New Exhibition Documents San Francisco’s LGBTQ Latino Culture From 1970s to 1990s

For decades, Spanish speakers in many parts of the Western Hemisphere recognize the word ambiente — literally meaning “atmosphere” or “environment” — as a coded reference. Queer Latinas and Latinos have used the word to identify themselves, their distinctive cultures and their spirit of resistance.

"Noche de Ambiente" curators Ángel Rafael "Ralph" Vázquez-Concepción (left) and Juliana Delgado Lopera

“Noche de Ambiente” curators Ángel Rafael “Ralph” Vázquez-Concepción (left) and Juliana Delgado Lopera

The term is at the heart of a new exhibition that will debut October 28 at the GLBT History Museum: “Noche de Ambiente.” The show opens a window into the meanings of ambiente as reflected in Latino drag performance and LGBTQ and AIDS activism in San Francisco from the 1970s into the 1990s.

Curated by Juliana Delgado Lopera and Ángel Rafael “Ralph” Vázquez-Concepción, the exhibition brings together documents, images and videos from the GLBT Historical Society’s archives as well as materials contributed by community members.
“Growing up in Puerto Rico, the word ambiente was familiar; I heard it a lot when I was a kid in the ’80s,” says Vázquez-Concepción. “Later I came to understand the shielding effect it has. Like a spell, it turns the space it refers to into Latinx queer domain.”

A sampling of the Adela Vázquez papers documenting San Francisco's LGBTQ Latino scene from the 1980s and 1990s; collection of Juliana Delagado Lopera. Courtesy GLBT Historical Society.

A sampling of the Adela Vázquez papers documenting San Francisco’s LGBTQ Latino scene from the 1980s and 1990s; collection of Juliana Delagado Lopera. Courtesy GLBT Historical Society.

Delgado Lopera first learned the word from the woman she sees as her queer mother, Adela Vázquez, who told Lopera stories that opened an underground world of queer Latinidad invisible to the public eye. Through Vázquez she met many queer Latinas and Latinos active during the 1980s and 1990s, some of whom formed her chosen family. “I’m committed to the unearthing and preservation of their stories because they’re part of me, they created openings for me to exist,” Lopera says.

“Noche de Ambiente” opens on Friday, October 28, with a public reception set for 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the GLBT History Museum at 4127 18th St. in San Francisco. The curators will make brief remarks to inaugurate the show. Wine and light refreshments will be served. Admission is $5.00; free for members. The exhibition will be on display in the museum’s Front Gallery through February 2017.
For more information, visit www.glbthistorymuseum.org.