Capturing queerness in San Francisco’s lowrider scene

Capturing queerness in San Francisco’s lowrider scene
A collaborative art project celebrating LGBTQ+ identity is calling for greater diversity and inclusion in the Bay Area’s lowrider community.

Back in the 1980s, filmmaker Vero Majano remembers seeing San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein live on TV, standing in front of the McDonald’s at 24th and Mission Street. “It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” Feinstein asked, surrounded by young Brown boys who twisted their fingers into the letter “M” to rep the Majano’s neighbourhood – the Mission District. 

“Looking back, what I remember are the beautiful parts of those baby homeboys mimicking ‘masculinity’ – the smell of their Tres Flores pomade, their Pendletons buttoned up to the top highlighting their faces – some of the last moments when boys are pretty,” remembers Majano.

Although San Francisco was an established hub for the adult LGBTQ+ community, Majano recalls a time when there were no queer youth spaces. “In my late teens I went Latino queer bars,” Majano says. “I would see some Mission homeboys who came up to me and said, ‘Hey Shorty, don’t spill my tea…’ – the definition of existing but not being seen.”

Recognising the urgent need for visibility and representation in San Francisco’s rich lowrider and Chicanx culture, Majano partnered with DJ Brown Amy (Amy Martinez) and photographer Kari Orvik to create The Q-Sides, a collaborative art project celebrating queer identity.  

Drawing on their love for the landmark East Side Story anthologies, The Q-Sides have remade the album covers with queer participants. Selections from the series are now on view in All of Us All of Us, a group photography exhibition curated by Roula Seikaly at the Berkeley Art Center. 

“Queer Latinx people have always been a part of this community, whether people want to admit it or not, and we’re not going anywhere,” says Martinez. “I want Latinx youth to see these iconic album covers and see themselves represented.” 

These albums, filled with classics, were an expression of queer love and desire in a world that sometimes left them feeling isolated and unsupported. East Side Story oldies were the soundtrack of my youth,” says Majano, “We would go to parties and people would slow dance to this music, and I would imagine who I would dance with. The music was the spaceship to express my queer desire. would imagine inserting myself in the album covers with the girl I had a crush on: Tiny Locos, Slick Frisco Chicks and the Santa Locas.”

Orvik remembers meeting Majano years ago and falling in love listening to the oldies on Volume 10 on repeat. “I wasn’t out in my youth,” she says. “My sense of identity connection came from falling in love.

Like the B-side of a record, The Q-Sides bring the flip side to life in an atmosphere of trust, safety, and consent. Between fundraisers, shared resources, and the support of Bay Area queer organisations, the project took hold, helping to nourish and support all involved. 

“The music on these albums holds so many memories and stories,” says Martinez. “These songs are so ingrained in my DNA – it’s almost as if it is hereditary. The music is what gets me through my day to day.”

All of Us All of Us is on view until 18 June 2022 at the Berkley Centre. 

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