“Border Stories” explores life of gay men on both sides of Mexican border

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(Host)  When Gregory Ramos moved to El Paso he was intrigued by the difference between the Texas border city and his native Los Angeles. 

Ramos found that unlike many other parts of the country there was still a strong cultural stigma attached to being gay.  So he set out to interview gay men on both sides of the Mexican border. 

The result is a play called "Border Stories". 

Ramos, who now teaches in the theatre department at the University of Vermont, will perform "Border Stories" on Friday in Burlington. 

VPR’s Steve Zind has this preview._____________________________________(Zind) All that separates El Paso, Texas from the sprawling Mexican city of Juarez is the thin trickle of the Rio Grande River.  The area, with a population of more than two million is overwhelmingly Hispanic. 

When actor Gregory Ramos moved to El Paso eight years ago, he found that the local gay community was invisible and largely underground. At first he struggled in his efforts to get gay people to talk to him.

(Ramos)  "And I think that really is an indication of the pervasive sense of fear."

(Zind) Ramos says people were afraid that their neighbors or members of their families might find out they were gay. 

Eventually he interviewed dozens of people and from those interviews created the 20 characters in his play, "Border Stories":  they talk about the experience of being gay in a Hispanic community where traditional values and religious beliefs dominate.

(Ramos)  "As one of my characters says, ‘We have a saying in Spanish: Que diran.   What will people say?  You’re always afraid of what other people are saying, you’re always afraid of what other people are going to say.  It’s just a cultural thing.  It’s a very, very Mexican thing.’  The mother who cares for her son, she’s losing him to AIDS says, ‘To tell the truth, we never spoke what it was.’  They never spoke about it."

(Zind)  Ramos’ performs all of the parts in the play.  The characters include a college freshman, a transsexual, and a gay catholic priest.  There’s also a 78 year old man who moved back to El Paso from California after his long time partner passed away.

(Ramos in character) "At first I could kick myself for moving back to El Paso.  The first two years were awful.  El Paso, the border, it hasn’t advanced as other cities this size.  I think the politics here are kind of backwards because people are afraid to change."

(Zind)  Ramos says the culture he portrays is very different from Vermont’s, but he believes local audiences will still be able to connect with the characters.

(Ramos) "We sort of forget that there are still challenges for a lot of people in this country.  I think at the same time that everyone can identify with the stories because they’re ultimately very human and the more specific theater is, the more it tends to resonate in people’s lives.  I think that’s a very compelling thing about the piece."

(Zind)  Despite the difficulties faces by gays in border cities like El Paso, Ramos says change is gradually taking place in Hispanic culture. 

Last year, for example, Mexico City approved civil unions for gays and lesbians.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

(Host) Gregory Ramos with perform "Border Stories" at 6 and 9 this evening (Friday 2/15) at Flynn Space in Burlington.


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