Exclusive Interview: Dan Guerrero is Here to Entertain You with ¡Gaytino!

Have you heard of a ‘gaytino’? You know—a gay Latino? Yeah—that’s a thing—well, it’s a term that is used by some and being popularized by artist Dan Guerrero. Guerrero, who is 78-years-young, is one of the hardest working gays in show business as he has been touring with his show ¡Gaytino! Made in America for the last twelve years. The Chicano who has taken musical theater by storm since the 60s created a solo show in 2006 that has been his narrative of not only living as a gay man, but being the son of a Chicano legend Lalo Guerrero.

¡Gaytino! has played in spaces all over the nation, but on November 11th, Guerrero’s work will be filmed for the first time at his alma mater of East Los Angeles College. The road to a live filming of ¡Gaytino! has been long for Guerrero, as he has had to turn to crowdfunding for this project. The multi-textured performance piece has been described as a “live stage documentary” because of its historic and educational relevance.

The film will be accompanied by a study guide that explores both Mexican-American/Chicano and gay culture and history from Dan’s adolescence in1950s East LA, to the New York theatre scene in the 60s and 70s, and back to Hollywood and to the present, interweaving the two communities that create Guerrero’s extraordinary life story.

When Guerrero attended ELAC right out of high school it was a different time when he asserts you couldn’t even say you were gay. This reality, although internalized by Guerrero for some time, was the catalyst that shot him to success on Broadway and Off-Broadway.

Early on Guerrero’s sexual identity posed a roadblock in his relationship with his family, but when his family learned who he really was they accepted him and fully welcomed him. Such are the themes in Guerrero’s ¡Gaytino! which now, more than ever, is a vital dialogue in addressing issues within the LGBTQ community as we navigate through the political climate.

Inspired by classical musicals of the 40s and 50s, Guerrero has contributed to the queer Latino conversation with this work. The filmed version of his work will bring ¡Gaytino! to the masses sharing its universal themes of self-identity and self-acceptance. And did I mention that Guerrero is 78?! Like a fine wine, this show man is only getting better with age!

Guerrero has long been an influential activist, speaking out in print, television and radio interviews in English and Spanish on both Latino/Chicano and LGBTQ issues. He has been recognized for his activism and career achievements by many including the California State Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the National Council of La Raza, the California Legislature Assembly and the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, in addition to industry honors that include an Imagen Award, an Honorary Local Emmy Award and an Alma Award nomination.

I had a great conversation with Dan Guerrero where we spoke about the trajectory of ¡Gaytino! and its relevance in today’s world—especially for LGBTQ youth.

What is ¡Gaytino!?

Well, first and foremost I like to say that it is an entertainment. I mean you go and you have a great time. It’s funny, it’s poignant. A lot of my friends say it’s a rollercoaster “I was crying one minute and then the next minute I was laughing” so it’s an entertainment. And I point that out because it is also very very educational. It’s Chicano history which is widely unknown, even by Chicanos. It’s gay history as I saw it, as I lived it. So it is definitely educational, but sometimes when you use that word people are like “Oh my God, it’s going to be a lecture!” but it is not. It’s not a lecture and I do not stand on a soap box and say “Oh how I suffered in this or suffered in that”. There are moments when I make it very clear what it was like, but it is an entertainment. It has music and projections and it’s really beautiful. Nearly all of my creative staff are Latinos—my choreographer, my set designer, my executive producer, I even have the Mariachi Arco Iris.

So how long did it take you to create this show [¡Gaytino!]?

It’s kind of hard to say because I feverishly worked for a couple of months and then I did a project for four months then I’d go back to it, but I’d say between a year, year and a half. But I do it’s important to note that I was 65 when I wrote it. I had never written a play, I had not performed on stage in 35 years—and look what it’s become! And I say that so that people can know that you can do whatever the fuck you want and it’s never too late to do what you want to do. Follow your heart and follow your dream

Since its premiere in 2006, have you edited or made any changes to the show that we know today?

OH MY GOD! Huuuuuge! The show has grown and matured much more than I personally have. I’ve probably added 15 minutes because as the times change, as politics change, it has to! I’m not talking about the current president, but the climate—I felt I had to be stronger and more pointed in some areas. It’s changed considerably and I’m really proud of it.

How has life been for you as the son of an incredibly influential Chicano icon [Lalo Guerrero]?

