There was no way “Juan” could keep his secret anymore. He was 20 years old, still living at home, and had never had a girlfriend or gotten a girl pregnant.

In his little, dusty village in northern Mexico people were starting to whisper. And his parents wondered why Juan, the youngest of their nine children, was not raising a family like his siblings.

So instead of explaining to his family that he was gay and bringing shame upon them, Juan took what he thought was the easy route. He left home, traveled to the desert border, and made the dangerous trek into the United States past barbed wire fences and security checkpoints, becoming an illegal immigrant.

“That was 20 years ago,” said Juan, a muscular, built guy with a shaved head, goatee and the name “Perlita” tattooed on his big biceps. “I just ran across the border.”

“Why do you have Perlita on your arm,” I asked.

“That was the name of the only female I loved. And it is also my mother’s name,” he answered.

I met Juan when I was in Los Angeles at a gay bar near my hotel and struck up a conversation. The city is a mash of cultures — Chinese, Japanese, Samoan, African American, American Indian, European and of course Latino.

I cannot remember having a conversation with a Mexican immigrant before — in Washington I see them working in restaurants, building the roads, and doing the landscaping. But there always seems to be an uneasy gulf between blacks and Latinos that is hard to overcome.

I had to admit Juan appeared intimidating — he looked like your typical media image of a Mexican gang banger from the hood. In fact I told him he resembled a young Charles Bronson. He had the same wide face and high cheekbones.

“I’ve heard that before,” he said.

But I soon found Juan had a kind, and erotic soul under his stoic exterior.

“I knew I was gay even when I was a kid in Mexico,” he said. “I was always attracted to dark-skinned men. I guess that is why I got into black guys when I came to Los Angeles.”

Juan told me he used to work in a sports club when he was a teenager and a soccer team from Brazil visited. He would steal chances to clean the showers and the locker rooms so he could catch a glimpse of their dark, lean bodies. He would even take their sweaty underwear and jockstraps, go into a private corner, put the garments to his nose, and inhale deeply.

“I would jerk off smelling their underwear. That was so hot.”

He also had a crush on a childhood friend. This friend had African blood and was darker skinned than many of the people who lived in his town.

“One day when we were teenagers we got drunk one night and he fell asleep,” Juan said. “I leaned over and kissed him. I don’t think he ever knew I did that.”

After Juan moved to Los Angeles he had several lovers, including a black man for 11 years. He got his citizenship and now works for an organization that helps abused women and children.

His boss is encouraging him to become a counselor because he has a knack for helping people and getting them to open up about their problems.

“Hey Immanuel, nice talking to you but I got to go,” he said after we had talked for an hour. “I promised a friend from out of town I would walk her dogs while she was away. I better go before they piss all over the place.”

Thanks for telling me your story Juan.


  1. I worked for INS for a year and it was always nice to meet people from different cultures who would share their life experiences. It was refreshing and it also taught me how similar we all are if we would just take the time to get to know each other.

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