Horacio N. Roque-Ramirez: In Memoriam

by Ricardo Bracho

Mi brother has died.


“What does a queer archive of the dead do to our knowledge of ourselves? At the most basic level, it reminds us to remember, challenging us not to fall into the enticing everyday practice of forgetting, of not looking back.” 

Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, 1969-2015

*brother here is pronounced in Spanish as it is vernacularly used in Latin America but especially in DF, the Caribbean, the isthmus and barrio, USA.

**brother is not meant to invoke or align with the grossly sexist and homophobic somos (pater)familia-isms of some Chic Studies discourse or pro-capital latino liberalism. Rather it is deployed here as it is in street talk between both strangers and íntimos; in organizing among the ‘US Third World left’ and in the sexual-political communion that was gay men of color orgs and communities during the 90’s AIDS pandemic. The latter is the context in which I and HRR met.

***Let me be clear: Horacio would have hated this piece of writing. “Where is the (empirical and archival) research? Why isn’t this grounded in (an historically embattled and dialogically super-complicated) community? What is the methodology?” Mind you, he thought oral history was the methodology – a line I edited out of many drafts of his diss and mss. He would have much preferred that you read his far more rigorous work, o mejor, a transcript of one or two of his over 50 interviews with SF Bay Area queer and trans Latina/o bar folk, organizers, intellectuals, artistas, sobrevivientes, estrellas.

In order to redress my wrong I’ll begin with this somewhat lengthy quote from an essay he published in the Oral History Review.  El pollón, in his own words, or as he would have preferred, con su boca abierta:

“The excitement I have felt continuously in the last six years while completing my work on queer Latino San Francisco has been intermittently at odds with the sadness, anger, and fear over the content of those memories. Queer Latino community history in San Francisco in the last four decades has been significantly about loss and disappearance: about AIDS, about gentrification, about cancer, about poverty. Yes, it has also been about political mobilization, about cultural expression and sexual liberation, about racial empowerment and international solidarity. I don’t know who, if anyone, is conducting a community oral history project of queer Latinos in Los Angeles, or in New York, or anywhere else for that matter. Because they matter— because that in the least is the most basic assumption we must make when we commit to this difficult work of historicizing life and death, while we talk with the living, and conjure through memory their relations with those gone. Community history matters, for most of the reasons we may not realize when we begin our work.”  My Community, My History, My Practice, p. 89

Horacio Nelson Roque Ramírez was an oral historian, a professor, an archivist, a central americanist, an AIDS scholar, an expert witness on political asylum and immigration and a creative writer.  His fluencies were vast: caliche, pan-Latino queerspeak, a more formal Spanish, English for the classroom and a distinct one for the bar, a French learned in LAUSD – snobbishly and gleefully retained. An important internal critic of the fields of Chicana/o Studies and queer theory, he arrived on the US academic knowledge production scene when borderlands theory tipped CS into woeful symbology and metaphysical readings of borders, migration, Latin American nation-state and US Latino community formations.  Thus his work on immigration and citizenship, or to personify as he did in borrowing from Cathy Arellano and Manolo Guzmán, homegrowns and sexiles, is aligned with and indebted to more materialist understandings of race, gender and migration; nations, sex and globalization as evidenced in the analyses of Rosa Linda Fregoso, Sonia Saldívar-Hull, Rosaura Sánchez, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Denise Da Silva, Sylvia Wynter, Jacqui Alexander, David Hernández, David Lloyd, Josie Saldaña, Justin Akers Chacón, Mike Davis, Lisa Lowe, Coco Fusco, Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Randall Williams, Líonel Cantú and Eitne Lubhéid.   

