By Richard Oceguera
When I was recently invited to appear in the June episode, “Orgullo Latino” (Latin Pride) of the LGBT newsmagazine series IN THE LIFE, I was honored and concerned. An issue of identity arose that was all too familiar, which I had to grapple with: I’m indeed Hispanic, but my life doesn’t culturally revolve around my heritage, and I don’t identify as such on a daily basis. So how could I be the right man for this interview? It makes sense for the other featured subjects of the episode, like Ricky Martin, or Daniel Hernandez – the gay intern who saved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ life – but me?
There are many facets to my identity. I am Hispanic. I’m American. I’m gay. I’m a community leader. I’m a business owner. I’m an actor and public speaker. I’m a son, brother and husband. And who I am is a person with a vision for elevating the LGBT community – by cultivating a generation of LGBT leaders of all races and backgrounds.
The complexities of my identity are inherent in my very name – as I hear quite often. “Oceguera: what an interesting and unusual name. Where did you grow up? Is that Spanish? Is your name really Ricardo?”
A last name like Oceguera – like any uncommon name, I suppose – comes with the constant need to define, justify or even validate who I am. I can count on this conversation at least once a week if not more often. And no matter how many times I have this common exchange of predictable questions, I am always left wondering, “Who and what am I really?” But my response usually goes something like this:
“According to the records, my last name hails from the town of Burgos in the North of Spain, and found its way to the Americas around 400 years ago. On my father’s side, my grandfather Jose Oseguera (his name is spelled with an ‘s’ which became a ‘c’ when my dad was born) is from Michoacán, Mexico. He now lives in Central California, but I didn’t grow up knowing my grandfather Jose, and neither did my dad. And on my mother’s side I’m fourth-generation. We are a mixture of Spanish, French and American Indian. My family has been in California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico dating back to before it was called the United States; when it was Mexico, really. So when you put it all together, I’m of Mexican descent. I like to say I’m truly North American. I grew up watching the Brady Bunch and eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. And, no, my name isn’t really Ricardo.”
After I get through that explanation, my curious inquisitor may be fascinated, nonplussed, or sorry she asked. It is often complicated and frustrating to not have a clear and simple answer. Simply saying that I’m Mexican, let alone just Hispanic, is not at all the truth.
Am I proud to be a gay Hispanic man? I absolutely celebrate my incredibly rich and diverse cultural heritage. But being gay and Hispanic aren’t the only things that define me. Our necessary rebellions, marches, rallies, protests and parades have opened up the gateway to progress and acceptance. As a result, we are experiencing new levels of freedom now more than ever before in this country.
We are a long way from full equality, no doubt, as the recent referendum in North Carolina shows us. But just how do we elevate the conversation to a new level? How do we move forward from making demands with clenched fists to making a bigger difference? I believe it has to do with leadership.
Many LGBT Hispanic men and women are already serving leadership roles in national and local LGBT advocacy organizations. If we want to be heard and understood, there is also great power in being part of the community at large. Many of the needs unique to some Latinos are already being handled by hundreds of non-profits across the country, both mainstream and culturally specific.
Yet we always need more Latino LGBT people stepping up to run or fund the existing organizations. Whether on the staff or board, bold, innovative leaders from diverse backgrounds are what we need to represent the quickly changing face of our community and country.
As the founding president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce New York, our members who have collaborated over the last four years to build this organization inspire me. We are creating real economic value for business owners of all backgrounds throughout New York City. And since I am aware that I am one of a small but significant group of out Hispanic men and women leading such organizations, I know that I have a responsibility to our community. When one in six people in this country identifies as Latino, I have to believe the desire to make an impact lies in the hearts of many, many more future leaders, and our community can and should always do more to find, identify, and train them.
This Pride, I will engage with my fellow Hispanic brothers and sisters in a conversation that’s not only about pride, but also about leadership. We will express ourselves, as we do, for a few colorful days a year, but we must continue making it a high priority to train and develop ourselves into people who will make a difference every day for the entire LGBT community.