Oral History with Benny Garcia

Special Collections at UNC Asheville
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00:01:23 - Names, Pronouns, Labels

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Partial Transcript: "Yeah, so I am Latino of Mexican origin. I identify as gay. I also identify as gender nonconforming."

Segment Synopsis: Benny Garcia, born April 4th, 2000, is Latino of Mexican Origin, and identifies as Gay and Gender-Nonconforming. He calls Franklin, North Carolina home.

Keywords: Franklin, NC; GNC; Gay; Gender Nonconforming; Latino; Latinx; Mexican; Sonora, Mexico

00:02:14 - Coming Out / Early Experiences

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Partial Transcript: "Right. I guess a lot of people when they notice they're different, tends to be in school, and that's the same for me. I was five when I noticed I liked boys, it was something I noticed right away. But it wasn't until I was seven that I was taught that it wasn't okay. And that's very typical, I grew up a very traditional Latino Mexican child. My parents are both devout Roman Catholics. My dad is a very masculine, very macho man. My mom played the more traditional housewife role, raising kids and being financially dependent on my father. So, it was a very traditional sense in that."

Segment Synopsis: Benny discusses his early life in coming to terms with his gender and sexuality. From the age of five, he noticed that he liked boys, but it wasn't until two years later that he was told it wasn't okay. This whole interaction happened when he called a man in a soap opera handsome, and his dad reprimanded him as a result of the devout Roman Catholic ideologies. He did not tell his parents that he was LGBTQ+ growing up, and didn't express himself to people at school. He says that he falls into a lot of stereotypes, being effeminate, and throughout puberty did not like the changes happening to his body. Now, he has been able to change the pitch of his voice into one that made him more comfortable.

Keywords: Coming out / Early Experiences; Effeminate; Gay; Homophobia; Hypermasculinity; Isolation; LGBTQ at School; LGBTQ+ Identity; Latino; Mexican; Parents / Family; Roman Catholic; Soap Opera

00:14:34 - "We just don't ever talk about the topic. . ."

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Partial Transcript: I'll be honest, it really didn't start until last summer. And it really started with the presidential candidacy, and I saw Pete Buttigieg, who's a married, openly gay man who is very attached to his religion. And it made me think that, because I felt for such a long time that I either had to choose being gay and having a partner someday and getting married, and my religion. Because the way I was taught, the way I was raised, the way a lot of the Catholic teaching was, is you can't have both. It has to be either or. And so, a lot of the times I had thought well, maybe having a partner to me is more important than being accepted by a religious entity.

And so, I realized during that time that I can still have a relationship with God, I don't necessarily have to have a relationship with the church. And so, I think those two have to be distinguished, that the church is an entity and God is a being. And I believe the church has corrupted God's word to fit their narrative. And so, I have a relationship with my creator, I don't have a relationship with the church I was brought into.

Segment Synopsis: Benny discusses how coming out impacted the relationship with his mother and religion.

Keywords: Catholic; Church; Confirmation; God; Marriage Rights; Parents / Family; Presidential Election; Religion; US Politics

00:24:07 - Personal Growth, Self-Acceptance, LGBTQ Mentors, Health Impact of Closeted Life

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Partial Transcript: And it wasn't until we had a drag show at the university, that there was an open discussion about what gender was, what sexuality was. And then I ended up taking a class called Sex and Sexuality, and that class really opened my eyes a lot to what gender identity meant. And we had a trans student in there that explained his journey, and how he came to identify as trans. And it was very eye opening moment, and I had a discussion with my professor afterwards, just kind of picking her brain. I was like, "Do you think this term would fit for someone that feels like X, Y, and Z?"

And I think she really helped me navigate that. And those feelings of not necessarily being male, not necessarily being female, and finding an in between in both. And so, the term gender non-conforming, I think fit perfectly with me in my case, just because I didn't feel either or. I do have more feminine characteristics, but I don't think that necessarily makes me female, and I definitely don't have the need or the want to change any physical aspect of myself. So, I definitely think gender non-conforming was a very good term for me to identify it with. And maybe I didn't need a term to know what I felt, but I think it was a relief that it wasn't something unique to me.

