Why This Chicano is Making 'Brujos,' a Web Series About Magical Queer People of Color

It’s been a difficult year for LGBTQ Latinxs. In June, the community was hit with the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history when a gunman charged into Orlando’s Pulse nightclub on Latin night, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more – most of whom were Latinx. More recently, the country elected Donald Trump, a candidate who centered his campaign on anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals, and his running mate Mike Pence, arguably the biggest political opponent of LGBTQ rights of our time, as the next president and vice president, respectively.

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Overcoming these atrocious moments of hate takes power and resilience – qualities Ricardo Gamboa wants to emphasize in queer and trans people of color in his upcoming web series, Brujos.

The show, which debuts on January 20, the day Trump-Pence take office, is about LGBTQ grad school students who are also witches and are battling the descendants of early U.S. colonists, who happen to be witch-hunters.

According to the Chicago native, New York-living Mexican-American, Brujos is both a reclaiming of the mystical knowledges of our ancestors and a statement about the magia in every queer and trans person of color.

Ahead, Gamboa, 35, talked with us about the show, his experience with brujería, why media representations of LGBTQ people of color are so essential and more.

How would you describe Brujos?

It’s a queer of color web series comprised of 12 seven-minute episodes, and each one corresponds with the signs in the Zodiac cycle. The show follows four gay Latino doctoral students as they try to survive a witch-hunt led by the straight, white wealthy male descendants of the first New World colonizers.

Where did the idea behind Brujos come from?

It came from my own research and from growing up Mexican, where alternative ways of knowing and magic are part of your everyday culture. But it also came from asking questions, like what makes it possible to regulate people’s bodies and why do we see queer people as health hazards. What queer and trans people of color see in the media seldom reflects our reality. And when we do see ourselves represented in media, it reinforces values of dominant culture, using affluence, for example, as ways to affirm and represent non-normative people. People of color, queer folks and working-class people are grossly underrepresented in media, and so a lot of the show is comprised of testimonies from queer men of color, my own academic research and my own experience with brujería. I’m trying to make something that is invested in social change and entertainment.

How have you, personally, been influenced by brujería?

It’s something I always grew up with. As I got older, I just thought, well, that’s a folklore, shit my grandmother believes. Then when I went through my first major heartbreak, it hit me really hard, and I went to see a therapist. But that made too much sense for me, so I went to a psychic and tarot reader, and everything they said, down to the day and hour, happened. There’s something about heartbreak. It makes you emotionally raw and open, and that helped me to accept these other things, like my connections to brujería and toward psychic intelligences.

This, at its core, seems to be a series about LGBTQ friendships and relationships, particularly among queer people of color. Why is this representation so important?

Brujos is so important. It’s not just about gay Latinos. The cast includes a lot of women of color and trans people of color. It was important for me to create media that looks at the intersection of these identities and how these identities shape and affect each other and create forms of community across different movements for social change. Also, you do see relationships and intimacy. In mainstream media, we see the same tropes about people of color and queer people, you know, someone will get AIDS or will be beaten up and killed or participates in some aspect of street criminality. I didn’t want to continue to limit our imagination. If we don’t see alternative imagery, we can’t imagine alternatives to dominate social relations and structures.

You’re a PhD candidate at NYU's American Studies program, and you bring in much of that critical theory to Brujos. What are some of the social and cultural critiques or points that viewers will find in this series?

We have to think about what’s happening in the world right now. A bar of queer Latinx people was gunned down in Orlando. The president-elect has championed the police murder of Black people and became a candidate largely because of his hateful rhetoric against immigrants. So much of Brujos is an allegorical tale in this alternative historical world. But it shows why the world we live in is what it is. It shows the type of masculinity that causes people to gun down a club and the racism that allowed a white male with no qualifications to run for president. We have no media that addresses this. There are no shows that try to dismantle and interrogate these types of violent racism, transphobia and misogyny.

In the trailer, we see a scene with a hella problematic white guy who calls himself an "ally" that is at once funny and poignant to the state of allyship that marginalized folks unfortunately know very well. Why was this something that you wanted to give light to in this series?

There is simultaneously so much resentment toward white people among folks of color as well as very real racism from white people in gay communities. I wanted to do this dual analysis that doesn’t let white people be the easy mark that they become for a lot of activists and artists but also tackles racial problems. That character tries to provide a way for white people to be critical of their whiteness but also to explore the real ways and work it takes to create solidarity across racial differences.  

What sorts of benefits do you think we get when using art, especially films and shows, as modes for social commentary or criticism?

You can sit and give someone all the facts, tell them immigrants aren’t stealing from the government, that they pay taxes, but people’s emotions betray their rational capabilities, even to the point where people act irrational. That’s racism: the idea that “you’re Black, you’re not human and, therefore, I can kill you.” You have to show them, make them feel, and you can do that through art and entertainment. But in order for it to be effective it has to be accessible. That’s why you won’t see my work in a museum. My work is on YouTube, where it’s accessible to people who can’t afford to visit a museum. It’s grounded in the idea that it gets people to see and feel, and if you get them to see and feel differently, you can get them to act and think differently. No academic lecture or debate often changes people’s feelings or how they see the world, especially everyday people.

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What do you hope viewers get from Brujos?

The show is not just written to center queer and trans people of color or non-normative folks; it’s also meant to affirm them. The supernatural aspect doesn’t just refer to them being witches or the psychic phenomenon. Supernatural also refers to the queer, women and people of color characters. It refers to their ability to live and understand themselves in a world they are marginalized in and on the receiving end of violence in. I hope it allows us to harness and embrace the power the struggle has given us and get people to start thinking more revolutionarily. I want this to be transformative.

Be sure to watch Brujos on Open TV on January 20, 2017.