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Latina/o Sexuality

Summary and Keywords

Sexuality has been a central feature of the lives of people of Latin American descent since the beginning of Spanish exploration and conquest in the Americas in the late 1400s. The history of Latina/o sexuality encompasses courtship, marriage, and reproduction; sexual activity including same-sex sexual intimacy, sex within and outside of marriage, and commercial sex such as prostitution; as well as various forms of sexual coercion and violence. Attempts to define, control, and regulate sexual activity and the shifting meanings and understandings attached to sexuality have also played an important role in the sexual lives of Latinas/os over the past five centuries and have helped to establish sexual norms, including appropriate masculine and feminine behavior, and to limit and punish sexual transgressions. While Latinas/os have at times been targeted as sexually improper and even dangerous, they have proven to be strong defenders of their sexual rights and intimate relationships in their communities.

Keywords: Latina/o, sexuality, reproduction, interracial sex, homosexuality, same-sex sexuality, rape, immigration, religion, legal activism

Latina/o Sexuality Historical Overview

The history of Latina/o sexuality during the Spanish colonial period, roughly 1500–1800, has focused on sexual encounters, including sexual violence and rape, between Spanish colonizers and Native people, and the imposition of Spanish laws and regulations regarding sexuality throughout the regions that beginning in the middle of the 19th century became the US Southwest. The role of sexuality in conquest and colonialism has been similarly explored by historians of the 19th century. Latina/o historians have also highlighted Anglo-Mexican intermarriages and the heightened attacks by Anglo-Americans on the supposed promiscuity and improper sexual behavior of Latinas, including their supposedly excessive fertility. Increased immigration to the US Southwest and Midwest by Mexicans, as well as the onset of US imperial rule in Puerto Rico and Cuba after the war of 1898, expanded the focus of historians of Latina/o sexuality, who began studying sexual behavior and norms within Latina/o communities. They also began to explore US government efforts to target Latinas/os as sexually aberrant and as threats to public health and safety. Latinas and Latinos in the 20th century, as in earlier periods, resisted Anglo attempts to denigrate their sexual lives and families.

Latina/o Sexuality, 1492–1800

Like Latina/o history in general, the history of Latina/o sexuality begins with the arrival of Spanish soldiers, priests, and explorers in the Americas in the late 1400s. Major themes and topics in the history of Latina/o sexuality over the past five centuries include sexual honor and shame, same-sex sexual practices, reproduction, sexual violence, legal activism, and community and political organizing.

Spanish colonialism in the Americas during the 1500s was often framed as a journey to convert the various native peoples and communities to Christianity. A major Spanish goal was to bring Christianity to the supposedly sinful, unlawful natives in that region. Another goal, deemed by some to be secondary, was the acquisition of silver and gold. Most Spaniards, of course, did not become wealthy, and “when most of them failed to find such instant wealth, they turned to the next best thing: lordship over others and the accumulation of land.”1

After several months of sea voyage, the Spanish men—most of whom were young and single—were amazed by the sight of nudity among the indigenous peoples of the Americas: “the scarcity of native attire became a fascinating, if surprisingly subtle, aspect of the mystique, which lured more Spanish Europeans to America.”2 In addition, during the conquest period, individual and familial honor was based on individuals’ adherence to the appropriate masculine and feminine behaviors within the context of heterosexuality and reproduction.3 Sexuality was a key component of this system of honor and shame, with penetration as the crux. Thus, before marriage a woman needed to be a virgin in order to protect her honor, and a man should refrain from same-sex sexual activity.

