Homosexual vaquero conventions have a good time cowboys, id in Mexico



All evening lengthy, cowboys swaggered right into a packed nightclub, dressed to impress in shiny boots, tight Wranglers and wide-brimmed hats.

That they had come to throw again tequila and Tecate, to sing alongside to blasting banda and to bounce — chest-to-chest, legs entwined — with one another.

Every spring, tons of of males from throughout Mexico and the US make a pilgrimage to this colourful colonial metropolis for an annual gathering of homosexual vaqueros — or cowboys. At personal occasions held over an extended weekend, they share carne asada and conventional folks dances and crown a cowboy king.

Pop music is forbidden. As a substitute, reside bands play for hours, with musicians in matching fits churning out cumbia and Norteña hits as a sea of Stetsons fills the dance flooring.

For Mariano Escobar, the lanky 51-year-old bar proprietor who hosted what he believes was Mexico’s first homosexual cowboy conference right here in Zacatecas 18 years in the past, it’s nothing in need of heaven.

Along with his python boots and plaid shirt unbuttoned to disclose a luxurious tuft of grey chest hair, Escobar mentioned the concept behind that first celebration was easy — if a bit self-interested.

“I like to decorate like a cowboy,” he mentioned, “and I like guys who gown that manner, too.”

Because the occasion has expanded and the subculture has unfold, with weekend-long vaquero conventions now held in additional than a dozen cities on either side of the border, the gatherings have change into a refuge for homosexual males searching for connection not simply with one another, however with Mexican id itself.

In spite of everything, whereas the occasion attracts precise cowboys — males leathered by lengthy days tending crops or cattle — it additionally attracts accountants, attorneys and different metropolis folks for whom donning western put on is each a kink and a lifeline to Mexico’s rural previous.

“Once you come right here, you’re feeling a sure satisfaction in being Mexican,” mentioned Emmanuel Fernández, a 29-year-old lawyer from Mexico Metropolis who first discovered in regards to the world of homosexual vaqueros whereas residing in Atlanta.

Life in Georgia was alienating, Fernández mentioned. He labored so much, spoke no English and sensed that Individuals lived like robots, too preoccupied with their jobs and routines to get pleasure from life.

Then he found a Latin nightclub, the Sanctuary, and its common homosexual cowboy evening. Dancing the huapango there reminded him of his youth spent performing folks dances at native festivals. It additionally recalled visits to his grandfather’s espresso farm in Veracruz state, the place the entire household would collect to work the land after which share leisurely meals. “It connects you to your roots,” he mentioned.

Cowboy tradition is deeply ingrained within the Mexican psyche, with most of the nation’s most iconic historic figures — revolutionary fighter Francisco “Pancho” Villa, singer Pedro Infante, drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán — recognized for a tricky nation model.

It’s no accident.

To heal divisions after the bitterly fought revolution of 1910, Mexican leaders got down to construct a way of shared nationwide id. Movies and songs romanticized ranch tradition and held up the tequila-swigging, horse-riding vaquero as the best Mexican man.

Right this moment, that imaginative and prescient is at odds with the lives of most Mexicans, who in latest many years have migrated en masse from rural areas to cities and suburbs in Mexico or the US.

The cowboy conference is a gathering level for males — lots of them a era or two faraway from the countryside — with a shared nostalgia, mentioned Angel Villalobos, a 53-year-old trainer.

“It is a area for individuals with a typical historical past,” he mentioned.

It’s additionally an opportunity for homosexual males to say a bit of Mexican tradition, which, Villalobos mentioned pointedly, “is ours, too.”

He was 4 when his household moved from a cotton ranch to Monterrey, a sprawling industrial metropolis a number of hours south of Texas. His dad went to work in factories, and Villalobos roamed congested streets promoting sweet apples and newspapers. Nonetheless, he retained his cowboy model, begging his mother for secondhand boots. He knew he was homosexual, and he hoped that embracing a tricky exterior would defend him in a tradition recognized for its machismo and homophobia.

A bearded man wearing a jacket and cowboy hat hands other cowboys shots of tequila.

Angel Villalobos, 53, of Monterrey, proper, among the many contestants vying to be “Rostro vaquero,” greets different vaqueros at a welcome luncheon.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Along with his jutting jawline and sq. shoulders, Villalobos regarded a bit of just like the Marlboro Man as he greeted the stream of males strolling right into a bar in downtown Zacatecas on the conference’s first evening. He provided them photographs of tequila and lighters that featured his likeness.

A number of different candidates additionally vying to be named “rostro vaquero,” the official face of the conference, did the identical.

