In 1962 boxer Emile Griffith was in the ring against Benny Paret, when he seemed to explode with anger and pummeled his opponent with such force that, after getting knocked out, Paret died of his injuries. It was eventually revealed that some time before the fight Paret had called Griffith a "maricón."
Griffith, who was born in the Virgin Islands, rarely discussed his orientation but was said to have lived fairly openly in his later years. He also was said to have been deeply affected by Paret's death. Emile Griffith died recently, and openly gay boxer Orlando Cruz, who is blazing such an amazing trail with his courage and candor, dedicated a fight to Griffith.
Sadly, all of these years later, that word "maricón" is still very much in use and still hurting people.
In the last two weeks GLAAD and a number of LGBT advocates have been calling attention to the Mexican rock band Molotov which is headlining the Jagermeister Tour and has a song called "Puto."
A lot of LGBT Latinos felt pride that a band from Mexico was headlining this prestigious tour. But the lyrics of the song are deplorable. The song includes the words "maricón" and "puto." Maricón means "faggot," in every country in Latin America and "puto" does in many (including Mexico). The song also includes the lyric "matarile al maricón" or "kill the faggot."
Molotov has always argued that these words are synonymous with "coward" and the song is an indictment of government corruption, that gay people were never meant to be associated with the words or the message.
I'm Latina and grew up speaking Spanish, I know very well the many ways those words are used. Most LGBT Latinos in fact know all too well all the different ways those words are used -- and we know you cannot just separate them based on your intention.
The reality is that "maricón" and "puto" are used every single day in the real world, and in that world they do not mean "corrupt politician"; they mean "faggot." Regardless of intention, every time the band performs this, LGBT fans and supporters in the audience are forced to hear a crowd chant "matarile al maricón."
GLAAD reached out to Molotov and they issued a statement reiterating, as they have before, that they intended no harm.
Then the band reconsidered and said they would be taking the word "maricón" from the song during this tour and speaking out about anti-LGBT violence as well as donating to a fund for Esteban Navarro, the young Chilean man who lost his leg after a severe beating in which, according to his dad,"maricón" was shouted at him.
But, even more recently and very unfortunately, Molotov told the newspaper La Opinion that they would continue singing the song as written. A group once considered one of rock en español's most cutting-edge bands, a group with strong opinions about social change, refuses to use their platform to make a real difference in the lives of LGBT people. Ironic, to say the least.
The argument that it's acceptable in our cultures, is not just acceptable. If someone had used racial slurs in a song, there's no way they would simply say 'oh, we didn't mean it like that, had no intention to offend' and then carry on signing that song. Nor would anyone accept that reasoning. Using "maricón" in concert gives a whole group of young people the green light to use it at school, at home, anywhere. And that's what's so sad.
Molotov seems to think they can use these words and give them power and put them in the context they wish to put them into (it's cathartic, it's punk, it's a concert) and then walk away, as if those words can be packed away like sound equipment.
LGBT Latinos and our allies have a long road to travel still, helping people understand that these slurs are not okay to use as a replacement for "coward" or any other characteristics we don't like. We must all work together to help people understand that hate speech too often leads to violence against LGBT Latinos.
I was introduced to rock en español and to Molotov and by my little brother Fernando years ago, and if not for that song, we probably would have gone to the concert. But there is no way I will stand in a stadium, nor will my progressive straight brother, listening to thousands of people sing the words that have been yelled at my girlfriend and I from a passing car in Boston once, the same words that tormented my friend Tracy when he was in high school and torments kids every single day around the world, some of whom end up dropping out of school; the same words certainly used against Matthew Shepherd and Steven Lopez Mercado, who was murdered in Puerto Rico, and against Daniel Zamudio, who was beaten to death in Chile last year.
The very same word that ignited enough anger to kill one man in the boxing ring and haunt another for the rest of his life.
Update: Molotov will be in Washington D.C. on August 26 and in New York the following day, and protests are planned by local LGBT and Latino advocates in Washington.