Keywords: Closeted Life; Health; LGBTQ Mentors; Personal Growth; Self-Acceptance

00:31:40 - Race / Ethnicity and Gendered Expectations

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Partial Transcript: So as I mentioned, I grew up in a very traditional home, very traditional everything. And I've always gravitated more towards the feminine side, the female side. I guess to give you an example, in family gatherings you usually have the men with the men, the women in the kitchen, and the kids gathered around. And usually when you get the older, the young men start hanging out with older men, and the young women started hanging out with the older women. For some reason, I would always be with the women, and would always be in the kitchen chatting with them. I think my aunts and my female relatives were a lot more than accepting the fact.
And one of the first relatives I told was my aunt, Esmeralda. She was amazing, she was very sweet, and she said she knew from when I was kid. So, I always sensed that she was going be one of the first people I was going to tell, just because she had always been so sweet. I was a big Lady Gaga fan when I was a kid, so she would buy me my Gaga stuff. Again, I don't know how my parents didn't know. So, Gaga was my thing.
And so I think growing up in that environment, in that Latino home, was good and bad. Because with my male relatives, I would always had teased why I wasn't dating girls or why I wasn't acting the way they were acting. And my excuse was always like, "Oh, I'm trying to..." Because I guess this might be in a lot of cultures where masculinity kind of rules, a lot of my cousins were drinking at a younger age of 16, 17, and I wasn't. And it's not something that still attracts me, but apparently if you want to prove you're a man, you drink a beer. And so, I wasn't doing those kinds of things. And they would always question, and my response was always like, "Oh, I'm trying to do good in school."

Keywords: Acceptance; Coming out / Early Experienes; Education; Equity and Justice; Identity / Intersectionality; Inclusion / Safe & Welcoming; Lady Gaga; Latino; Mexican; Race; Tradition

00:38:59 - First Generation College Student / LGBTQ at School

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Partial Transcript: Thankfully I was given a full ride scholarship, and my parents only paid for parking and stuff.

Wray, Interview...:
That's wonderful. Congratulations, Benny. That's great.

Thank you. So, that covered that, my parents obviously helped me financially through throughout college because they didn't want me getting a job, they wanted me to focus on school. Which is something that my parents were different from my other family members, they really wanted me to pursue college, they wanted me to pursue a career. And I saw other relatives, and when their kids would graduate, they would expect them to get a job right away and start helping with bills and stuff. And my parents were very clear that they wanted me to get an education and get a good paying job, and not repeat their story. So, I'm very thankful for that.

But yeah, college was such a, it was a new experience. It was something I didn't have any guidance on, I just kind of jumped in with both feet. And I'm lucky that I had, I made my professor who was also my mentor, she really helped me navigate the whole college process. And so, if it wasn't for Dr. [Smisoska] I don't know how well I would have done. She encouraged me in times where I thought about dropping out, just because I had this guilt. And she compared it to survivor's guilt, so when someone survives a tragic accident and others don't, I felt like being the first person in my family, I was standing on somebody's shoulders that I was like, well, why me? Why should I be the one that does this?

So, I thought about dropping out, I thought about not pursuing it. And not because I don't want to, but just because I didn't want to feel guilty. I don't know, it's such a strange feeling. Being an immigrant and being given an opportunity, you're always very thankful for it, but it always reminds me of other immigrants that don't get the same opportunity. And around the same time, it was when the children were being locked in cages by the Trump administration, so that also had a lot to do with, if I would have been born in the wrong time, that could have been me. I could have been the child in the cage, if it wasn't that I was born 20 years early.