Villalobos had introduced a marketing campaign group with him from Monterrey, together with his pal Cesar Monsivais, an influencer who works in private branding.

“He’s too shy,” Monsivais mentioned as Villalobos nervously gulped his beer and posed for pictures with a bunch of smitten attendees. “I’ve spent two months teaching him.”

The rostro vaquero competitors is a cheeky nod to rural Mexican festivals the place younger ladies in elaborate attire are topped “princesses” or “queens.”

Candidates had been anticipated to schmooze with pageant individuals and participate in a dance-off, every man exhibiting off fancy footwork whereas a standard Zacatecan tamborazo band performed.

However this wasn’t only a magnificence pageant.

The contestants had been judged not solely on charisma and appears however for neighborhood involvement.

Men in jeans and cowboy hats dance close together during the day at an outdoor venue.

Males maintain one another shut as they dance. Many on the conference embraced their sexuality later in life.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Villalobos, for instance, teaches conventional dance. One in every of his rivals, a police officer named Eros Herrera, just lately opened a homeless shelter and soup kitchen within the metropolis of San Luis Potosi that serves the homosexual, lesbian and transgender neighborhood.

Rights for LGBTQ+ Mexicans have tremendously expanded lately, with same-sex marriage now authorized in all states. Nonetheless, 87 individuals had been killed final yr due to their gender id or sexual orientation, in line with the nonprofit Letra S. Mexican soccer followers are well-known for taunting opposing groups with a homophobic slur.

Right here within the provinces, there’s no query that queerness continues to be taboo.

When an area authorities official was filmed singing at a homosexual vaquero conference within the largely rural state of Coahuila in 2018, he was criticized extensively. The video has been watched 2.6 million occasions on YouTube, with viewers commenting with messages of assist but in addition nasty jokes.

In Zacatecas, a small, conservative metropolis with dozens of Baroque church buildings however only a handful of homosexual bars, many occasion attendees mentioned they wouldn’t dare present affection in public.

“Once I’m on the road I’m very discreet,” mentioned Daniel Renteria, a 56-year-old agave farmer from a city an hour and a half away. “I don’t wish to go round hugging or kissing.”

As soon as contained in the conference, although, he and his accomplice, 36-year-old fruit vendor Ramiro Garcia, hardly ever stopped touching.

Dressed practically identically in black hats, comfortable denims and glossy button-up shirts, every with a cellphone strapped to his hip, they held arms as they watched a well-liked cumbia band play on the conference’s second evening.

Later, when the deejay dropped a bouncing ballad about forbidden love, “La Puerta Negra” by Los Tigres del Norte, Garcia pulled Renteria onto the ground. They embraced as they swayed to the music, every with a hand across the small of the opposite’s again.

When the pair met a number of years in the past, Garcia, who’s from Zacatecas, favored shorts and flip-flops. It was Renteria who transformed him right into a vaquero.

Two men embrace on a flotation device in a swimming pool.

Daniel Renteria, left, and his accomplice, Ramiro Garcia, embrace at a pool celebration.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

“You don’t essentially must be from a ranch to be a cowboy,” Renteria defined.

Like most of the males on the conference, Renteria embraced his sexuality later in life. The catalyst? A mind aneurysm that almost killed him.

Renteria had been residing for 25 years along with his feminine accomplice and their 5 youngsters in Paramount, a metropolis in Los Angeles County. He labored for many years in a T-shirt manufacturing unit after which at an oil refinery. All of the whereas he missed Mexico. The aneurysm spurred him to maneuver dwelling. There, he began engaged on his brother’s farm and fell in love with a cowboy.

His youngsters are conscious of his boyfriend and assist him, though his 85-year-old father and former accomplice in California nonetheless don’t.

Males inside Mexican tradition who’re drawn to different males typically have a lonely existence wherein “they’re separated” from one another and their very own wishes, Renteria mentioned. “Having to cover your self is difficult. Occasions like this one unite us.”

Others shared comparable tales.

Jesús Rubalcava grew up in a rural immigrant neighborhood in Arizona. “I don’t know if I ever bought full acceptance,” mentioned the 43-year-old highschool principal and former Arizona state legislator.

 Men in cowboy hats present a friend with a birthday cake.

Carlos Vazquez, middle, celebrates his twenty fifth birthday with Alejandro Gonzalez, left, and Fernando Jairo Medrano, proper.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

He mentioned his household doesn’t perceive why he spends a lot money and time attending vaquero occasions, together with the $5,000 he shelled out for T-shirts, beer coolers and different items that helped him win final yr’s rostro vaquero contest right here.

