In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month 2016! – #HHM2016
By Alberto B. Mendoza
Special to Lupitanews.com
When I was 14 years old, a group of friends nicknamed me “41”. I didn’t know what that meant nor did I care since I believed they were my friends. But I was wrong, these kids were not my friends. Turns out in Mexico calling some or labeling them “41” was the same as calling them a homosexual. It was my dad who told me what they were calling me and when he questioned me if I was gay. I said no.
Unfortunately, the nickname stuck so the rest of my schooling involved daily mockery, teasing and bullying. Since the teachers didn’t know the meaning of “41” the kids got away with it. I was miserable at the time. Even after I graduate and went off to college in a different city, the number “41” kept following me. It seemed to appear everywhere and for nearly 28 years, the sight of the number alone was like receiving a burst of “shock therapy.”
2 months before my 41st Birthday I was having dinner with a friend and I told him I was dreading that birthday because of the history I had with the number “41”. To “41” for years brought me panic and anxiety, almost as it did back in high school. But to my surprise, “41” had a history I did not know about.
My friend then proceeded to tell me that in Mexico City, on Nov 18, 1901, 42 men who were known to be homosexual organized a dance, later known “el Baile de los 41” on that night, they had a dance that was interrupted by the police. The cops beat them, ridiculed them and threw them to jail. 1 of the 42 was the son-in-law of then Mexican President Porfirio Diaz. To avoid further scandal, they released him and the remaining “41” were disappeared for being gay. From then on calling someone “41” was an indirect way of calling someone a homosexual.
When I heard the story, I was relieved to know I wasn’t alone in how “41” was used against me and in an odd way, I was now connected to that history. I was also angry and decided I would do something about it.
In 2012, when I was 41 years old I launched an online nonprofit organization I named Honor 41. The goals are to bring more visibility to the Latin@ LGBTQ community, promote positive role models in our community, share the history behind 41 and most importantly to reclaim a negative stigma of “41” and now have it serve as a source of pride and honor, hence Honor 41.
Four years later Honor 41 has become a source for information to our community and their families. The first project, the 41 List is an annual celebration of 41 Latin@ LGBTQ role models who are featured in a personal video interview about their lives, keys to success and advice to others about coming out. The videos are shared on social media and now generate a weekly reach of 10,000-25,000 people per week. By the end of this year we’ll have 164 videos of Latin@ LGBTQ role models that are “out” live wonderful lives and contribute to our community one way or another. The 41 List for 2016 will be released on November 16, 2016 the 115th anniversary of the raid on the original 41.
I would have never imagined that from something that brought me so much pain would turn into something positive. 41 now a symbol for Latin@ LGBTQ pride by honoring the original 41 and providing future LGBTQ generations with positive examples of individuals they can look up to. I can now proudly say, “I’m 41” “Yo soy 41”.
To kids bullied because of their sexual orientation:
“Pace yourself, look for support and know you are not alone, there’s a community here for you.”
-Alberto Mendoza, Founder of Honor41.org
About the Writer:
Alberto B. Mendoza was born in Mexico, and raised in Puerto Rico and San Diego, California. He moved to the Los Angeles area in the late 80’s and graduated from California Polytechnic University, Pomona.
Openly gay, he brings 25 years of nonprofit and corporate leadership as well as community activism not only in LGBTQ issues but also in issues affecting low income families and the environment.
He is the founder of Honor41.org and the executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. His strong advocacy, striking personality and charisma make Alberto Mendoza a role model for youth, a source of hope for what Latinos can do, and a leader to pay attention to. (LP)
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For more information on the organization mentioned in this article: Honor41.org