a creature. No, I am not in agreement.
JR: Hold on, let's go by parts. You are in agreement with allowing a man and a man to get married, that a woman and a woman can get married. On that you are in agreement.
PLDB: That, more or less, is how it is. But, as I said, adopting a creature for those people, no, no, that is not honest.
JR: Hold on, when you denounce violence against women, you are denouncing discrimination.
PLDB: Of course.
JR: Gay people, homosexuals, would then say that not allowing them to lead an equal life to a man and a woman would also be one type of discrimination.
PLDB: No, no, no, no. That's very wrong because I will nothing more than... will make one thing clear. You, let's say, are gay. You marry another gay. You adopt a creature. And when that creature grows up, he will say 'OK, whom will I call dad and whom will I call mom.' [I'll bring] nothing more than that argument for you...
JR: But, but, I have colleagues who are gay and are two mothers or two fathers...
PLDB: Two mothers and two fathers?
PLDB: Well, I don't know. It's wrong! It's very wrong! The creature will end up crazy.
JR: So this that has been happening in the city of Mexico, you wouldn't like it to happen throughout the Mexican Republic or that it spreads.
PLDB: Nowhere in the world. To finish making my point.
JR: But, perhaps, and let me insist on this, you don't believe that this is a form of discrimination.
PLDB: No, it's not discrimi... no, no, no, no. No. They are human beings that, as a matter of fact, personally I care for them a lot, I have many friends, but that doesn't set things up for that; that they adopt a creature.
It all comes down to this: The argument that adults should be allowed to do whatever they want to do in the privacy of their home has been mostly won in Latin America. It explains, in part, the increasing support for civil unions or marriage rights for gay couples throughout the region. But, on the specific issue of adoption, the old stereotypes still prevail. Gays are out there to recruit children and turn them gay. Homosexuality is a learned behavior and children can pick it up almost by osmosis. Whatever gay adults do in their own home might be OK if you don't think about it but it's certainly grosser than whatever straight adults do at home (I mean, we don't sit around scratching our bellies as we watch football, do we?).
Then came this: On March 12th, gossip show "Escandalo TV", also on Univision, caught up with Paquita during a promotional stop in Los Angeles and interviewed her again. THAT interview was picked up by the gossip show "NX" on Televisa and posted on YouTube that same day. I picked up on it and did a rushed translation and posted this version on March 13th...
It's only now ghat I've realized that the clip on "NX" has been edited so here is the translation of the full comments from the original Escandalo TV clip with bold typeface indicating the segments that were missing (not that it ads a lot to it but it starts at the 1:45 mark):
PLDB: What I said was that it was not... that it's not in my taste that a poor creature should be adopted by them. They can do whatever they want with their lives.Now, it's one thing to have a personal conviction that gays shouldn't adopt, as homophobic as that conviction may be, but quite another to say that homeless children should die rather than be adopted by gays.
Angel De Los Santos (Reporter): I read a commentary when the controversy began, which said 'What would Paquita prefer: That a child dies of hunger in the street and lonely, or that two human beings give him love, give him food, give him a roof...'
PLDB: That he die...
Reporter: You prefer that he die...
PLDB: It's better for the child to die and not that life for the creatures.
PLDB: Yes, because if I had a son, I would never be at peace if he was with them... Yes?
Reporter: Why, Paquita...
PLDB: ...my respect to them, I care for them a lot, but you have to give a place to he who is owed.. he who deserves it.
The response was quick and visceral. Blogger Joe Jervis of Joe.My.God. fame noticed that I had uploaded the video on my YouTube account and asked me for some background. I asked him to hold while I wrote about it but before I could do it blogger Andy Towle also picked up on the clip and posted it on Towleroad on March 15th - and kept it on his top news header for almost a week.
Stateside, aside from Univision and Telemundo, People en Español was among the first non-blog media to pick up on the controversy in an online article posted on March 12th - the same day that the original clip aired.On March 15th, The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) called on Paquita to apologize.
On March 16th, Monica Trasandes, Director of Spanish Language Media at GLAAD joined Oscar De La O and Bienestar in Los Angeles to publicly call for Paquita to apologize.
A local NBC affiliate picked up on the press conference on March 17th. A 14th minute clip features Oscar talking about the controversy as well as Victor Cordero, an on-air personality for the local Telemundo affiliate. Cordero, who says he knows the singer, vouchers for the enduring appeal of Paquita La Del Barrio in Mexico and among the Mexican and Mecican-American community in the United States and her strong support for women's rights. Here's an excerpt (starts at the 9:17 mark):
I personally know her, and I think - first of all, this is my opinion - I don't think she really meant to say that, number one; number two, I think she has - being Mexican, being with all those roots, if you will - she probably doesn't agree with the gay community, although it's very important to mention she has a lot of gay community followers, a lot of, ah - when she comes over to Los Angeles and she does the parade for the gay community she's very loved and, unfortunately, this, what she said, I'm gonna say she didn't meant to say it. One thing led to another, it's one of those situations where you mis-express yourself. And, again, this is just what I think by knowing her. And, of course, the media has been trying to make a living out of this and we're gonna wait and see if she gives another interview and see if she can rephrase this.Cordero also says that her possible lack of education growing up and her ignorance on the topic of homosexuality might have made her trip up when she was posed the question.