So, a lot of those things factored into me wanting to drop out, just because I felt so guilty of being given an opportunity. And so, it was Dr. Smisoska that sat me down in her office and told me all the reasons why I shouldn't do it. And so, I continued on and I graduated. Even though COVID ruined that big ceremony [crosstalk], I was still very blessed to have even made it to the finish line, and so I was really very, very lucky.

Keywords: First Generation; High school; Rebuilding Friends/Family/Community; School; college

00:49:57 - LGBTQ Groups / Organizations / Resources, Blue Ridge Pride Festival

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Partial Transcript: I did journalism, and I worked for Ola Carolina, which is how we met. Unfortunately, because I am now full-time at Vecinos, I had to let go of that position, but I really, really loved journalism as well. I think telling people's stories is so, so important and so vital, and that's what I really want to do, especially investigative journalism. So, I'm sure I'll bump into that path again someday, but for now and for the next year, I will be focusing on the farmworker program.

Wray, Interview...:
Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

About Vecinos or journalism?

Wray, Interview...:
The farmworker program.

Yeah. So, they do incredible work. They provide medical services, both physical and mental, health services to farmworkers in the area, they can be seasonal or they can be migrant farm workers. And just advocacy for them, ensuring that they're getting proper pay, that they're working in proper conditions. I did my internship with them, and I was a medical interpreter for them back when I was an intern, and I really loved the work that they were doing. The executive director is amazing, Marianne Martinez is incredible. And everyone there is so friendly, and I just knew I had to come back. And when they had a position opening for the COVID community health worker position, I applied without having any medical background at all. She believed in me, I guess, and gave me a chance.

And so, I'm lucky to be part of the team, and I'm so happy to be making small changes and affecting people's actual lives. And it's so gratifying when someone says thank you, I don't know, it just makes it all worth it. So, I'm very happy to be part of that. And I think nonprofit work is so important and it's so essential, especially for underserved communities, and something I want to keep doing. And I can see myself in nonprofit work for the rest of my life.

Keywords: Blueridge Pride Festival; COVID; Farmworkers; LGBTQ mentors; LGBTQ visibility; Non-profit; Pride festival; Vecinos; activism; community organizing

00:59:25 - LGBTQ Rights / HB2

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Partial Transcript: I used to fight those comments. I used to be like, "They're people." And most of the times, like when gay marriage became legal and that was one of the big fights we had. He's like, "They're violating what marriage means." I'm like, "Having a piece of paper that says you are legally married is not violating anything." That's like having a driver's license. It's a piece of paper that acknowledges you can drive. That's how I view it. I know people have a deeper sentimental value to marriage, and I think I used to also, but not as much anymore. I just look at it as I can legally be with someone, and we can share finances, and I can see them if they're in a hospital bed and all these other things, that's what marriage means to me. Just having that legal equality.

And to people that mean it so much more, they're not going to a church demanding to be married. And even if they were, the church can turn them down. No one is negating what marriage means to you. But by you negating what marriage means to them, you're just as you guilty as someone that says, "Whites only can drink at this water fountain." And I always try to bring things, I used to bring things up to him as an immigrant standpoint, or as a people of color standpoint, I'm like, "Discrimination against LGBT people is equal to discrimination against people of color." And I would try to equate the two, and so much discussing and so much arguing. He was just very adamant with his way of thinking.

But at this point I just roll my eyes on, and that's all I do. There's no changing him, there's no persuading him, and I'm not going to waste more of my breath trying to convince him otherwise. I told him, and I always left it at this. I'm like, "I'm not going to argue with you anymore, but there is a creator, and at the end of you'll have to answer to him, and not to me or anybody else." So, that's how I like to be with things. My father can be as homophobic as he can be, I just doesn't phase me anymore. What he says, I'm just numb to it at this point. I'm just like, "Okay, if that's what you want to think."

Keywords: Equity and Justice; Inspirations / Mentors / Leaders; LGBTQ Spaces; Marriage equality; Parents / Family