“Searching, searching for my baby, I’m searching, searching for my love,” croons Chico Jenkins of the band Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces in the classic doo wop song “Searching For
It’s one of many tunes on the classic album East Side Story, Vol. 1-12, popularized by its now iconic images of Latino men and women posing with lowrider cars. But for as long as the band searched for love, LGBT Latinos searched for representation in Chicano culture.
Now a group of artists are reimagining the album covers of East Side Story, showcasing the LGBT community center stage atop the classic lowriders.
The photo gallery is called “The Q-Sides” and opened at the Galeria de la Raza in late May. The photos are the vision of Vero Majano, DJ Brown Amy (Amy Martinez) and photographer Kari Orvik.
The gallery shows LGBT Latino women, among others, taking center stage next to classic lowrider cars. Some photos feature the artists themselves, as well as other local luminaries like drag performer Juanita MORE! next to classic cars.
Much like their weekend rides through San Francisco, the photographed lowriders are sometimes pivoted at angles by hydraulics — a classic pose.
“They were all around me when I grew up, it was like urban bird watching,” Majano said of the lowriders. “I’d run out of my house to see them drive up and down. Not just the cars, but the street culture.”
“It was the Mission,” said Majano, a San Francisco native.
Still, as much as she was a part of that Chicano culture, she was apart from it as well. The LGBT community was not seen as an outward part of lowrider or Latino culture at the time.
“We were on the side, you know?” Majano said. Now the photos depict a broad range of identities in a classic setting. But Orvik emphasized it was not about replacing the vibrant lowrider community, but rather embracing it.
“We’re not trying to change those photos; they’re perfect as they are,” Orvik said. “We’re adding representation.”
Even now, exclusion and outright negativity toward LGBT Latinos continues. Shortly after the gallery had its opening night at Galeria de la Raza, a mural depicting LGBT Latinos outside the gallery was defaced. Vitriolic comments online followed the defacement, calling for violence against the LGBT community.
“As artists it’s OK if you don’t agree with what we’re doing,” Majano said, “but instigating violence is not OK.”
In stark contrast to that fleeting negativity, the opening of the gallery was awash in good vibes, DJ Brown Amy said. Members of the Latino lowrider community, many from the Bay Bombs lowrider club, danced and laughed side by side with LGBT Latinos.
As the oldies music bumped loud, “everyone was doing the ‘electric slide,’” Amy said.
She said it made two cultures realize something: They were always one.
“Queer people are in Chicano culture,” Amy said. “We’ve always been here.”