On March 17th, Los Angeles Times blogger Daniel Hernandez, who is based in Mexico City, picked up on the scandal.
Online responses were also quick and harsh. A man in California created a Facebook Group called "Boycott Paquita La Del Barrio" which has drawn 1,200 members. Another Facebook group, created in Mexico, is titled "I prefer if Paquita La Del Barrio dies rather than she be adopted by a gay couple" and has 1,500 members. Twitter has the inevitable #PaquitaLaDelBarrio hashtag, which has been winding down from all the activity that it saw last week. Some on Twitter joked that Paquita La Del Barrio finally was getting what she always wanted: Cross-over success, since the Times and NBC Los Angeles were featuring her.
Others in the United States such as Queerty, Vivir Latino, Guanabe, LezGetReal, Terra, La Opinion, etc. also chimed in.
On March 2nd, days after the first interview aired on Univision but before the follow-up interview occurred on Escandalo TV, Paquita was among the many Latino stars who taped a 2010 Spanish-language version of "We Are The World" called "Somos El Mundo" to benefit victims of the earthquake in Hati. I won't post the video since it's so embarrassingly awful but you can check it out here.
Along with Paquita, a who's who of Latino stars took part in the performance, including Ricky Martin, Juanes, Shakira, José Feliciano, Vicente Fernandez, Pitbull, Andy Garcia, El Puma, Chayanne, Jon Secada, Juan Luis Guerra, Aleks Syntec, Gloria Estefan, Olga Tañon, Paulina Rubio, Daddy Yankee, Aventura, and, ehm, David Archuetta of American Idol fame.
Not that they have been individually reached to comment or need to do so but I think it's telling that of all those present at that taping, only two have spoken up against Paquita's words. Thalia, wife of music impresario Tommy Mottola, whose "Arrasando" is a staple at many Latino gay bars and recently covered the Alaska y Dinarama gay anthem "A Quien Le Importa", told Es Mas the following:
I believe that it's a commentary that is out of place, because they have fought for their dreams, them as a community, and they are seeing doors that have just begun to open, that they have legalization of their marriages and have additional rights in the society in which they live.The second "We Are The World 2010" is Christian Chávez, one of the few commercially successful openly gay Latino singer in the world, who told People en Español the following:
I have many friends, such as Rosie O'Donnell, who has her children and I have seen the passion, the love, the adoration she has with her children.
I think it’s really sad especially being in moments in which, for example, in Mexico gay marriages are accepted, which is a big step forward, especially for the Mexican culture and a great example for all Latin America. It’s very sad to see someone who many people admire and who has been an icon for the gay community to say something like this… I was recently at an orphanage and saw many kids that are in need of caring, they need sneakers, shoes, a good education. I invite people to see things for what they really are before making prejudices. Mexico is one of the countries with the most domestic violence and child abuse. What is more normal, for kids to see their parents beating each other, being molested sexually, having their mothers beaten, in which many times they look to escape and abandon their kids? Is that normal?… Gay people aren’t perfect, but neither are heterosexuals. There are well-educated homosexuals that are responsible enough to be great parents and there are heterosexuals that shouldn’t be able to adopt kids. I don’t understand why we have to cut off an opportunity for a child, prefer to see them die than to get a proper education, a roof over their heads, a home. I think it’s absurd and very sad [translation c/o Latino Gossip].With all the increasing public outrage, there has been pressure on Paquita to apologize and this week she did. Daniel Hernandez at Los Angeles Times reports that Paquita extended apologies for her comments, blaming her upbringing - if not exactly changing her mind on her opposition to adoption by gay couples - and said that she would make public amends to the gay community tomorrow in Mexico by performing at a gay bar in Mexico City. Late word tonight is also that a popular gossip show on Univision called "El Gordo y La Flaca" ran an advance clip from n interview that they will air tomorrow in which she breaks down and cries:
What she says in the clip:
Paquita la del Barrio: [The reporter] asked like this, rapidly, it didn't even give me a chance to think what to answer. I ask for a thousand apologies. I am sorry. Understand. But no. I don't know. Morally, I feel really bad. At one point I thought about killing myself, I am telling you this, but I have the moral force of my children. They are not at fault. I already lived my life. It's that a person should not be hurt... should not be hurt like that..As I said, one of the first US-based media venues to jump on the story was People en Español. They have also posted up follow-up stories on the scandal. The main reason they have devoted so much space to Paquita's statement? Most probably it's the fact that it hit a personal nerve with People en Español editor Armando Correa.
Armando is, perhaps, one of the most powerful gay Latino men in Spanish-language media in the United States. He is also the author of "In Search of Emma", a personal account of the search for his first adopted child with the help of his partner of 24 years, Gonzalo Hernández. Today, they are the proud parents of three children (Carole Joseph, Senior Writer at People in Español, posted the picture on the right on her Twitpic account with the legend of "Armando Correa with his babies. I took this photo specially for Paquita").