At the same time, heterosexual marriage and reproduction was not the only channel for the expression of sexuality in colonial Latin America. Throughout the 16th century, sexuality encompassed “premarital sexual relations, consensuality, homosexuality, bigamy and polygamy, out-of-wedlock births, and clandestine affairs between religious and lay persons.”4 Sexual acts that occurred outside a framework of heterosexuality, marriage, and reproduction were condemned. Sodomy, for instance, was considered an abominable sin due to the influence of Christianity, and many people alleged to have engaged in sodomy were executed or brutally punished.5 Men caught actually engaging in same-sex sexual acts often suffered particularly severe penalties.6 Sodomy also became one of the rhetorical tools that the Spanish employed to justify the invasion and colonization of the Americas; it was a moral instrument wielded in the conversion of the indigenous colonial subjects.7

Father Pierre de Gand and Hernán Cortéz, the Spanish military leader and explorer, believed sodomy, sometimes even involving children, to be widespread among the Aztecs. In addition, Bernal Díaz de Castillo, who accompanied Cortez during his expedition in 1519 and wrote about the conquest, reported the existence of boys dressed as girls who made a living through same-sex prostitution, religious leaders who did not marry but engaged in sodomy, and temple idols who imitated them, termed berdache.8 Berdache were described as half man and half woman, or as the third sex, or between-sex people. It is important to note that berdache, in many native communities, could be considered either examples of individuals who engaged in unacceptable sexual practices, shaping themes of honor and shame in the 1500s, or as accepted members of society, because of their spiritual power and ability to be in-between genders. Hernando de Alarcón in 1540 observed that there were always four berdache in a community at a time, and came to the understanding that if one of four berdache died, the first male child born anywhere in the land was chosen to fill the vacancy.9

Another description of sexuality appeared in a primer on Catholic doctrine written by the first bishop of Mexico, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, in 1543, entitled “Doctrina breve muy provechosa de las cosas que pertenecen a la fe católica y a nuestra cristianidad en estilo llano para común inteligencia” (“Brief and very advantageous doctrine of the things that relate to the Catholic faith and our Christianity in a plain style for the common intelligence”). This document condemned sodomy, especially between men, concluding that male-to-female sodomy was less sinful than male-to-male. In another book, published in 1546, Zumárraga graphically defined sodomy as “a very abominable placing of the virile member in the dirtiest and ugliest part of the body of the person who receives the man; that part is delegated for the expulsion of feces.”10

While men who sought out other men for sexual relationships did not always live in fear, sodomy was a crime prosecuted by criminal courts or the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Contemporaries referred to sodomy as either the pecado nefando (the nefarious sin), the pecado contra natura (sin against nature), or sodomía (sodomy). Scholars disagree over which partner (‘active’ or ‘passive’) was punished more harshly, with some research showing the active partner was punished more, whereas other research shows both were punished equally as long as there was no coercion or rape. Themes of sexual honor also emerge in these accounts, concerned mostly with ensuring women preserve the honor of themselves and their families. Female honor was heavily predicated on sexual behavior and censure fell largely, although not solely, upon single women who lost their virginity as a result of willing or forced sex.

As Spanish colonialism proceeded in the Americas in the 17th century, the focus on sexuality by government and church officials continued to be geared toward convicting those who performed “sinful” sexual acts. Here again, same-sex sexual activity between men was seen as far more problematic than other sexual activities according to Spanish moral codes. The church sought to regulate all forms of sex that did not end in reproduction. In the view of the church, “marriage was the normative institution that assured the regeneration of the species, the peaceful continuation of society, and the orderly satisfaction of bodily desires.”11 When couples channeled their sexual desires toward the explicit aim of procreation they fulfilled God’s natural design.

In many cases, this ideology was targeted toward native communities whose traditions and lifestyles were seen as primitive and in need of reform. The 1660 Inquisitorial denunciation by Fray Nicolás de Chavez stated that “when Indians staged their dances, they frolicked in intercourse, fathers with daughters, brothers with sisters, and mothers with sons.”12 This conflict between Indians and Spaniards over the place and meaning of biological reproduction reveals the clear belief among priests that intercourse should occur only within the bonds of marriage. Furthermore, by describing Indian behavior as wildly incestuous, priests asserted their own authority to repress native erotic activities as they deemed fit.

