by Brian Burs and Judd Proctor
Acclaimed Performer and Singer, Chavela Vargas
Born in Costa Rica in 1919 and growing up in Mexico, Chavela Vargas became an icon to several generations of Latin American lesbians, known for her erotic performances and her open expression of lesbian desire. She sang rancheras, which were written to be sung by a man to a woman – and used them to seduce women in her audiences. Her first recording was released in 1961.
A hard drinker, she hit bottom in the 70s – but in 1981 made a major comeback, selling out Carnegie Hall in New York City. She gained a new audience in the 1990s when gay filmmaker Pedro Almodovar incorporated her music in the soundtracks of his films.
Chavela broke Mexican taboos, smoking cigars and dressing as a man. At age 81, she confirmed what everybody already knew – she was a lesbian.
On August 5, 2012, Chavela died in Cuernavaca, Mexico. She was 93. Her last words were, “I leave with Mexico in my heart.”
Film Idol, Ramon Novarro
In 1916, Ramon Novarro started out as a model and singing waiter in L.A. Then, thanks to the Hollywood publicity machine, he became its first Latin American superstar.
Born in Mexico in 1899, his family moved to Los Angeles during the Mexican Revolution. Novarro reached the peak of his career in the title role of the 1926 silent spectacle, “Ben Hur,” although his best performance came the next year in “The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.”
The romantic idol of silent films of the 1920s, Novarro was billed as “the new Rudolph Valentino.” After a few box office duds in the early 1930s, he left acting with his fans unaware of his secret: the unmarried Latin Lover was attracted to men.
By today’s standards, Novarro’s performances are perceived as decidedly effeminate. But way back then, he was it.
Remembering Frida Kahlo
In 2001, the U.S. Postal service issued its first stamp honoring a Hispanic woman. On June 21 of that year, they issued a 34-cent commemorative stamp of Frida Kahlo, the world-renowned Mexican artist who created striking self-portraits. That same day, a similar stamp of Kahlo was issued in Mexico.
U.S. Postal Service Vice President of Diversity Development, Benjamin Ocasio, said, “The Frida Kahlo stamp allows us to reach out across communities to let everyone know that this organization has a commitment to diversity that involves both our customers and our employees. Our stamp program is a wonderful reflection of this commitment.”
Kahlo stood out from the crowd not just because she was Hispanic and bisexual, but because she was physically challenged due to a terrible bus accident in 1925.