On Friday, March 19th, AOL Latino's Celestrellas published an interview with Armando Correa. I personally think it's the best response out there to what Paquita la del Barrio said. Mind you, this is before today's "El Gordo y La Flaca" clip for tomorrow's show was aired. And it's no small measure that it's the editor of People in Español speaking. Here is my translation (I hope I haven't bored you enough by all that preceded this and that you will read this)...
AOL: Armando, how do you feel about the declarations from Paquita la del Barrio?Thanks, Armando!
AC: When she said, with Jorge Ramos, that she thought a gay couple should not adopt, I accepted it. We all havethe liberty to think whatever we want, she is not part of a minority but, instead, a majority who thin that gay couples should not adopt, she expressed her point of view and said it with a great deal of decency. But when she gave the other interview, sitting down, and said that she preferred that a child die instead of being adopted by a gay couple, that in itself promotes hate and intolerance. When you are a public figure you have to think a lot about what you say because you could hurt many communities that are your public and you could be promoting hate and intolerance, and, in this society, the least that is needed is that, we have to learn to respect. We are all equal, we are human beings, but at the same time we are very different. In the measure that we accept the existence of black, white, Asian people, that gays exist, disabled people, when we accept our differences the world will be different. As a public figure one has to think what one says, We are fighting for immigration reform, there are still many phobias in this century, hate against immigrants, for example, we have to promote tolerance and love. What Paquita has provoked is a lesson for the whole world.
AOL: Why do you say it's a lesson?
AC: I'll give an example that has nothing to do with whether or not she hurt the gay community. If you talk to a Hollywood actor who thinks the borders should be shut down, throw out illegal immigrants, how would we feel? How would Paquita herself feel as a minority in this country? What would happen with these kind of statements with the hate that exists against Mexicans in California? We have to romote tolerance, whether or not she referred to the gay world.
AOL: Many of Paquita's followers are poor with few educational opportunities, in what way do you think her thoughts can influence what her followers believe?
AC: All of a sudden I hear a person I like and admire say that they prefer that a child die instead of being adopted by a gay couple, people may believe that she is reasonable and I believe that is the greatest danger, when a public figure says those kind of phrases that promote hate. We are talking about a majority in this country who think a gay couple should not adopt, we are not talking about a minority, we have to educate the public, it's not an issue of going to vote, this is a social problem. It's as if in the 60's we asked the government if Afro-Americans could marry whites or is a black person had the same rights as someone who is white. That is not something you would put up for a vote but, instead, it's a social transformation, you have to educate the public, the society. If in the 60's you'd ask Southerners if they believed blacks should have the same rights as whites they would have said 'no', but you can't put that up for a vote because they are human rights, rights that we all have.
AOL: After those declarations Paquita, she gave some apologies. Do you think she was sincere?
AC: Of course not. I think she should have expressed being sorry about saying it, but not about thinking about it. That entails a public relation campaign to be able to save an image, everyone who works with her know that it can affect her concert earnings. The other day Raúl de Molina [ed. - the lead host of "El Gordo y La Flaca", who will air his interview tomorrow and has his own shady history of homophobic statements on the show] said that half of her concert-goers were supporters from the gay community. I believe there is a lot of fear that it might have an effect on her earnings. I am not promoting we should not listen to her, nor to buy her album or attend her concerts. She is an artist, her music is there and her presence will be there, what I say - and it's a message not only for her but for all public figures - we have to promote love and tolerance.
AOL: Paquita said that as a way of apologizing she would give a concert at a gay disco and, perhaps, a [gay bar] tour, do you think she might be using this now as promotion and for publicity?
AC: That would be a sad answer and it would be in bad taste to amend what she did in that manner, she is commercializing it, she is not giving free concerts for the gay community in California or wherever it is. She is doing her job and seeking an economic gain, but on some ways it is part of the business and part of the solution. I believe the public has reacted to her comments, with only a few exceptions of those who have shown themselves favorable to Paquita's comments, but people are hurt with the second declaration. The other day we were talking to Raúl Molina that she doesn't need to as forgiveness from the gay community but, instead, from those children she preferred to see dead instead of being adopted by a gay couple.
AOL: Would you like to interview her?
¿Te gustaría entrevistarla?
AC: A difficult question... She is also a human being and I'd like to know how she feels after making those statements. No one bathes themselves in a miraculous river and thinks one thing one day and another the next day. She is firm in her convictions that it's what is best for a child and my job is not t convince her, but she is an artist in this medium and if I have her before me I will greet her and if I have to interview her I will interview her.
AOL: What would you say if you had her in front of you?
AC: I would tell her that she should be careful when expressing what she feels when she is a public figure because, even without wanting to, she is promoting hate and intolerance; and not to think about it only when referring to one community, and it's the gays, but that she thinks about it whenever someone can do such a thing against immigrants and the millions of Hispanics who live in the United States and that suffer discrimination in some regions.
sino que lo piense cuando alguien puede hacer eso contra los inmigrantes y los millones de hispanos que viven en Estados Unidos y que en algunas partes sufren la discriminación".