Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Different Kind of Hero

This article appears in the September issue of Zona Rosa Magazine (New York's only magazine dedicated to the lives of gay and bi Latino men), available now online at, and will be available in print early next week.

A Different Kind of Hero

Two years ago, as the nation began to shake off eight years of regressive dictatorship from Pennsylvania Avenue, we began hearing quite a bit about heroes. John McCain was a war hero because he survived torturous conditions in the Hanoi Hilton. Hilary Clinton was a hero because she not only had taken off her petticoats and burned her bra but also had climbed the corporate and public ladder of success until she was within reach of shattering that ultimate electoral glass ceiling. By the end of the election, Barack Obama had become a hero to the poor, black folks, and a broad coalition of people who wanted only to feel hope and see a face that looked more like home.

Our national and personal dialogue is filled with heroes: from pilots landing a plane safely in the Hudson River to cops gunned down in the line of duty. Almost all of those that are bestowed with the honorific of hero are those that through circumstance, birth, political anointment or military appointment are thrust into the spotlight and crowned with laurel leaves. In truth, many who are called heroes are, indeed, heroes. Others, I suggest, are not. A police officer with a record of brutality who loses his life in a gunfight, is not a hero. A soldier that beats his wife, yet manages to survive a war, is not a hero. A Republican Senator from Arizona that chooses to stay with his comrades instead of being released from a terrible Vietnamese prison and then chooses to live a life where he actively participates in the oppression of women, queer people, and people of color for political gain is not a hero.

In the end, heroes are defined narrowly, conventionally, and too often are white, straight, men who have served in wars in which they have simply had the luck of surviving. History is full of those heroes.

As communities of color, we have been given little space for our own heroes. And those are largely the ones that have been too great to ignore or have been co-opted for the purposes of communal pacification by a power structure built on racism and economic slavery and inequality. Black people are given a street in major cities named for Martin Luther King Jr. Latin@s are given, in some places, a school named for Cesar Chavez. And with those we are meant to be contented.

I am far from content.

History is full of heroes that are unsung, ignored, or hidden. It is time to call their names and carry their spirits with us as we move forward. From Sylvia Rivera, a transgender Latina that took off a shoe and started a world-wide revolution, to Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black man that was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington and taught Martin Luther King, Jr. the principles of nonviolent resistance, our communities are full of heroes.

For many of us, our heroes are our mothers that worked two jobs to feed us and responded to our coming out with a simple, “te quiero mijo.” Our heroes are the street outreach workers and drop in center volunteers that are working to make sure that there is never another Gwen Araujo lost. From FIERCE in New York to ALLGO in Texas, there are out, proud, queer Latin@ that are working tirelessly and too often thanklessly to make sure that our lives are celebrated, supported, and cherished. We are all surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones that have made a difference in our lives. These are heroes. It’s time to speak their names.

-W. Brandon Lacy Campos

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