On June 7, the GLBT Historical Society Museum unveiled a new exhibition, “Chosen Familias: LGBTQ Latinx Stories,” curated by Tina Valentin Aguirre (genderqueer, they/them). A longtime activist, poet, producer and member of the Bay Area LGBTQ Latinx community, Tina currently serves as chair of the GLBT Historical Society Board of Directors. “Chosen Familias” explores LGBTQ Latinx kinship through 20 photo albums individually curated by members of the Bay Area’s LGBTQ Latinx community documenting the specific ways they define their familias —their families. Each tells a unique story of strength, resilience, culture and community. This month it was my pleasure to interview Tina to learn more about the genesis of the exhibition.
What inspired the exhibition and the title “Chosen Familias”? I lost my parents a few years ago, and at that time I examined what family meant to me, biological and chosen. Over the last few years, I have also met a number of younger LGBTQ Latinx people who would ask me how I keep pushing forward. A lot of these young people look to us, our histories, cultures, localities and even our losses to help them process. Looking to the past has helped me understand how I can build community and make stronger connections among people. We are living in difficult times. But at the same time, we are mobilizing. Many LGBTQ Latinx people do that through our chosen familias.
How did you decide on the idea of photo albums? What do you want people to take away after viewing them? A collaborator and friend, Kimberlynn, suggested it. Today, when we add a new “contact” on social media we don’t usually go back and look at their photos or their history. LGBTQ relationships are hinted at on social media but they are not always featured. The exhibition is intended to do exactly the opposite. Whom do we love and who supports us? Here’s my past, here are my connections, here is how I have lived my life. Photos are the best way to represent that. Diving into someone’s memories electronically can feel weird; there is something great about being able to flip through a photo album of someone’s curated past experiences. I hope people learn about LGBTQ Latinx people and see our experiences as universal. You don’t need to be Latinx to relate to them. I want people to learn about our relationships, our love, the challenges we experience. It’s our familias that help us to get back on track, find a different direction and get through difficult times.
Why was it important that this exhibition take place at the GLBT Historical Society Museum? People from all over the world come to the GLBT Historical Society Museum and other LGBTQ-focused sites — especially in the summer — to learn about our history, culture and communities. But even within the LGBTQ community, the stories of people of color, genderqueer/trans people and elders are often marginalized. One of the strategic initiatives of the society is to feature underrepresented members of our community. I’m glad we are showing “Chosen Familias” during the museum’s busiest season. Visitors are going to be able to experience our familias. We are complex, we are dynamic and we are supportive; and the GLBT Historical Society is a great location to encourage this type of exchange.
Rigoberto Marquez is a member of the GLBT Historical Society Board of Directors.