Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Fiesta and Identity

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Fiesta and Identity

Article excerpt

in Barranquilla The DayS oF carniVal Begin early. From the first hours of the day-already confused with the last hours of the night-the smells of celebra- tion are in the air. The streets, adorned for the occasion, are quickly packed with people while taxi drivers try out new routes to deliver their passengers. "Esta es la verdadera Barranquilla, la que aflo- ra los días de Carnaval" (This is the real Barranquilla, the one that surfaces dur- ing Carnival), says the friendly driver as I get out of the taxi.

It's Monday, February 9, 2010. I walk into the Casa del Carnaval, a gleam- ing edifice from the Republican period, where the hacedores (creators) of the Carnival finish the last details to wel- come the most anticipated day of the year. I had an early interview with Álvaro de Jesús Gómez, a notable figure in Bar- ranquilla and one of the heads of the gay Carnival, who informs me that he is the first openly non-heterosexual candidate for elected office in the whole Atlantic Coast region of Colombia.

While we discuss the origins and objectives of gay Carnival-staged against the backdrop of the great Carnival of Bar- ranquilla-Álvaro shows me his personal objects and photographs "from when he used to transform himself into a woman," which he seems to always keep on his per- son for such occasions. He cannot avoid a tone of nostalgia for those days; now he dedicates his hours to community politics and has given up crossdressing: "la edad y mi sentido de la elegancia, no me lo per- mitirían" (age and my sense of elegance would not permit it).

Although I am a historian, Álvaro always treats me like a journalist. It does not surprise me then that he gives me an energetic account of the multitude of problems facing the gay Carnival: the heated debates among those interested in organizing it; the constant scarcity of economic resources; the limited pub- lic participation of lesbian and bisexual women; the increasing homophobic acts in the city. With his words, I draw an imaginary map in my head of the most important gay fiesta in Barranquilla: identity, tradition, political rights and violence take the shape of the first coor- dinates. Before leaving, with total self- confidence and without my asking, he gives me an autographed photo. I have kept it since.

Days before, I had interviewed the offi- cial Queen of the trendiest gay bar, chosen this year from dozens of cross-dressers (transformistas) and transvestites from all over the Colombian Caribbean. Her name is Camélica Noreña. When we met that night, after her dance show, she could not hide her extreme happiness about being filmed and interviewed by the local television station, with all of the details of her transformation from "man to woman." She told me with pride: "The ratings shot up and they are going to repeat the pro- gram. Our evolution is impressive. We, the gays, work 365 days a year; we aren't la loca stereotype any more that used to be chased through the streets, we are now an image to be shown. Among our ranks are politicians, city councilmen, and we are fighting for our rights. We learn every day."

During our conversation, Camélica tried to show the city as modern and respectful of sexual diversity. She said that the gay Carnival attracts a large audience, making it the second largest event and generating both formal and informal employment in the Carnival of Barranquilla-a claim confirmed by others-and which receives the growing support of officials and the media:

"We, the gays, also participate in all of the Carnival of Barranquilla: we are its true artistic managers. Which Carnival activity doesn't have a gay person lend- ing his labor, talent, or capacity to cre- ate beauty? We are present in all of the events, in comparsas, in carrozas and in dances; we are even in the Queen's pro- cession; she was with us for the public proclamation (en la lectura del bando) and has presented herself as 'gay-friend- ly' to the press. Equality is unstoppable. …

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