The following text is by Elíseo Equihua:
As a first generation Gay LatinX Chicano, family is deeply interwoven into my identity as an artist, model, actor and DJ. I was reminded how much when I returned home to help my parents at the start of the pandemic in March of 2020. They still live in the East L.A. home where I grew up, and being at home for the last year has taught me how much of who I am, and what I attempt to express and do in my creative work, is very much about the richness of my family and the pride I feel as the son who grew up with a multi-generational household. In some ways, it has been such an honour to take care of my mother and father, especially since they were the ones who did so much for me, sacrificed so much of themselves to build a foundation to allow me, an openly gay latinx man, to pursue those things that have often been reserved for more privileged kids in the white neighborhoods.
My parents immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico in the late 70s. My mom was 10 when she arrived in Los Angeles, and my dad 17 when he finally made the move. They came from such humble and modest beginnings, but my grandparents knew that they would simply have more opportunities in this country. They both grew up in Boyle Heights in the early 80s on La Primera, what some call the epicenter if not the birth of the Chicano culture that is marketed everywhere today. I’m truly thankful my mom and dad are known as ‘Cheo y Cheya’ in their community and were considered very forward thinkers for the time.
Since I was born and raised in East L.A. from ‘the hood,’ I feel blessed to say that my career has allowed me the opportunity to use my brown body as a form of expression.
Who I am and how I translate that into creative acts of expression is actually the converging of all the kind, exciting, and eclectic souls from the early years of my life. This of course includes my family who made the deepest impressions on me but also the eccentric friends of my family who are from the same pueblo as us, those deep Compadres and Comadres of my parents who for all intents and purposes became an extended family. All these people have shaped me into the individual I am today.
Despite what we faced in L.A., I grew up seeing and being around a lot of people who knew how to have or were just downright fun. You see, my parents and their friends were very social people, and every Saturday growing up we were breaking piñatas, or there was a Quinceañera or a wedding — and sometimes we didn’t need an excuse just to throw a party. But what was more important is that every party was an opportunity for everyone to look fierce and express who they were through dress. All the women would be in full glam hair, make up, and often in brand new outfits while the men would wear Tejána’s (cowboy hats), ironed out button downs and spotless pants that often ended in an ostrich boot that would always match the belt. They all had a signature on their looks, yes, but it was a look they lived for. It was because of them and these parities, which was any excuse to look and feel wonderful, that I realised that style isn’t about having a lot of clothes; it’s a way of living. It was the way in which my mother, father and the people they were surrounded by would carry themselves. It was them that gave life to those garments. And it was during this time most of all that shaped me creatively.
I am a son of immigrants, and I feel that my creative work is in many ways to valorise all the people who have poured themselves into me. This is why having the freedom to work creatively and to live a creative life is so important to me. I am blessed to create in spaces I never fathomed possible for a boy growing up in East L.A. This is why I never go too long without going back to my family and friends, since it is they who not only keep me grounded but keep me grateful.
This Schön! online exclusive has been produced by