Jorge-Mario Cabrera is a poet whether he likes it or not. He’s a communicator by profession, working in the immigrant rights movement since 1992 but he was crafting passionate, political and lyrical verses long before he made a living sharing stories about the immigrant community living in the United States.
“I wrote my first poem in 8th grade when all I knew about being an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. was that my parents and I couldn’t go back to El Salvador, not now, not ever,” he says. “That first poem was an ode to my grandmother’s cooking and to a rooster named Chepe.”
When he recalls his days as a young refugee growing up in Bell Gardens, Calif., and later moving to Santa Cruz to attend college, Cabrera smiles. “Those were the golden years of my life. I was innocent. I fell in love for the first time with a boy who smoked too much grass,” he says.
Cabrera worked for many years as Programs and Development Director for a number of HIV/AIDS prevention and services organizations in California. He recalls the early ‘90s with nostalgia: “Those were years of change and struggle for the Latino and gay community, especially for men and women living and dying of HIV/AIDS. The fight for resources, even in areas such as Los Angeles, was fierce and Latinas/os were not a priority for many white leaders in the LGBT community. Had it not been for organizations like Clinica del Pueblo in Watsonville and Bienestar in Los Angeles, many more of my friends would have lost their battle with HIV.”
As he sips his second cup of coffee, this writer/poet/advocate doesn’t mince words when talking about his next fight: immigrant rights. “There’s tough times ahead for immigrants and people of conscience” he says. “The worst of the worst has yet to come and we have to stay united.”
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I came out in high school when I was 17. The most difficult coming out conversation was with my father, a military man.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Mexican Singer Chavela Vargas and Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
Club Tempo, one of the oldest gay Latino bars in the city.
Describe your dream wedding.
Intimate gathering with his family and my family, under the stars, boleros playing in the background.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
What historical outcome would you change?
The Holocaust and the moral decay, and inaction by many, that allowed such genocide to take place.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Attending an Erasure concert in San Francisco in 1989.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
A poem I wrote about not fearing love. I titled it “Somos” (We Are).
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“In Spite of the Commas, the Sentiment Was Real.”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I would advise against changing what’s already perfect.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe in the power of a higher being who cradles us in his/her bosom, nurtures, protects, teaches, loves us.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
The rainbow is our symbol for a reason, we are not all the same.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
Nothing. I don’t like pain.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That the LGBT community is an all-welcoming, progressive bunch of goody two shoes. We are an evolving movement.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Contracorriente,” a 2009 Peruvian movie about the hard work of loving.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Handshakes between strangers instead of hugs.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
To grow old without too many regrets.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
Love does have an expiration date.
Why Los Angeles?
Because being alive is to walk amongst angels.