In 17th-century New Mexico, according to anthropologist Tracy Brown, “missionaries were at the forefront of this policing; but after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the reconquest of New Mexico beginning in 1692, civil authorities took over the role from the Church.”13 Church power had weakened considerably by the 18th century due to a number of interrelated factors. After the revolt, officials in Mexico City decided that the only reason Spaniards would return to New Mexico would be to create an outpost of Spanish authority on the northern frontier: “conversion of Indian peoples in New Mexico was no longer a priority in, or a justification for the existence of, the colony as it had been in the seventeenth century.”14 As a result, after the Pueblo Revolt “eighteenth-century sexual misconduct cases involving Pueblo Indians in New Mexico were prosecuted by civil authorities, not Church authorities.”15

Themes revolving around “proper” reproductive sex, masculinity, shame, honor, and same-sex intimacy continued to be prominent features of sexuality in the 18th century. Compelling women and men to follow established gender norms and to limit their sexual intimacies to marital reproductive sex remained a major concern of both the Spanish government and church officials. Interracial sex, often coerced and at times consensual, also persisted throughout the Spanish Americas, involving people of indigenous, African, and Spanish descent.

Church leaders and the Spanish government also continued to view with great alarm men who had sex with other men. In 1731 two Pueblo men, Antonio Yuba and Asensio Povia, were caught in the act of a “pecado nefando,” or abominable sin. The men were discovered by Manuel Trujillo while tending cattle in Trujillo’s pasture. Upon finding them, Trujillo whipped the men and then denounced them to the local Spanish civil authorities. After much testimony, Yuba and Povia were banished to remote pueblos and whipped again for their transgressions. A close study of the investigation into Yuba and Povia’s actions reveals the “attitudes that both the Spaniards and Pueblos held concerning same-sex sex and masculinity in 18th-century New Mexico,” most notably the violent punishment that could befall men engaging in sexual relations with other men.16

Sexual violence toward women, especially sexual attacks by Spanish men on indigenous women, also drew the attention of Spanish authorities in the 18th century. The groundbreaking scholarship of historian Antonia Castañeda on rape in Spanish California has inspired much subsequent research in this area, as has the equally important work of Ramón Gutiérrez.17 In a survey of the history of Latina/o sexuality, Gutiérrez notes that rape victims in the 1700s were most often enslaved African or indigenous women; the women were likely to be young, with few relatives nearby, and were frequently attacked at home or while running errands for work. Attackers tended to be “single men between the ages of twenty and thirty who lived outside tightly integrated webs of kinship—itinerant merchants, muleteers, and seasonal day laborers.”18 In some cases, the punishment for rape was severe. In many, however, the punishment was less harsh: “exile, public shaming in the stocks, being tied to the gibbet [gallows], and monetary compensation for the woman were the ways in which most cases were resolved by the courts.”19

When the crime was incest, the female victims were often forced out of their homes into separate living situations, as “it was believed that such removals would thwart a father’s, brother’s, or uncle’s incestuous desires.”20 Torn from their homes, such “‘fallen’ women were isolated from contact with their families and were all but forgotten for long periods of time—some for life.”21 Female rape victims were thus the persons who suffered most from this crime socially. They were often publicly humiliated as loose, shameless women. Their families frequently blamed the victim for inciting the passions of strangers and kin.

Latina/o Sexuality, 1800–1898

In the 19th century, several major events shaped both Latina/o history and the history of Latina/o sexuality. As independence movements swept through the Americas at the turn of the 19th century, Mexico won its independence in 1821. Like most newly independent countries (with the exception of the United States), Mexico formally abolished slavery once independence had been achieved. Puerto Rico and Cuba, on the other hand, remained colonies of Spain for nearly another eighty years, when Puerto Ricans and Cubans were subjected to US control in the wake of the US military victory over Spain in 1898. Slavery also continued in both countries well into the 19th century; slavery was not abolished in Puerto Rico until 1873, and persisted in Cuba until 1886. The term “sex” also emerged as a “discrete category” in the Spanish language around the turn of the 19th century.22 The emergence of new definitions of “sex” were likely related to a decrease in church power as the Spanish state sought to transform sin (a religious matter) into crime (a civil concern).