And in that early moment of theories queer, us blacks and browns still needed 2 forms of ids to get into that white homo theoretical joint.  Cindy Patton, Ann Cvetkovich and David Román’s ACT UP-inflected writing on AIDS; Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis’ pathbreaking Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community and most importantly the  SF community orgs Gay Latino Alliance (GALA), Communidad Unida en Respuesta al AIDS/ SIDA (CURAS) and Proyecto ContraSIDA Por Vida (PCPV) were his models of how to do queer theory differently, nonwhitely, and in accordance with his ethics and politics, collectively. His approach took seriously the teachings of women of color feminism in highlighting rank and file movement members, not solely (male) leadership and in centering lesbian politics and participation in multigender organizing. Additionally he bequeaths essays, interviews and archives to Latina/x transfeminist historiography that highlight cultural and political luminaries such as Ookie la Tigresa, Vicki Starr and Adela Vázquez.  

His work was rooted within raced classed lgbt social-sexual-intellectual-cultural pleasure and dissent and his mentor Profa Julia Curry Rodríguez’ pedagogy and methodology of doing oral history with the historically marginalized. Along with Julia, his committee members, historian Waldo Martin and sociologist Evelyn Nakano Glenn and his UC Presidential postdoc mentor anthropologist Karen Brodkin made lasting imprints on his thinking, teaching and writing.  He had a sustained engagement with Renato Rosaldo’s notions of cultural citizenship and the meander and ramble characteristic of brown oral history narrative. As a writer and reader he admired the pelvic forthrightness of John Rechy’s novels, the balladry in Gil Cuadros’ poetry and the nuanced care and rage across Cherríe Moraga’s essays, poems, cuentos and plays.  His father and Roque Dalton’s Miguel Marmol were his intellectual progenitors.

Head of the class in the making and studying of queer and trans Latina/o/x expressive cultures and representational practices (he would be less big headed and just write, drag show and indie film/video) his work is included in Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader edited by Ernesto Martínez and Michael Haimes-García. In the as yet or emergent indiscipline of Queer and Trans Latina/o/x Studies, Horacio’s scholarship is most consonant with that of Ramón Rivera-Servera, Manolo Guzmán and Juana María Rodríguez on the sonic and sexual politics of the queer latina/o dancefloor; Marcia Ochoa and the House of Xtravaganza on the fierce spectacularity of Latin American and US Latino gender construction and transgression; Deb Vargas’ emphasis on the queer musicality of everyday brown life and Micaela Díaz-Sánchez reading of black and brown bodies in (forced) migration and dancing motion.

His work was focused – haunted – by three holocausts in the Americas.  First, the US-backed Hernández Martínez dictatorship y la matanza of 1932 wherein as el Profe Roque Ramírez wrote, “roughly 30,000 died in a matter of days” in El Salvador.  This massacre was later followed by a civil war in El Salvador from 1980-1992 in which over 75,000 Salvadorans died at the hands of the rightwing ruling junta.  Horacio’s third focus, and the one he wrote on the most heavily, was the AIDS pandemic in brown communities in the late 20th – early 21st century urban US, which tallies around 125,000 deaths and counting.  His most unique theoretical contributions were in his reading of Salvadoran historical (counter)memory in contestation of biopower and his conception of a queer archive of the dead that emerged from his interviews and from US queer and trans Latinas/os/xs living “everyday death.” On his people’s history, Horacio was most clear:

“History in modern El Salvador began to die in 1932, indigenous cultural expression suppressed effectively from that moment onward; for the Hernández Martínez dictatorship, indigenous wear, language, and spirituality meant communism, meant a threat to deals between U.S. companies and Salvadoran oligarchy, and of course meant further repression.” My Community, My History, My Practice, p. 90

Of equal force and precision was the analytic H formulated around latino responses to and formulations of AIDS deaths, funds, rhetorics.  In an important essay which ruminates on ten years of Latino AIDS-related obituaries in San Fran’s free gay rag, the Bay Area Reporter, Horace writes in beautiful summation:

“AIDS marked gay in 1980s and early 1990s San Francisco (and vice versa), including the city’s gay Latino population. In this conflation of disease and desire, obituaries offer historical anchors to reconsider some of that period’s historical losses, to untangle carefully that conflation but also to appreciate the routes of queer Latino desires.” Gay Latino Histories/Dying to Be Remembered: AIDS Obituaries, Public Memory, and the Queer Latino Archive, p. 123

