During PRIDE month in June, a new podcast was released to bring voice to queer Latine voices. The podcast, Love in Gravity tells six stories of Latine queer community members dealing with HIV. It’s a beautiful anthology that challenges stigma, stereotypes and barriers to love in heavy circumstances.
Love in Gravity is the baby of Sarah Hall and a collaboration with Harley & Co, and VIIV Health, a company that specializes in HIV medication. The idea is to change the narrative being sold about HIV as a death trap. By presenting the facts through the people that experience HIV, it shows the truth is better than fiction.
A bevy of Latine stars joined the cause. From Robin de Jesus, Wilson Cruz, Harvey Guillen and many more. During Outfest this year, the cast held a live reading. I had the pleasure of speaking with Executive Producer Sarah Hall and the writer of Our Lady of the Six Train, Dominic Kalong as well as the cast of the episode. We talked about the need for these stories and the beauty of creating these vignettes.
Dominic Kalong – Writer, Veronica
Alexia Garcia – Jessie Kah and Our Lady of the Six
Robin de Jesus – DJ Ito/ Lil Ito
Jason Genao – Chuchi
Thony Mena – Holla Guy, Kevin
Manny Urena – Javi
Ana Ortiz – Mercedes, Amaris
Ed Ventura – Peanut
Dominic Kalong: Our Lady of the Six is about healing from generational trauma, when you come of age during a time when HIV meant death.
The Geekiary: One thing I really liked about this program is that it talks about HIV during the ‘90s and early 2000s. By that point, there was still a lot of confusion, but in the Ryan White era, the knowledge of HIV was becoming more widespread. Tell me about the importance of setting the episode in that time period?
Kalong: I was a product of coming of age during the height of the HIV epidemic and a lot of those fears still carried over to me as a gay male. When I did test positive at 28 I didn’t think at that time that HIV was necessarily something I had to worry about. In fact, I was the theater director of the HIV Prevention Theatre Company. On my road to healing, I discovered that a lot of that trauma still lived with me. In order to become the best version of myself, I had to take responsibility for my healing.
TG: I love the relationship between Ito and Chuchi! It’s so fun, but it’s just so messy. And that’s the way friendships can be at that time. What does that mean to you?
Kalong: I mean, it’s human! When you have Afro-Latino working-class folks who present in ways that are sometimes messy and ratchet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any less deserving of sympathy, empathy, and compassion. It’s nice for people who look and feel like the people we came from to be laughed with.
TG: And not laughed at?
Robin de Jesus: Maybe sometimes! But not to be reduced or thought of as less than, but just as human beings, that are really fricken fun! It’s something Dom and I talked a lot about. He told me that we are a product of a generation that had no elders. We saw white gay men, but we never know what it was like to have Black and brown gay folks and have it be centered in any sort of way.
TG: Chuchi and Ito really only have each other.
de Jesus: Yes, I love that there’s this moment of the kids figuring it out and not really having anyone to look up to but thankfully they have each other.
TG: Jason, was it fun to play Chuchi?
Jason Genao: It was one of the main reasons I took it on. It was so different from anything I’ve done. Chuchi was one of the most fun characters I’ve taken on. It was just so fun to be able to be free but also be connected to home because I’m from the East Coast. I was able to just take from people that I know and my cousins and my aunts and my sisters and just throw them into somebody. It was like an ode to where I came from.
TG: Alexia, I wanna talk a little about Miss Jessi-ca. She was so fun and I love that she had this divinity about her. But when she expresses herself she’s like, “I’m from the Bronx”. How did you relate to her?
Alexia Garcia: Like Robin was saying, I also didn’t have anyone to look up to as a queer, trans Latina. I had no one kind of guiding me. It was just nice to play the role of a comforter or a caregiver. It was fulfilling in a way I never got to experience in my own past.
TG: Dominic, in terms of writing the character of Jessi Kah, what is kind of the overall message?
Kalong: Specifically in queer culture we have these icons that we hold to a divine status. I think, unfortunately, sometimes we don’t see the divinity within ourselves. I think this is one of the major themes I like to write to. Sometimes we equate being queer or maybe acting outside of the “norm”, with something bad. We look at other people that we think of as fierce when we need to cultivate that in ourselves and each other. For me, the mission of Love in Gravity is to move the needle forward in terms of stories centered around Latinx people with HIV. We need that.
TG: Sarah, as executive producer, how did you go about pulling over all this together?
Sarah Hall: I was so lucky! Some writers we sought out and some helped us find other writers. Each writer wrote and told the story they needed to tell at that moment which can be hard to do. As a writer, you’re often trained to write your truth, but in the service of a bigger idea or intention. We have such a weird relationship to the past, but one of the beautiful things about the past is it can be a way to help understand the present and the future. 30% of new HIV diagnoses are still in the Latinx community. Some people may be ashamed and don’t want to talk about it, but we need to do the opposite.
TG: I want to talk about that shame, especially in regard to Mercedes, Ito’s mom. She’s very hard and we have a whole scene where she’s slapping him. She loves him more than anything, but if he gets out of line, he’s not above being popped. An upbringing like that can create barriers of fear. Ana, tell me about portraying the mother’s love.
Ana Ortiz: Well she’s so invested in him not straying like his brother. From the first scene, she’s yelling at Ito saying, ‘Your brother’s bad, but you’re gonna be good’. I think as a mother, especially a Latin mother, you feel like the children’s lives are a reflection of you. She has a lightbulb about herself by the end. She said, ‘Oh my God, I made you feel so scared that you couldn’t tell me, I put so much fear into you. I did the opposite of what I was trying to do.’ At that moment it takes a split second for her to be like, clean slate and want to go from scratch and I love that. It’s a really fun thing to play.
Sarah Hall: I think one of the big pushes of this show is that these stories are quintessential stories. Stories are American stories and can be just as relatable and empathetic and just as broad of an audience as any other story.
TG: In a couple of sentences, what would each of you like to be the take-a-way of the episode?
Alexi Garcia: I’d love for this show to create more transparency in the relationship that we have with out close loved ones. Just being more open and talking about important issues that need to be addressed.
Anna Ortiz: The take-a-way for me would be that there’s more of this kind of story being told and more of these voices being heard. I love hearing these accents, I love hearing the New York, I love hearing me.
Ed Ventura: Overall just love yourself, love the person next to you.
Thony Mena: I’m hoping someone will hear the pod and hope they can unapologetically be themselves wherever the f*ck they are, whenever the f*ck they want, wherever the f*ck they go and not give a f*ck about who and what anyone would think of them!
Sarah Hall: I would want for people to feel powerful. To know that they can change and that entertainment can be in service of something to help them change.
Genao: I want people to hear this reading and get an ultimate enjoyment from it. And go through the ups and downs of emotions of laughing and being happy and sad and all of it. Then realize that the story was told by a person of color and realize that this enjoyment can come from us.
de Jesus: I want it to be healing and the importance of one taking care of oneself, healing oneself, and the liberation that allows others to heal. I feel like while my character is in his healing, he healed another relationship, so it’s contagious.
All episodes of Love in Gravity are available now wherever you get your podcasts.
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