In the aftermath of the 1846–1848 Mexican–American war, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferred huge areas of Mexican land to the United States, including what became the states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico. At almost precisely the same time that California territory came under US control, gold was discovered in northern California and the region was soon flooded with Anglo-American men hunting for gold. California’s Gold Rush fuelled an increase in prostitution, saloons, dance halls, peep shows, and brothels in areas where opportunities for sex were scarce. Settlers and migrants, most of them men, who were craving sex from both women and other men, found companions who were mainly from southern California and Mexico. Areas in Mexico were close to the mining towns, so travel was short to destinations that promised resources and income.

The prominent place of sexuality in Gold Rush California was a preview of sorts of the major role that sex and reproduction, especially intermarriage and interracial intimacy, would play in the interactions between Mexicans in the Southwest and the aggressively expanding Anglo-American population over the coming decades. In New Mexico, for instance, the Anglo population began to rise dramatically in the 1880s after the arrival of the railroad in the territory. The existing Mexican community, many of whom owned property and held significant political power, forced Anglo newcomers to accommodate their presence and compelled Anglos to rely on alternative ways, such as sexuality, to determine social difference and hierarchies. Sexual impropriety, such as sex before or outside of marriage, non-reproductive sex, and commercial sex like prostitution, became a critical marker of social distinction in late-19th-century New Mexico, as Anglos (and some elite Mexicans) claimed respectability based on their supposedly proper—that is marital, heterosexual, and reproductive—sexual behavior.23

Intermarriages between newly arrived Anglo men and Mexican women helped solidify Anglo settlement, especially as Anglo men married to elite Mexican women often came into possession of significant land and other resources through their wives’ families. While intermarriages involving prominent Mexican families in California, Texas, and New Mexico helped propel the rise of Anglo power in the Southwest (in addition to undermining Mexican landownership), Anglos also often targeted Mexican families and homes, even those homes that might be considered to represent “normal” forms of sexuality and intimacy (i.e., heterosexual courtship, marriage, and reproduction), for negative propaganda. In fact, a major component of Anglo settler colonialism (the settlement and imposition of Anglo rule in the Southwest) was the portrayal of Anglo families and gender relations as proper and healthy and the depiction of non-Anglo homes, including Latina/o families, as deviant, dangerous, and potentially diseased. These negative characterizations of Latina/o relationships and families, even those based on heterosexual norms, persisted into both the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Latina/o Sexuality, 1898–2000

In 1898 the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish–American War and imposed military rule on Puerto Rico and Cuba. Like all colonial regimes, the United States focused significant attention on re-forming the family lives and sexual practices of colonial subjects; the Puerto Ricans were no exception (unlike Puerto Rico, Cuba became an independent nation in 1902). At the center of US efforts to “Americanize” Puerto Ricans was an attempt to “homogenize their new colonial subjects sexually, to reduce diverse popular sexual practices and morals to a unified standard of heterosexual marriage and two-parent families, thus instilling their Anglo-Saxon, bourgeois social and cultural ideals in the island’s populace.”24 These efforts included the legalization of divorce, temperance movements, literacy and domestic-skills classes for Puerto Rican women, and prostitution reform. In 1917 the passage of the Jones Act further institutionalized Puerto Rico’s colonial status and imposed US citizenship on Puerto Ricans. In coming decades, US officials would focus special attention on sex and reproduction in Puerto Rico, especially in Afro-Puerto Rican communities. Puerto Ricans were often portrayed as sexually promiscuous and were accused of having too many children. This accusation of excessive fertility (often framed as Puerto Ricans supposedly contributing to a population explosion or “bomb”) would continue to be leveled at Latinas even into the 21st century, especially against Puerto Rican and Mexican women.25

In the late 1800s and during the first three decades of the 20th century, a massive emigration of Mexicans to the United States took place, especially in the American Southwest including southern California. Between 1890 and 1930 approximately 1.5 million people left small towns and villages in rural Mexico to move to the United States, most in search of work in regions with an expanding economy. These major expanding economies were located in the southwestern region of the United States in areas that were reasonably accessible to Mexican peoples, especially as railroad construction expanded both in Mexico and the United States in the early 20th century. Most Mexican immigrants worked as farm laborers and in factories for low wages and under harsh conditions.

