More than 250 people gathered at Mi Centro in Boyle Heights for the second annual Calavera event as part of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, for a remembrance of LGBT community members who have been lost because of homophobia and transphobia.
“By highlighting the presence of death in our community, we’re also highlighting the need to fight for the resources we need in order to survive,” said Hugo Lujan, a 28-year-old community organizer, during the event. “That’s why it’s essential to remember what happened and to put attention on what needs to happen in the future and to show that we as a community are moving forward.”
A large candlelit alter took up one corner of the outdoor section of the party. It included photos of the victims of last year’s shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando as well as names and photos of nearly two dozen recently murdered transgender women.
“There are people dying because of homophobia and transphobia,” said Ari Gutierrez Arambula, co-founder and president of the Latino Equality Alliance (LEA) advisory board. Mi Centro is a partnership between LEA and the Center. “There are people not living their best lives because of it. This is unacceptable and we want to be able to change it.”
The Calavera event is an opportunity for the LGBT community to connect with the Latino community in culture and in language.
“Our work is about reaching out and connecting with the families, reaching out to the youth and letting them know that this is a safe space – not just for LGBT people, but for the whole community,” said Arambula.
LEA Executive Director Eddie Martinez told the crowd, “It’s your love that gives us strength. It’s your love that’s going to help change our Latino community to be more accepting and loving of the LGBTQ community.”
Calavera, named for the skull imagery associated with Dia de Los Muertos, is an important fundraiser for youth and family programming at Mi Centro.
Mi Centro offers bilingual services operated by the Center and LEA including counseling, HIV/STI testing, legal services, discussion groups, and youth and senior activities and services.
Gender fluid youth Charlie Ruiz Vazquez took the stage with their mother, Mary Ruiz, who spoke about how the family has become community activists through Mi Centro.
“I came here to seek refuge from not being out to my family, not being out to my community and to connect with other young people about my experience,” said Vazquez. “I didn’t think I would find a family here and that’s what I found. But I wouldn’t be up here without the support of my mom.”
Mary Ruiz, also joined with her husband and mother, told the crowd: “La familia is out!”