Horacio was proudly immigrant, defiantly queer and certainly as trucho as he wanted to be.  I joked once with Randy Williams and Steve Wu that he was my only positivist friend. But, it’s true. He held on to ‘strategic essentialism’ long after everyone else, including Spivak, had laid that ism down. He could also get wrapped up in bullshit notions of meritocracy and immigrant bootstrapping achievement.  While his bacchanalian pleasure principle and search for pinga and pachanga were often in delirious overdrive he could write and self-present in a neoconservative hijo bueno manner.  He was a Scorpio who liked his meat well done, three ways and that pre-internet gay life.  An expert cook of what he called his people’s peasant foods, he was an equally fly dancer and was happiest on the dancefloor especially if it was cumbia, puro cumbia.  He absolutely adored the singing and trash-talking of the late great Teresita la Campesina, The Mission’s trans ranchera bocona. He was probably the most atheist Latino I have ever met (and I was raised among Latino immigrant scientists and communists, so that’s saying much) and his atheism reached towards an overall anti-theism. His academic interest in 70s US culture was delineated by interest in women’s and gay liberation movements, black and brown and yellow and red power struggles and manifestations. However, his personal curiosity extended past social-sexual justice undergrounds and polemics into the disco music that reached him by radio in his childhood canton of Santa Ana, El Salvador.  Once an adult and US citizen he made sure he caught up on pop cultural phenomena of the 1970s: the tv miniseries Roots, disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure and lowdown liquor like Night Train.

An HIV positive man, he did not readily disclose his status. He received tenure in Chicano Studies at UCSB near the time his father died and when he was diagnosed with acute anxiety and clinical depression.  In the end it was a brutal battle with alcohol that done him in.  His major study of SF Bay Area Latina/o lgbt community from the 60-90s remains unpublished and his ideas for an oral history project on la matanza as well as one on translocal-transnational queer Salvadorean men of LA and El Salvador went unrealized, deepening this loss.

He was impossible, and impossibly fine.

He is survived by his sisters and mother and extended fam here in Los Angeles, as well as his gente in Canada, Guatemala and El Salvador.  Paul Cabral, Emilio Orozco, and Esteban Jimenez were his significant loves.  Santiago Bernal and Rene Lozano the best and strongest of friends. Luis Alberto de la Garza, compatriota of the archive, often provided Horacio with sweet refuge. Ofelia Ortíz Cuevas was very special to Horace, and he to her. Julia Curry Rodríguez was his mentor and so much more.  His UCLA crew, his cousins, parties at his and Esteban’s or David and Iyko’s, the Pasadena public library, Sundays at Tempo and the Faultine or the Eagle were part of his LA joy. Proyecto ContraSIDA/Futura/Bench n Bar/Hamburger Mary’s/Pan Dulce/Club Papi/The Village/his Ethnic Studies cohort at Cal sustained him in his Bay Area days.  He is loved, missed and held in deep remembrance by all these people as well as his UCSB students, colleagues, amistades and, roll call: David Hernández, Iyko Day, Randy Williams, Stephen Wu, Denise Sandoval, Kathy Blackmer Reyes, Cherríe Moraga, Celia Herrera Rodríguez, Diane Felix, María Cora, Karla Rosales, Pato Hebert, Jaime Cortez, Vero Majano, Tisa Bryant, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Marcia Ochoa, Sarah Patterson, Katynka Martinez, Joel Villalon, Joshua Schwartz, Augie Robles, Lito Sandoval, Al Lujan, Loras Ojeda, Ruben Carrillo, Grace Chang, Julian Hernandez, Diana Almaraz, Inés Casillas, Guisela Latorre, Raúl Coronado, Luis Orozco and, me, Ricardo Bracho.

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