The migrants who arrived in California came from rural communities and small towns in Europe, Mexico, and parts of the United States where fathers had controlled both the labor and the sexual lives of their wives, servants, and children in ways that best supported the patriarchal family economy. This control often arose from religious teachings that “reinforced the importance of premarital chastity in preindustrial communities” and was particularly prevalent in Mexico, “where a code of honor linked a family’s status and reputation to the sexual purity of its daughters and wives.”26 In many Mexican villages, daughters were chaperoned by family members whenever they left home to go to the market, attend religious services, or take part in social events, and were always under watchful eyes to regulate their sexual behavior. This honor–shame paradigm and its protective practices traveled with migrants into the United States, which often led to increased protectiveness and surveillance over daughters and wives in these newly settled, unfamiliar regions.

The sexual behavior of ethnic Mexicans, both US-born Mexicans and Mexican immigrants, was also targeted by US law enforcement officials and the courts in the early 20th century. Mexicans were often portrayed as sexually promiscuous and more prone to criminal activity than Anglos. Such charges helped justify a range of attacks and interventions over the course of the century on the reproductive rights of Latinas. In states like California, the Anglo-led eugenics movement sought to sterilize Mexican women, while early scientific trials of the contraceptive pill were conducted on women in Puerto Rico well before the pill became widely available on the US mainland.27 One of the most egregious attacks on Latinas and their reproductive rights occurred in California, where scores of Latinas were involuntarily sterilized. The court case that exposed some of these types of abuses, Madrigal v. Quilligan (1978), was one of many 20th-century examples of Anglos launching both rhetorical assaults on Latinas’ sex lives and sexuality, and direct physical attacks on their bodies and reproductive rights.

As Madrigal v. Quilligan attests, Latinas/os could be quite skilled at using the legal system to assert their sexual respectability and claims to citizenship rights. Some Mexicans, for instance, defended their sex lives and the sexual respectability of their families in open court as witnesses in trials, while others who had been convicted of sex crimes like prostitution, sodomy, and sexual assault took the bold step of appealing their convictions to state higher courts. In some cases, such as Juan Munoz’s successful appeal of a sodomy conviction in Laredo, Texas, the courts overturned the guilty verdicts.28

Beginning in the early 20th century, policies prohibiting the entrance and acceptance of alleged “sexual deviants” were passed and enforced at the border. In 1917 the US government banned the entry of “constitutional psychopathic inferiors,” a category that included those with abnormal “sexual instincts.” Migrants identified as “sexual deviants,” such as prostitutes and anyone who appeared to engage in same-sex acts, might also have been prevented entry by officials based on their “moral reasoning or criminal history.”29 The 1952 McCarran–Walter Act, also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act, further targeted Latina/o immigrants based on their sexual identities and sexual practices. According to the legislation, migrants could be “denied entry if they were found to be afflicted with psychopathic personality, or sexual deviation or convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.”30 Policies such as these often relied on the visual appearance of the individual, requiring that a man display masculine traits, and that a woman highlight her feminine traits. If they did not present stereotypical gendered characteristics, potential migrants could be denied entry into the United States.

Latina/o activists took a leading role in the 20th century in combating such forms of discrimination and attacks on LGBTQ individuals and communities. In 1960 US immigration officials detained Sara Harb Quiroz as she attempted to enter El Paso, Texas, from Mexico. Quiroz, in her mid-twenties, had been born in Mexico and had received legal status as a permanent resident of the United States in 1954. She lived and worked in El Paso and likely had been visiting her parents and nine-year-old daughter, who lived in Juárez, Mexico. After her detention, Quiroz was interrogated by US officials. According to her lawyer, Quiroz was detained because she did not conform to supposedly appropriate gender roles: the border agent “had a thing for people, especially women . . . who were lesbian, or in his mind were deviates.”31 Quiroz apparently often “wore trousers and a shirt when she came to work and her hair was cut shorter than some women’s.”32 During her interrogation, Quiroz “confessed” that she had engaged in sexual activity with women and even “enjoyed sexual relations more with women than with men.”33 Deported to Mexico based on a US law targeting gay and lesbian immigrants to the country, Quiroz appealed the deportation order. Quiroz’s unsuccessful appeal demonstrated the persistent challenges that Latinas/os mounted against legal forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexuality, in the 20th century.

