Hunts Point in the Bronx isn’t exactly the Castro or Boystown. To be gay there means to keep closeted or face harassment and violence—or worse. But despite (or perhaps because of) such hardships, a community of queer Latinos has emerged.
And its a community writer Charles Rice-Gonzalez pays tribute to with his debut novel, Chulito, which came out in the fall.
In the book, 16-year-old drug runner Chulito (Spanish slang for “cutie”) grapples with his feelings for his best friend, Carlos, and his desperate desire to fit in. A homo thug on the down low, Chulito even assaults Carlos to maintain his street cred.
Rice-Gonzalez tells the New York Daily News today that he was inspired to write the book after witnessing an incident along the Bronx’s Grand Concourse:
“I saw these two little boys running and they were saying ‘Ewww, hurry up, Tony is gay, Tony is gay.’ They were all like 15 years old,” Rice-Gonzalez recalls. “Then, a few minutes later, Tony comes running behind them, ‘Yo, wait up, I’m not gay, I’m not gay’ and he had like the baseball cap and the big clothes and I just said ‘I wonder what if Tony was gay, what would his life be like?”
With that seed planted, Rice-Gonzalez “fell in love” with Hunts Point after moving there in 1997, particularly with, as he describes it, the “neighborhood Latino culture where the music is going and there’s that cluster of guys in the corner, and there’s the auto glass guys. … There was this kind of energy.”
There are elements of Rice-Gonzalez’s life in Chulito—he grew up in the Bronx’s Soundview Projects—but Chulito isn’t a standin for the author. “I’m more like Carlos,” he says. “Carlos is way more ballsy that I was at that age.”
Chulito is out now on Magnus Books.