“NOCHE DE AMBIENTE”
Through February 2017
GLBT History Museum
4127 18th St., SF.
For decades, Spanish speakers in many parts of the Western Hemisphere recognize the word ambiente — literally meaning “atmosphere” or “environment” — as a coded reference. Queer Latinas and Latinos have used the word to identify themselves, their distinctive cultures and their spirit of resistance.
The term is at the heart of a new exhibition that will debut October 28 at the GLBT History Museum: “Noche de Ambiente.” The show opens a window into the meanings of ambiente as reflected in Latino drag performance and LGBTQ and AIDS activism in San Francisco from the 1970s into the 1990s.
Curated by Juliana Delgado Lopera and Ángel Rafael “Ralph” Vázquez-Concepción, the exhibition brings together documents, images and videos from the GLBT Historical Society’s archives as well as materials contributed by community members.
“Growing up in Puerto Rico, the word ambiente was familiar; I heard it a lot when I was a kid in the ’80s,” says Vázquez-Concepción. “Later I came to understand the shielding effect it has. Like a spell, it turns the space it refers to into Latinx queer domain.”
Delgado Lopera first learned the word from the woman she sees as her queer mother, Adela Vázquez, who told Lopera stories that opened an underground world of queer Latinidad invisible to the public eye. Through Vázquez she met many queer Latinas and Latinos active during the 1980s and 1990s, some of whom formed her chosen family. “I’m committed to the unearthing and preservation of their stories because they’re part of me, they created openings for me to exist,” Lopera says.