Latina/o immigrants seeking asylum in the United States based on pervasive sexual discrimination in their home countries also turned, with some success, to the US legal system in the late 20th century. In 1991, Armando Toboso-Alfonso, a gay man who had fled Cuba in 1980, successfully defended a US immigration court ruling that he should be granted asylum and allowed to remain in the United States. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had argued that Toboso-Alfonso should be deported because he was gay. However, an appeals court sided with Toboso-Alfonso and his successful case established a precedent for other cases where gay and lesbian refugees requested asylum in the United States.34

In 1999, Marcelo Tenorio of Brazil also managed to defeat INS attempts to deport him after having been granted asylum in 1993. Tenorio argued that he faced serious danger if forced to return to Brazil, where he had been severely injured in an anti-gay attack. A year later, a Mexican citizen, Geovanni Hernandez-Montiel, also won an appeal case. Targeted by Mexican police for reportedly “adopting female dress and mannerisms,” Hernandez-Montiel was beaten and raped while in police custody.35 The INS denied asylum but Hernandez-Montiel won the case at the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals.

Marriage law and laws against intermarriage presented other important legal arenas for Latinas/os. One example is a case initiated in the 1940s by a Mexican woman, Andrea Perez, who was barred by California state law from marrying her African American fiancée. Perez and her fiancée appealed the case to the California Supreme Court. In 1947, the court ruled in the couple’s favor, overturning California’s anti-intermarriage law. Perez v. Sharp laid a foundation for the landmark Loving v. Virginia case two decades later (1967), where the US Supreme Court’s decision overturned anti-intermarriage or anti-miscegenation laws across the nation.

New community organizations also formed during this period. One of the most successful was the Gay Latino Alliance (GALA). GALA was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1970s. The Bay Area was home to about 80,000 Latinas/os in the 1970s. For Latinas/os who were gay or lesbian, however, specific community or social organizations did not exist, or existed only in small isolated pockets. Rodrigo Reyes was one of the founders of GALA. He recalled that in the 1970s:

The bars were dominated by white folks, and there was no place for Latinos really to come together . . . In addition to that, there were also some racist discriminatory practices on the part of the bars in that sometimes they would ask for an inordinate amount of IDs from people of color. . . . They would ask for two, three picture IDs. So it wasn’t a very happy time for Latino gays. . . . So these things are happening to me at the same time. On the one hand, I am still involved in the gay community, and I am starting to develop more of a consciousness of the Chicano movement, so this is going on hand in hand, more or less.36

Reyes placed an advertisement in a local newspaper announcing a meeting for gay Chicanos. The ad stated: “An organization is now forming in San Francisco to explore and attempt to fill the social, cultural and political needs of the Gay Chicano.”37 Soon, the group included Latinos and Latinas from throughout the Bay Area. GALA members marched in the Gay Freedom Day parade in San Francisco and organized dances and other social events. Before GALA dissolved in the mid-1980s, it had become one of the most successful and visible Latina/o organizations in the country.

Similar organizations were formed elsewhere in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Two groups established in Boston, El Comité de Homosexuales y Lesbianas de Boston (The Gay and Lesbian Committee of Boston) in 1978 and Lesbianas Latinas (Latina Lesbians) in 1986, focused on gay and lesbian rights and anti-AIDS organizing and, like GALA, played significant roles in Boston’s Puerto Rican political organizing community of the 1970s and 1980s.38 Gay Cuban men also played an important role in the development of Miami’s Latina/o community in the 1980s. Many of the men had arrived during the Mariel boatlift of 1980. Determined to create spaces for themselves in their new home, gay Cuban men helped remake Miami’s public culture and politics.39