Well of course it’s very funny and that’s all in my show. The irony is that I discovered musical theater when I was 13 years old and that was it for me! That’s why I moved to New York as soon as I finished two years at East L.A. College and I lived there for 20 years doing musical theater. So that was it. I didn’t even like Mexican music. So there was my dad being at the height of who he is in the 50s and I’m in my room listening to ‘Bye Bye Birdie’. So it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate who he was, but in his career he would tour, he’d be home all day because he’d be singing at his club all night, he would write music, and do all that. In that era, the mom would raise the kids and the dad brought home the bacon it was much more structured so we always had a loving relationship. But we weren’t close because we had so little in common. He had much more in common with my brother because they both liked sports the both played the guitar. But the good news is that you fast forward to when I came back from New York after 20 years and I started producing and doing a lot more Latino shows and people would find out who my dad was they’d ask me “Can your dad do the show?”  So for the last 20 years of his life was OUR time and we had everything in common.

How has Chicano culture played a part in your own coming out or your life as a gay man?

When I was growing up you were just gay and that’s what you did or you were Mexican American and that’s what you did. And now there’s courses and there’s learning and books and it’s a completely different experience and I’m learning too because I’m like “Well I’ve just been gay, period, my whole life” I had no idea that there was this thing called political identity where you are a person of color and also gay. How come I didn’t know about that? In some ways it makes things easier and in some ways a lot more complicated, especially with social media, it’s such a different experience today, but I look at young gay people today and I’m so proud of them. I see them all over the country–gay men and women and transgender and how brave and proud they are to be who they are. And in my time we had to keep it a secret. I was Mexican American and there was nothing I could do about it and I felt the same way about being gay, for which I am very grateful. By the time I was 12 I accepted it because I knew it wasn’t something I could change and I am lucky that I felt that way because we know that especially in that area so many men suppressed it, got married, had kids. I’m lucky I never had an issue with it.

And aren’t you glad—because gay men are the best!

Ooooh! I tell everyone, you can’t beat having a gay best friend. You can’t! They’re fun, they’re festive.

So can you share your own coming out story?

I don’t really have one because you have to realize the time. I always say I never really came out I more ‘oozed’ out. A little here, a little there. There was no big coming out moment. It just wasn’t like it is today. When I was 16 my dad basically asked me if I was gay, and if I was they would understand, and I denied it. I was afraid because he was saying it, but I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t even know what gay was. I knew that I liked boys, but I didn’t know what that meant for my life. The whole thing was just too big and too scary. I denied it. It wasn’t until I was living in New York and my dad took my best friend Carlos Almaraz to lunch and asked him and Carlos outed me! So then Carlos sent me a note that said “Well, the cat is out of the bag. Your dad asked and I told him.” So Dad and I talked on the phone and he was fine and he understood and accepted it and then we decided not to tell Mom. She was a little more innocent to the ways of the world. Years past and I moved back to L.A. with my partner Richard and my mother is asking my brothers why we had a two bedroom, but didn’t each have our own room. So my brother outed me to my mom! She was angry because everyone knew and she didn’t know. She accepted and she adored Richard! So I didn’t really come out.

How is this show different from anything you’ve done in your career?

In every single way! Pick something. In every way. First of all it’s completely autobiographical. It’s my story. But it’s not just about me. It’s about Dad, it’s about my best friend Carlos who we lost to HIV/AIDS in 1989, and it’s about the times. It’s a bigger story than just my story. It’s Chicano history and at no extra charge you get the gay experience!

Why is ¡Gaytino! so necessary now more than ever?

It’s more important than ever that our voices be heard. After that election night my initial reaction was “My god! This is gonna be deep. I better lay low with Gaytino for a while.” This is gonna be dangerous, I really felt that. But several days later I thought “Absolutely not!” it’s more important than ever to do my show. That’s when I added the tagline, Made in America, it makes a point that we’re Americans too. It’s more important than ever for all of us to stand up and resist. This is scary and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Additionally, the Latino gay man is exactly the same as in the general population. You go to a GLAAD awards ceremony, how many Latinos do you see there? Besides the waiters and the bus boys? And how many do you see on the stage of that show? We’re just as marginalized within in the gay community as we are in the general population. Which just mystifies me because we all know how many white boys love their Latino men! I just don’t get it.

In preparation for the filming of ¡Gaytino! Guerrero will be in conversation with Tony Estrada at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers. The event is part of the Arts Division’s Artists & Icons series and has free admission, but RSVP is required.

For more information on ¡Gaytino! Made in America, check out the website.

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