But it surely’s all been value it, he mentioned. Together with the engraved silver belt buckle bestowed on all contest winners, he’s gained friendship and even love. He met his boyfriend on the Zacatecas conference a number of years in the past.

The 2 stood within the solar at a barbecue on the conference’s third day, greeting a stream of acquaintances with bear hugs because the odor of grilled beef crammed the air.

The Zacatecas occasion has spawned a number of marriages, mentioned Escobar, the occasion’s founder. “And much more weekend flings,” he added, grinning.

 Jesus Rubalcava, 43, of Gila Bend, Arizona, displays his embossed belt buckle at a welcoming luncheon at Alicia Garden

Jesus Rubalcava, 43, of Gila Bend, Ariz., shows his embossed belt buckle at a welcome luncheon at Alicia Backyard in Zacatecas, Mexico.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Courtships bloomed on the bar, in line for tacos and subsequent to a desk overflowing with cookies and cake. On one scorching afternoon, many males stripped right down to trunks and jumped right into a pool, lounging on floating plastic toys.

Beto Cardona, a 36-year-old actor from Mexico Metropolis who got here to the occasion with a pal, mentioned he thought the entire thing was stunning — if a bit old school.

Many males on the occasion embraced a hyper-masculine model that bordered on machismo, he mentioned. A number of attendees flaunted extra adventurous seems — a pearl necklace right here, a lace shirt there — however most didn’t.

One in every of them had criticized Cardona for carrying gold hoops in his ears.

“You’re good-looking,” the person informed him. “However you must act much less female.”

The person had accused him of performing “apparent,” as in clearly homosexual.

As a substitute of being damage, Cardona tried to place the remark in context. He knew that years in the past, when most of the individuals on the vaquero occasion had been coming of age, showing homosexual was dangerous.

“If this had occurred many years in the past, the police might need arrived and rounded all people up,” Cardona mentioned.

“They’re a bit of extra hardened,” he mentioned of his queer elders. “I used to be born with the appropriate to say: ‘I’m homosexual.’ ”

Banda R-15 Del Korita Gonzalez performs at the annual gay cowboy convention "Reunion Vaquera" at Juana Gayo Club

Banda R-15 performs on the annual homosexual cowboy conference “Reunion Vaquera” at Juana Gayo Membership in Zacatecas, Mexico.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

On the final massive evening of the conference, Banda R-15 took the stage.

Named after the semi-automatic model of rifle, the Nayarit-based musical group is known, its brass-driven songs about treacherous ladies and wild events emblematic of vaquero tradition in central and northern Mexico.

It felt like a victory of types to see the famed group taking part in for a membership stuffed with males dancing with different males.

Enrique Palacio, 34, of Zacatecas, copies the dance moves of the musical group La Sonora Dinamita .

Enrique Palacio, 34, of Zacatecas copies the dance strikes of the musical group La Sonora Dinamita because it performs on the conference.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

And if one of many older band members later made a disparaging remark in regards to the viewers throughout a cigarette break (“It’s not their fault they’re this manner — it’s as a result of their mother and father raised them like ladies”), at the very least it was out of earshot of any of the individuals.

After midnight, the ballots had been counted and the cowboy king was topped. The belt buckle and a colourful sash emblazoned with “Rostro Vaquero Zacatecas” ended up going to Herrera, the police officer who runs the LGBTQ+ middle.

Components of the gang chanted his identify (“Eros! Eros!”) whereas others joked {that a} recount was so as. Herrera, beaming, posed for pictures and uploaded a selfie to the Fb web page of his neighborhood group in San Luis Potosi.

Men kiss under club lights.

Alex Campos, left, and Alejandro Gonzalez kiss at a membership within the former mining metropolis’s historic middle.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Because the occasion wound down, a touch of unhappiness settled over the membership. Quickly, individuals would slip off their boots, field up theirs hats and return, for some time, to a non-cowboy life.

It might be at the very least one other month earlier than many would collect once more — at a vaquero conference in Could in San Luis Potosi, maybe, or, for these with the power to journey to the U.S., at an enormous conference in Los Angeles in July.

Fernando Jairo Medrano, a hairdresser in Nayarit state, mentioned that when he’s dwelling, he works time beyond regulation and infrequently goes out as a way to save up cash for his subsequent journey.

His members of the family don’t perceive his obsession, his weekends with different vaqueros. They don’t must, he says.

“It’s my time,” is what he tells them. “It’s my time.”

Vaqueros dance as night falls.

Vaqueros dance as evening falls.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

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