The AIDS epidemic challenged the growing strength of post-1960 Latina/o organizations when it emerged in the 1980s. Gay Latinos, especially working-class Latinos, suffered disproportionately during the crisis. According to one estimate, in 1983, nearly 15 percent of those suffering from HIV/AIDS were Latinas/os (at the time Latinas/os accounted for little more than 5 percent of the US population). The US Center for Disease Control estimates that since the crisis began, more than 85,000 Latinas/os have died of AIDS.40

Latina/o Sexuality in the 21st Century

In the early years of the 21st century, many of the same themes and trends of earlier periods, such as broader criticisms of the sexual behavior of Latinas/os and widespread resistance to such attacks within Latina/o communities, have reappeared. The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, where nearly fifty people were killed, most of them Latina/o, was one of the most visible tragedies to befall Latinas/os in recent years. The supposedly inappropriate or deviant sexual behavior of Latinas/os has often been used to justify discrimination against their communities and has bolstered calls for harsher immigration policies. At the same time, Latinas/os have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of such attacks and have continued, on both an individual and a community-wide level, to defend their rights, including sexual rights, and their full membership in US culture and society.

Discussion of the Literature

For readers interested in a broad overview of Latina/o sexuality, Marysol Asencio’s edited collection Latina/o Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies is an indispensable resource. There is a great deal of strong scholarship on sexuality in colonial Latin America, however Ramón Gutiérrez’s When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500–1846 remains the standard work in the field, both for its sophisticated theoretical analysis of sexuality and for its wide chronological range, beginning in the 16th century and stretching until the early 1800s. Antonia Castañeda (“Sexual Violence in the Politics and Policies of Conquest: Amerindian Women and the Spanish Conquest of Alta California,” in Building with Our Hands: New Directions in Chicana Studies) and Deena González (Refusing the Favor: The Spanish-Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1820–1880) have also done pioneering work on Chicana history, sexual violence, and intermarriage in the late-18th- and 19th-century Southwest.

Pablo Mitchell has written extensively about sexuality and ethnic Mexican communities in the Southwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s (see Mitchell’s Coyote Nation: Sexuality, Race, and Conquest in Modernizing New Mexico, 1880–1920 and West of Sex: Making Mexican America, 1900–1930). Several important works have examined sexuality during the same period in Puerto Rico and Cuba, including Eileen Findlay’s Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870–1920, Kristin L. Hoganson’s Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish–American and Philippine–American Wars, and Laura Briggs’s Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico.

Scholarship on Latina/o sexuality in the mid-20th century has tended to focus on youth culture in ethnic Mexican communities and the intimate lives of braceros (Mexican contract workers in the US Southwest). Mireya Loza’s Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom and Deborah Cohen’s Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico contain important sections on sexuality in bracero communities, while Luis Alvarez’s The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II and Elizabeth Escobedo’s From Coveralls to Zoot Suits: The Lives of Mexican American Women on the World War II Homefront make similarly valuable contributions to the study of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality in the World War II era. With sections on Cubans in Miami before 1940, Julio Capó Jr. offers a new direction in the history of Latina/o sexuality in his Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940.

While anthropologists and sociologists, rather than historians, have produced much of the research on contemporary Latina/o sexuality, many of these works also contain strong historical frameworks. Especially notable are two books by Gloria González-López (Erotic Journeys: Mexican Immigrants and Their Sex Lives and Family Secrets: Stories of Incest and Sexual Violence in Mexico), as well Iris López’s Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women’s Struggle for Reproductive Freedom, Elena R. Gutiérrez’s, Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-Origin Women’s Reproduction, and Lorena Garcia’s Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself: Latina Girls and Sexual Identity. Susana Peña and Héctor Carillo have both produced influential studies of gay Latinos (see Peña’s ¡Oye Loca!: From the Mariel Boatlift to Gay Cuban Miami and Carillo’s Pathways of Desire: The Sexual Migration of Mexican Gay Men).

