Book cover for “Brown and Gay in LA: The Lives of Immigrant Sons.” Photo courtesy of Samantha Gonzaga.

Anthony Ocampo, the author of Brown and Gay in L.A.: The Lives of Immigrant Sons, recently spoke to CALÓ NEWS about his journey to self-acceptance. Despite growing up in Los Angeles, Ocampo did not have much exposure to queer representation in his neighborhood of Eagle Rock. Ocampo recounted how his life was largely confined to the surrounding areas of Eagle Rock, such as Glendale and Burbank. Even West Hollywood, which is often considered the center of gay culture in LA, tended to cater predominantly to white gay men.

Ocampo, however, was surrounded by diverse Latino, Black and Asian communities. He said that he found solace in the fact that there were many venues where he could be around people with similar cultural and ethnic backgrounds who also happened to identify as queer. This experience helped him become comfortable with his own various identities as he ventured into a journey of self-discovery in adulthood. 

Today, Ocampo is a professor of sociology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He frequently writes on topics of immigration, gender and sexuality and Latino-Asian identity. For his book, Ocampo interviewed more than 60 individuals of Mexican, Filipino and Salvadoran descent, focusing on queer narratives that fell outside of the traditional white gay stories generally told in the mainstream. 

In Chapter 1 of his book, Ocampo writes that “Coming out as gay is sometimes framed as a personal journey. But like the journey immigrants make, it’s hardly an individual act.” In so many ways this is reflective of his own experience as a Filipino-American who was raised in an immigrant household that did not openly discuss sexual identity. 

Ocampo recalled being cognizant at an early age that his parents, like so many immigrant parents, expressed their love through sacrifice. Having migrated from the Philippines to the United States during the 1980s, both his mother and father worked hard to provide. “Every immigrant child knows that their family sacrificed a lot to provide opportunities to their kids,” Ocampo said, “so I was intrigued at how one tiny piece of information, like being gay, could upend that completely.” 

Ocampo, Anthony2-Anthony Ocampo is Associate Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona October 24, 2018. Photo courtesy of Samantha Gonzaga.

In chronicling the stories of dozens of gay men of color, Ocampo said that he discovered that there were consistent trends of young men feeling rejected by family after coming out. Ocampo credits writing Brown and Gay in L.A as part of the reason he was able to navigate the complexities of his own family dynamics.  “I started conducting interviews for the book during a time when my family and I were really not openly talking about me being gay,” he said.

Although Ocampo joked that he didn’t expect his parents to “throw him a party” there was a lot of initial surprise, confusion, and apprehension. “I think perhaps, even if they didn’t say it out loud, there is some fear about what gay people experience in the world and what it means for their son to take on an identity that could lead to possible harm.”

Today, Ocampo finds himself in a very different place with his parents and he credits writing his book as a crucial part of the generational healing process that led to his eventual acceptance and understanding of queerness in his adulthood. By documenting the stories of other gay Brown men from similar cultures and backgrounds, Ocampo was able to explore his own inter-family dynamics with greater ease and insight.

Ocampo’s storytelling themes frequently address the intersections of sexuality and race. The Los Angeles Times describes Brown and Gay in L.A.: The Lives of Immigrant Sons as a “nuanced perspective on this particular kind of coming-of-age: coming out, perhaps leaving home for college, finding new families in public and private spaces.” The book is divided by interview subjects, each capturing a different person’s experience and highlighting the complexities and vulnerabilities that come with living as a queer, brown man in today’s society. 

Brown and Gay in L.A. aims to challenge the stigma around queerness and the common portrayal of gay identity as primarily traumatic and painful. Growing up, Ocampo said that he witnessed mostly negative representations of gay men in the media, such as with the coverage of the AIDS epidemic. As a young man, he noticed that pop culture often portrayed gay men as overly effeminate or as punchlines in jokes. “You can’t have [it] like that,” he said, “you can’t enjoy those punch lines and then be silent when there are queer book bannings or shootings like what happened at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.” 

Brown and Gay in L.A.: The Lives of Immigrant Sons seeks to capture a wide representation of queer experiences. Ocampo said he learned a lot from writing the book about redefining family structures, seeking and finding community and ultimately achieving self-acceptance. 

In response to a question by CALÓ NEWS about what “acceptance” meant to him now, Ocampo stated that it was moving beyond the culture of tolerance for gay individuals and into an era of celebration of queer identities, from all different types of backgrounds and experiences. “Acceptance means proactively advocating for the inclusion of queer people and also celebrating their existence.”

Brown and Gay in L.A.: The Lives of Immigrant Sons is now available for sale in paperback or hardcover.

Michelle Zacarias is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she teaches Engaging Diverse Communities. Originally from Chicago...