One of the most important and influential events in my life was attending high school in the San Gabriel Valley, just east of Los Angeles. At the time it was no small feat, as going to Don Bosco Technical Institute required a lengthy entrance exam and elementary school grades that had to be on point. Perhaps most importantly, it got me out of the close-knit community I was a part of in East Los Angeles. It is at Don Bosco that I befriended Filipino friends for the first time, and like comedian Jo Koy has so articulately stated, found out just how similar Mexican and Filipino cultures truly are. As I began to write this review of Anthony Christian Ocampo’s Brown and Gay In LA, I realize the book further educated me on the similarities (and differences) between both Latinx and Filipino culture in the LA gay experience.
In my case, my exposure to the gay community came to a crescendo just as I was ending my junior year, and several students came out of the closet during our spring retreat. Suddenly, I had a handful of gay friends and was surprised at how quickly, at least at the surface, my conservative school, administrators included, embraced them. They each faced their own set of consequences at home, we were a Catholic high school after all, but I rarely got a comprehensive view of how these students were truly impacted. Seemingly mature for their ages, many of these students lived lives the extent of which would take me several years of adult living to fully grasp. They dated older men, and frequented restaurants and bars that they were completely foreign to me. In some ways, the students there were a keyhole into a world of lavish spending, sexual liberation, and drug use that my parochial mind couldn’t comprehend.
Soon thereafter, I began to hear about their exploits at places like Circus, Arena, Mickey’s (all bars or clubs in West Hollywood) and Chico’s on the eastside, at a time when the idea of going to a club was not only grown up and cosmopolitan, but outside my social reach. Even today, despite now having visited these places with friends and family, the gay club scene seems fascinatingly fast paced, and extraordinarily young. To think back that most my classmates were no older than 17 years old at the time of their adventures then, makes me slightly ill-at ease as a middle-aged parent today.
Anthony Ocampo’s book, Brown and Gay in LA, although taking place mostly in the late 2010s, took me back to the early 1990s and helped put context to much of what I experienced as a voyeur in the gay expressions of my school mates and peers back in the day. Ocampo’s book centers around the experiences of Latinx and Filipino second-generation individuals mainly throughout California, with a special connection to students from UCLA and USC. As a one-time student myself at UCLA, I remember witnessing what seemed to be a revolution for gay people as they found college could serve as a safe platform for expression. As a straight student with experience limited to political demonstrations and class discussions, I couldn’t help but admire people who would almost immediately take on empowered and confident personas based largely on their newly minted sexuality. But even then, I knew that the outward facing piece was only part of the story.
Ocampo takes a normative approach in his work, working over an extended period to get to the nuance behind some of the headlines and issues related to being a gay, young, educated person of color in Los Angeles. The reader can’t help but be enamored by how Ocampo delivers his findings, conducted largely by interview, and how he gives context to many of the battles and issues inside the largely white gay community. Ocampo’s descriptions of BIPOC men’s interactions within the larger white gay movement at places like UCLA, for instance, gave me a nuanced view into the challenges that many of these otherwise confident outgoing people o f color faced as they sought space in a predominantly white institution.
Professor Ocampo’s work is insightful and important, and despite its fluidity, reads like a research piece. Ocampo’s field work must have been extensive (there are many footnotes to that account), and the topics and responses show that the author used lots of care, analysis, and introspection in putting this together.
Check out Brown and Gay in LA by Anthony Ocampo, Phd.