Primary Sources

Scholars of colonial-era Latina/o sexuality have tended to rely on both legal and church records for their research. Religious archives often contain documents on marriage, annulment, baptism, and investigations of sexual impropriety such as premarital sex, adultery, bigamy, and sodomy. Legal records have also proven to be valuable primary sources. In addition to the passage and enforcement of laws governing sexuality, such documents include cases of sexual assault, sodomy, adultery, and bigamy.

Church and legal records have been similarly valuable for historians of 19th-century Latina/o sexuality. Scholars have also turned to sources like Spanish-language newspapers as well as letters and memoirs covering courtship and marriage, medical journals focusing on sex and sexuality in Latina/o communities, and US census records.

The expansion of the US federal government and state and local governments in the 20th century generated a wider array of primary sources on Latina/o sexuality, including documents from immigration and border enforcement bureaus, offices of public health, and local, state, and federal law enforcement institutions. Historians have also assembled an impressive collection of oral histories that often contain vital information on Latina/o sexuality. One such archive is the Bracero History Archive. Another important set of 20th-century primary sources has been the writing of Latinas and Latinos such as John Rechy, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Sylvia Rivera, Achy Obejas, and Reinaldo Arenas, who focus on topics like same-sex intimacy and love, lesbian and transgender identity, and sexual norms and expectations in Latina/o communities. One of the most revealing contemporary primary sources, though tragic, have been the obituaries of Latinos who died of HIV/AIDS that historian Horacio Roque Ramírez analyzed in his widely influential scholarship.

Further Reading

Alvarez, Luis. The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance During World War II. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.Find this resource:

    Asencio, Marysol, ed. Latina/o Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

      Briggs, Laura. Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.Find this resource:

        Brown, Tracy. “‘Abominable Sin’ in Colonial New Mexico: Spanish and Pueblo Perceptions of Same-Sex Sexuality.” In Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America. Edited by Thomas A. Foster, 51–77. New York: New York University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

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                                                                                          Notes:

                                                                                          (2.) Asencio, Latina/o Sexualities.

                                                                                          (10.) Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality.

                                                                                          (11.) Gutiérrez, “A History of Latina/o Sexualities,” 17.

                                                                                          (12.) Gutiérrez, “A History of Latina/o Sexualities,” 23.

                                                                                          (13.) Tracy Brown, “‘Abominable Sin’ in Colonial New Mexico: Spanish and Pueblo Perceptions of Same-Sex Sexuality,” in Foster, Long Before Stonewall, 52.

                                                                                          (14.) Brown, “‘Abominable Sin’ in Colonial New Mexico,” 52.

                                                                                          (15.) Brown, “‘Abominable Sin’ in Colonial New Mexico,” 52.

                                                                                          (16.) Brown, “‘Abominable Sin’ in Colonial New Mexico,” 51.

                                                                                          (18.) Gutiérrez, “A History of Latina/o Sexualities,” 26.

                                                                                          (19.) Gutiérrez, “A History of Latina/o Sexualities,” 26.

                                                                                          (20.) Gutiérrez, “A History of Latina/o Sexualities,” 26.

                                                                                          (21.) Gutiérrez, “A History of Latina/o Sexualities,” 26.

                                                                                          (22.) Gutiérrez, “A History of Latina/o Sexualities,” 36.

                                                                                          (25.) Briggs, Reproducing Empire.

                                                                                          (30.) Cantú, The Sexuality of Migration, 47.

                                                                                          (32.) Luibhéid, Entry Denied, 81.

                                                                                          (33.) Luibhéid, Entry Denied, 90.

                                                                                          (35.) Randazzo, “Social and Legal Barriers,” 37.

                                                                                          (37.) Roque Ramírez, “‘That’s My Place!,’” 231.

                                                                                          (39.) Susana Peña, “Visibility and Silence: Mariel and Cuban American Gay Male Experience and Representation,” in Luibhéid and Cantú, Queer Migrations, 125–145.

                                                                                          (40.) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 30 Years of HIV in Hispanic/Latino Communities: A Timeline (Atlanta: n.d., c. 2018).