Tying HIV prevention to sexual identity has been an effective public health strategy. However, HIV infection among young Latino/a and African Americans continues to mount. “On the down low,” a youth term for secretive or undercover, has become a code for the furtive same-sex sexual practices of young men who reject Gay or bisexual identities. This phenomenon received the attention of African Americans but Latino communities have largely, ignored it. Based on ethnographic observations in a Hip Hop club in New York City, and on postings in cyberspace, this paper documents the presence of Latino youth in “down low” networks. It asks whether the historical and political construction of ethno-racial identities in forms emerging sexual practices and identities, begging a review of established HIV prevention efforts.
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Pronounced as “caution.”
They give the impression to be fully aware of the mismatch between their sexualities and their public personas, and test the limits of the journalists’ naïveté with declarations of unlawful masculinity (Venable, 2001).
The CDC has reported in 2002 that HIV-related deaths remain a major cause of death among young and middle age minorities (CDC, 2002a). In 2000, 19% of new AIDS cases were reported among Latinos while they were 13% of the total national population (CDC, 2002b). The Young Men Study Phase I found that among MSM between 15 and 22 years of age in seven US cities, Latinos had an HIV prevalence of 6.9%. Preliminary results from Phase II (23–28 years old) indicate a prevalence of 14% for the same population (MMWR, 2001). Men who have sex with men continue to account for the largest group of HIV infections which indicates that new prevention strategies are needed as younger populations become sexually active (CDC, 2002c).
Credible connection to the culture and geography of the inner-city.
Specialists (philosophers, artists, scientists, technicians, etc.), with skills and knowledge that go beyond their own professions, who interpret, organize and outline a class’ opinions, interests, production, and/or expansion, and who are intimately linked to, and formed along the development of the class, which makes them organic.
Structures and superstructures form a “historical bloc.” That is to say, the complex, contradictory and discordant ensemble of the superstructures, is the reflection of the ensemble of the social relations of production (Gramsci, 1989, 366).
Recent scholarship explores and documents the link between capitalist economics and the identities and communities born out of the gay rights movement. Alexandra Chasin looks at the inclusion of gay identities and lifestyles as marketing niches (2000), and Jeff Maskovsky studies the role of consumption in the building and maintenance of gay communities (2001, 2002).
Among Latinos, this statement better describes the experiences of Boricuas and Chicanos, that is, the Latino communities with longest historical and political track record in the United States.
The Internet source Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com), was used for words that have not made it yet into “slang dictionaries.” It uses contributors’ definitions, and site's visitors can give “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to signal their agreement. A contributor screennamed THE TRUTH, refers to the late rapper Tupac Shakur's definition of nigga: “NIGGER – a Black man with a slavery chain around his neck. NIGGA – a Black man with a gold chain on his neck,” (www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=thugged+out&r=f).
platanoluva: “An abbreviation for ‘black & Latino’ used most commonly by young urban Gay men of color; 2. A person, place, or thing that is Afro-Latino,” (www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=blatino&r=f).
Carl Willis: “Adj. Presenting the outward appearance of one's identification with urban ghetto culture through affected attitudes, mannerisms, language, or dress,” (www.urban-dictionary.com/define.php?term=nigga&r=f).
reyflyinfury619: “(verb) To hit on, flirt with, or seduce a female by using verbal or sometimes physical means of persuasion,” (www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mack&r=f).
me: “getting your game on, trying to get with a person,” (www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=kick+it&r=f).
Consider the following announcements for “parties” in Next – The Hippest Gay Guide to New York: •Private, bi-monthly party for in-shape hot guys, 18–40. Protection and hydration provided. •Private weekly Friday parties in Brooklyn for muscular or tight [fit] Black and latin men under 35 only. Sorry, but if you don’t work out, don’t bother; Private membership club/monthly parties for well-built, well-groomed, handsome, professional men 18–45. Call for complete details (Next 2005, 64).
Latino, Latin, lat, ltn, Blatino (Black Latino), Rican, Puerto Rock, Chicano, cholo, etc.
Papi, chulo, caliente, vato, etc.
If his e-mail were, let's say Freddy_Santana@electronicnetwork.com, his screen name would be Freddy_Santana.
East New York is a Brooklyn area with a reputation of being tough and dangerous like the Bronx.
The extensive allusions to the thug in Hip-Hop, suggest it is an ideal type. The thug is a cultural hero, not because allegedly he breaks laws, but because he represents opposition to the man's laws, the oppressive status quo.
“That's a Black thing.”
For instance, Aponte-Parés (2001) documents the geographical and political distance of Queer Latinos in New York City from mainstream Latino and gay communities.
In a study of a largely white cohort of MSM that compared those living in four “gay ghettos” to others living elsewhere, Mills et al. (2001) found that the “ghetto”-based men were more likely to embrace a gay or queer identity and to be involved in the gay community. The other men were less likely to have a gay identity but had not abdicated community involvement and were active in the “non-gay” community. The latter could be compared to men on the DL that may find compelling reasons to preserve their full membership in their communities of birth by keeping their sex lives on the down low.
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An earlier version of this paper was written for the conference “Latino Sexualities in the United States: Exploring an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda for the 21st Century” organized by the Center for Gender, Sexuality & Health of the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University. I would like to thank Miguel Muñoz-Laboy for inviting me to make a contribution to this event. Alex Carballo-Diéguez guided me to the work of Héctor Carrillo. Angelica Bocour, Arlene Dávila, Shirley Lindenbaum; and Sabiyha Prince read, commented and encouraged me on earlier drafts of this paper. I would like to acknowledge the support of Suzanne Oboler and Karen Benita Reyes, as well as the comments of the anonymous reviewers of Latino Studies. Their observations have improved this text. I claim ownership of the weaknesses that remain in it.
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González, M. Latinos on DA Down Low: The Limitations of Sexual Identity in Public Health. Lat Stud 5, 25–52 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.lst.8600238