Hispanic Heritage Month is a time when Latinx folks celebrate the resiliency of their community and the contributions they have made in the realms of culture, history, and the tapestry of an increasingly diverse America. Inspired by that month-long celebration, which occurs September 15 through October 15, local drag performer Aria Crawford adapted to the pandemic and brought 12 Latin queens together for an epic photo shoot to show the strength and fabulousness that resides within their community.
“Growing up American and Latino in the U.S. during the ’90s and 2000s, I wanted to fit in as an American so badly,” Crawford recalls. “My parents taught me English as my first language to make sure we didn’t have any problems at school, but in the process they forgot to teach me Spanish.” Crawford, a native of Corpus Christi, remembers the overwhelming desire to blend in. “For my last few years in school, I took Spanish and learned a little bit. As an adult, I tried to use what I knew, but wasn’t very good at it.”
Having made a name for herself in the Houston drag scene, Crawford accepted a gig to host a Latin drag show. “I really started to utilize and learn more Spanish as I connected with other Latin queens and developed a love for Spanish music and the culture it represents. It was queens like Laisha LaRue that inspired me to be proud of my Latin culture and [realize] that I didn’t need to ‘fit in’ as an American. I am Mexican-American, and that is more than enough.”
Crawford explains how the current political climate that demonizes Latinx people makes her mission to represent Hispanic culture all the more important. “When I was growing up in the U.S., the problems we were presented with as Latin Americans weren’t as hard as they are right now. Our people, whether they come from Mexico, El Salvador, or another Latin country, are now often looked at as ‘less than’ because they want to come to this country to make a better life. For them, it’s sometimes the only option.”
An emboldened Crawford has started using her voice to call for change in how fellow Latinx people are perceived and treated. “Over the last couple of years, they’ve been treated like monsters and criminals for wanting to have a better life. That made it really important for me to stand proud—to be here in this country and be connected to them, because I know that what I have is what they want. I wish I could give that to all of my people who want to be here.”
Crawford explains that many of the performers that Houstonians know and love are impacted by the rhetoric used to “other-ize” Latinx folks. “Behind the scenes of drag, some of these girls are undocumented, and drag is how they make money to survive,” she says. “I think if people understood that [the performers at these] shows are the same people that so many Americans have talked badly about, they would have a better understanding of who we are as a people. I want to inspire those queens and show them that we are all Latinos and we are all in this together, no matter what your background is.”
Back in February, when a group of Black Houston drag queens put together a Black History Month photoshoot, the proud Latinx performer had the idea to pull together some of Houston’s fiercest queens for a photo shoot in September that would display the strength and beauty of some of her favorite counterparts in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. “I knew some of them because we are part of the same drag family, and others I’ve met from just being a fan. I had the idea for the photo shoot in the pre-COVID days, and I shared the idea with the girls. They all said yes!”
Gia Marie, a Latinx queen, says the opportunity to participate in the photo shoot was a no-brainer. “I fully fell in love with what the photo stood for. It’s important that we are proud of our culture and our community.” The focus on queer pride was also a huge factor for Marie. “There are so many things for us as Latinos to be proud of, including being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This project [gave us] an overwhelming feeling of pride. I’ll never forget this moment or this experience.”
Fellow queen and photo vixen Laisha LaRue also took pride in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with the fierce group. “To me, [participating in the photo shoot] meant the celebration of our culture—the recognition that we are one, no matter what. I love seeing all of our people just enjoying their best life and celebrating our culture!”
Sensitivity to social distancing requirements was taken into account as Crawford and her fellow queens proceeded with the shoot. “We scheduled everybody in different time slots. They would go, take their picture, and leave. The photographer then [combined our separate photos] into one picture,” she explains. “We didn’t want to make things worse for [possible COVID exposure], so shooting in small groups was better for everyone, including Coti, the photographer.”
The result of this process was a stunning shot that the queens will be sharing throughout Hispanic Heritage Month on social media. “That’s where everything’s at. I eventually want to have a print made for my apartment, but right now everything revolves around social media. That’s the thing everyone connects to every day. That’s where most people are going to see it.”
Having journeyed on the path of American assimilation before returning to her Latin roots, Crawford highlights the importance of being out, proud, and fabulous at all times, particularly during Hispanic Heritage Month. “This gathering of Latin drag queens I call reinas is a celebration of all different paths linked by one culture. Some speak Spanish and some don’t. Some were born here and some weren’t. But at the end of the day, we are all connected by our roots, and that’s what makes it so beautiful.”
For more information on Coti Photography, visit facebook.com/cotiphotographyhouston.
This article appears in the October 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.