The willingness of any parent to adapt their way of thinking to make their child happy is a beautiful thing.
When Santiago Vasquez’s son told him he was gay, Santiago looked at his wife, then burst into tears of joy.
Santiago is featured in “El Canto del Colibri,” a powerful and raw new documentary about Latino dads coming to grips with their children’s sexuality in a culture that often has zero tolerance for it.
“Colibri” means hummingbird in Spanish. “Much like the seldom-heard song of the hummingbird, the voices of Latino fathers are rarely heard in addressing LGBTQ issues,” the opening lines of the documentary explain.
So “El Canto del Colibri” is “the song of the hummingbird.”
In the documentary, Santiago said it was a relief for him to hear that his son was gay.
He saw an excruciating look of pain on his son’s face when he said he needed to tell them something. Based on that look, Santiago, a police officer, said he immediately thought his son, Santi, was maybe on drugs or perhaps he had witnessed a crime.
But when he heard Santi’s words, he asked to give him a big hug and a kiss. “Prepare yourself to fight for your rights,” he said.
“El Canto del Colibri” is a big moment for the Latino culture, which has traditionally had low tolerance for LGBTQ lifestyles.
In particular, Latino men tend to have a reputation for being extremely homophobic.
Machismo, a common cultural phenomenon in Latino history, preaches an overzealous masculine pride among Latino men where they feel the man should make the rules and has the final say in any household. It’s an outdated concept that many now feel has no place in today’s evolving society.
But this documentary hopes to show how things are changing. Now, Latino men are moving away from machismo, leaving their homophobic ideals behind, and embracing their children. By sharing real stories of Latino fathers and their kids talking openly about sexuality, this documentary shows that things are changing, finally, slowly.
The emotion that comes across most frequently in the documentary is fear.
There’s fear that society won’t accept their child for being gay. Fear that he or she will be treated unfairly. And also fear that they’ll be physically injured by ignorant people who don’t agree with their lifestyle.
Some fathers in the film admit to blaming themselves somehow for their son or daughter’s sexual orientation. One admits not being very affectionate with his daughter when she was young, as if that could’ve been a factor. For others, their kids’ sexual orientation is almost perceived as a reflection on themselves.
“Parents think that their boy’s sexuality, more than their daughter’s, is a reflection of their own sexuality,” says Jorge Hernandez, one of the young men in the film. “They feel that their sons represent who they are as people.”
Alberto Salamanca, another father featured in the film, says that he first had to accept in his mind the fact that his kid was gay and then realize that — before all else — that’s his child. And if he doesn’t accept him, then how will society accept him?
The other key emotion is love: For many of these dads, their children finally shook them out of that deep-rooted machismo mentality.
Santiago remembers flying into a rage after seeing Santi being affectionate with his boyfriend in front of the family, including his youngest son.
It took his daughter saying, “Daddy, you’re wrong!” and his younger son saying, “I know my brother’s gay, and I don’t care,” for him to realize he needed to change his way of thinking.
Santi says he is glad he did the documentary. “Not only were my dad and I able to express our thoughts and emotions, but it also showed that even when you love someone, e.g., your son or child, you can still have prejudices and fears sometimes translates into anger because that may be the only recognizable emotion in that moment.”
While the kids in this documentary were brave, I was actually most impressed by the fathers.
Initially, they frustrated me. But in the end, I realized that they, too, were brave. They were willing to adapt and to choose to love their children despite the cultural norms around them.
“As a gay Latino man, my hope is that Latino families can cope with the menagerie of emotions that they may have when their child comes out,” Santi said. “It’s OK to have fear and doubt, but please know that there is beauty in diversity.”
Javier Bandera and Zizi Bandera, a father and daughter, said filming the documentary actually helped them heal.
“The most beautiful moments of healing for me happened behind the scenes, from my mom decorating the whole house with rainbow papel picado and streamers when the film crew came over, to coming out to my oldest brother live during the filming,” Zizi said.
“It gave us the privilege to be able to help other families understand their LGBT children,” her father, Javier, said. “Especially after the tragedy in Florida. It changed my life and helped me see that we have to think differently and be more understanding towards our kids.”
Director Marco Castro-Bojorques says he originally set out to dismantle the idea that Latino men are homophobic, transphobic, or machista by nature.
He wanted to show how unconditional love has the power to change hearts and minds in our families and in our community.
I’d say he got his wish.
This film sparks a difficult conversation in a culture that needs it very much. It represents an important step in not only lifting up, but understanding and supporting the LGBTQ movement within the Latino community.
And by opening up in “El Canto del Colibri,” these fathers have also become champions of the LGBTQ movement and strong allies for their children.
Who would have thought that a group of Latino fathers would lead the charge for embracing the LGBTQ community in the Latino culture? Certainly not me, but I love it.
Watch the film’s moving trailer below:
The documentary is now available on Vimeo.
Special thanks to director Marco Castro-Bojorquez for tackling such a difficult subject and for providing access to his behind-the-scenes photographs and cast.