The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
August 3, 2012
How Difficult Is It To Be Yourself When Others Don’t Want You To Be?
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
We read that Chavela Vargas died. Truth be told, we did not know who she was until we saw her obituary in one of the blogs we regularly read; and then we searched the web.
Her real name was Isabel Vargas Lizano and she was born in Costa Rica. She fled to Mexico at age 14 because she wanted to sing and there were few opportunities where she was born. She sang in the streets and clubs and gained a reputation as a first-rate interpreter of cancion ranchera, folk music of Mexico. She cut her first album when she was 32 and eventually released 80 of them. In the 1990s her career reached a second peak largely because of the interest by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar who described her voice as “the rough voice of tenderness.” She died at the age of 93.
So why does she appear in our blog? She was a lesbian, but by itself, that is not a sufficient reason to appear in our blog, because we spent a lot of effort making the point that being LGBT is as normal as being not LGBT. However, Chavela Vargas was special. She was a person oblivious to social norms, seemingly indifferent whether she was accepted or not: she wore pants during the time of a very conservative and very catholic Mexico, she drank tequila on stage and got drunk, and carried a pistol which she used to scare away animals and point at people. The obituaries say that she came out when she was 81, but that is not the story. This is what she is quoted as saying:
I’m very proud of being what I am, but I don’t shout it. I am who I am. I don’t have a label. My name is Chavela Vargas. Nobody taught me to be like this. I was born this way. Since I opened my eyes to the world, I have never slept with a man. Never. Just imagine what purity. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
To us, this is a magnificent declaration: honest, independent, straight to the point, and in your face. Most of the time we hear stories indicating quite the opposite, stories tinged with sadness and regret. When a person becomes aware that he or she is LGBT, fear and shame are often the initial reaction. Why can’t I be like others? Will my parents still love me? When parents find out that their child is LGBT, they are overcome with a sense of personal failure that is closely followed by fear that family, friends, or their church will ostracize them.
We are social animals, we need to belong, to be part of some community, and we need to feel accepted. Our personal sense of worth is tied up with that sense of belonging, of seeing reflected by others a confirmation of who we are and what we are. Although we all like to believe that we are our own people and independent of others’ opinion, it isn’t so. We once read that to be human is to experience the contradictory needs to belong yet stand out as individuals. It is a fact that in our time being LGBT means to not belong, indeed, to be the subject of laws that separate you from the larger community. That is a condition of existence that must be removed.
We don’t know the details of her life, but Chavela Vargas’ proud statement struck us because it is so different from what we normally hear. We don’t know the price she paid for her independence. Did she arrive at that attitude because of a miserable childhood? Though sober for the last 30 years, she battled alcoholism for most of her life and even interrupted her career to battle that disease. It really does not matter, most of us, after a time of reflection and struggle, become comfortable with who we are even if we are not as eloquent as she was.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org