Sociology Professor Anthony Ocampo is that favorite cousin you share your secrets with because he’s been in your shoes, veiling his own mysteries until he came out at 22. “As a queer person of color, ambient terror wasn’t an entirely new feeling,” he writes in the preface of “Brown and Gay in L.A.: The Lives of Immigrant Sons.”
Now available in paperback from New York University Press, “Brown and Gay in L.A.” has been praised as a masterful ethnography. Ocampo forgoes formulaic academic writing, using storytelling to investigate the culturally complicated and largely unstudied coming-of-age and coming-out stories of Filipino and Latino Angelenos.
Ocampo studies immigration, gender and sexuality and Latino-Asian identity. For this book, he interviewed dozens of second-generation American Gen-Xers and millennials with roots in the Philippines, Mexico and Latin America. Their narratives take center stage — family estrangements and fragile reconciliations, academic achievement as a survival strategy, enduring racism and homophobia, love and dating, and finding belonging and exclusion in the gay club scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s. History looms in the background and in their lives: the 1980s HIV/AIDs epidemic, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the DREAM Act, the Pulse nightclub shooting, and LGBTQ+ politics before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
“When I started as a professor, I came to realize that what’s considered knowledge is what’s defined by a very narrow set of people, often white, cisgender, male, upper-middle class to upper-class folks,” Ocampo said. “Because those are people that don’t live around communities of color or queer communities of color, they’re not going to be able to recognize the knowledge that comes from those communities.”
Ultimately, Ocampo’s book seeks to unlatch the gatekeeping around knowledge and culture creation contributing to the understanding of gay men of color, who exist at the intersection of race and sexuality.
“The problem with being a sociologist is you know all the ugliness that happens in our history and current contemporary times and that can really get me down,” he said. “Not to be corny but I really do feel like storytelling is powerful and that works in both positive and negative ways. So, in writing this book, I wanted to tell a story I felt wasn’t getting airtime about people who are often made to be invisible.”
Pulling from the fields of anthropology, sociology, history, Black activism and feminist writing, civil rights research, pop culture and hard news, Ocampo examines forces sometimes at odds for queer immigrant sons: the American Dream and American individualism. His interviewees discuss expectations of masculinity, morality and sexuality shaped by Catholicism and ethnic and external cultural pressures. But Ocampo says these stories of are often incomplete, missing or erased in academia and mainstream stories.
“There’s a new generation of academics that are dissatisfied with their knowledge staying in the ivory tower or the writings that they do staying in the ivory tower,” Ocampo said. “We always joke that, you know, sometimes you can work blood, sweat and tears to write an article for a journal and sometimes it doesn’t feel great when only four or five people read the article. I think a lot of academics are trying to do both where they write stuff that’s intellectually and methodologically rigorous but also digestible for a larger public.”