(in progress)

a project supported in part by the Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice fellowship
Caricia - contacto físico suave y delicado que se hace deslizando la mano o los dedos sobre un cuerpo, generalmente como muestra de cariño.
Caress - physical contact in a soft or gentle manner using a hand or fingers over one’s body; generally to express tenderness.
Caricias is a multimedia ode to migrant LGBTQ+ tribute artists who perform as Latinx divas like Jennni Rivera, Juan Gabriel, Celia Cruz, Chalino Sanchez, Selena and many more. These nostalgic performances are a growing cultural phenomenon in Los Angeles where tribute artists are invited to backyard parties, first communion and baptism celebrations, quinceñeras, nightclubs and straight bars to be the centerpieces of entertainment. Caricias explores the journey beyond the spectacle into the intimate spaces these tribute artists create with audiences and their community - where there is catharsis, where there is memory and where there is self-preservation.

The photography and interviews invite us to observe the subtle shifts in behavior by predominantly heteronormative audiences when the space is queered by the performers. These LGBTQ artists offer more than the couple hundred dollars they take back home. Beyond the physical labor of making their own costumes and performing multiple acts in shows, they also endure the emotional labor of the crowd they are in by challenging them to embrace closeness, holding their discomfort and subverting it as palpable comedy.

Caricias is a collaborative project with each performers involved and my own practice as an artist and documentarian. Therefore, our project aims to show the nuances “behind the curtain” of party performances and show how artists create radically queer and supportive spaces during times of heavy persecution for migrants and LGBTQ people. As Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras continue to be among the most violent place for LGBTQ, femme, and gender non-conforming people, we ask diasporic communities to reflect on the selective acceptance of queer and transgender bodies within and outside the context of nostalgic tribute performances.
Moni Leon dressed as Rocio Durcal (left) and Yosi Love dressed as Juan Gabriel (right) pose for a portrait together between the supply room and restaurant kitchen after a Mother’s Day performance at Mariscos Los Pacifico in Boyle Heights Calif. on May 12, 2019. Moni coordinates a line-up of LGBTQ performers every Sunday at this restaurant where many families gather on the weekends to watch tribute artists while they eat and drink. (Photograph by Arlene Mejorado for Caricias)
Espinozita Lucas sits for a portrait on the corner of his bed in Van Nuys, Calif. on May 6, 2019. Espinozita has only been performing for four years but has been able to make a living for himself mostly performing as late Mexican corrido artists Chalino Sanchez and Joan Sebastian while also supplementing his income as an Uber driver. He is the sole provider to for his is mother and sister who live in Mexico. Espinozita is a gay migrant artist from Nuevo Leon, Mexico and maintains a long distance relationship with his partner in Mexico who he visits periodically. (Photograph by Arlene Mejorado for Caricias)
Archived image of Josue Rivera, and his pop group “The Teenagers” in Santa Ana, El Salvador in 1986 collaged over a photograph of brown spandex fabric, Koreatown, Los Angeles, Calif. July 8, 2019. Josue is a gay migrant artist from El Salvador. (Photograph, scanned image, and collage design by Arlene Mejorado.)
Archived image of 19 year old Barbara Towne dressed up as Bibi Gaytan in Honduras collaged over a photograph of fabric that she uses for her dresses for her current performances, May 31, 2019. Barbara Towne who is now 43 years old is a migrant transgender woman from El Progeso Honduras who lives in Highland Park. (Collage and photograph by Arlene Mejorado.)
Josue Rivera caresses the shoulder of a party guest during his tribute performance as the late Latinx diva Juan Gabriel in a backyard tent birthday party in South Central Los Angeles, Calif. on April 13, 2019. Impersonating performers like Josue often engage with the audience by lightly touching guests who look uncomfortable or reluctant in order to disarm them and engage them with the show. Josue Rivera is a gay migrant performer from Santa Ana, El Salvador and has a large demand for performances in the Central American community in Los Angeles. Calif. (Photograph by Arlene Mejorado for Caricias)
A groom-to-be holds Barbara Towne for a slow dance while she performs as Paquita la del Barrio at his joint bachelor/bachelorette party with his fiancé. The bride-to-be passes out drinks and tends to guests throughout the performance in Compton Calif. on July 13, 2019. Barbra Towne is a migrant transgender woman from El Progeso, Honduras who performed as three different Latinx divas at this party. (Photograph by Arlene Mejorado for Caricias)
Several women and children at a bachelor/bachelorette party sit inside of a tent during a tribute performance of late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera by Barbara Towne , Compton, Calif. on July 13, 2019. During performances, audience members heavily document the show often recording in real time on Facebook live. Almost all parties that tribute artists perform at are intergenerational involving elders, mothers, fathers, teenagers, and children. (Photograph by Arlene Mejorado for Caricias)
Espinozita Lucas performs the song Nieves de Enero as the late Sinaloense corrido artist Chalino Sanchez during a first communion party on May 18, 2019 in San Bernardino, Calif. Espinozita calls himself a “transformer” and offers entertainment as 8 different artist. He is the sole provider to for his is mother and sister who live in Mexico. Espinozita is a gay migrant artist from Nuevo Leon, Mexico and maintains a long distance relationship with his partner in Mexico who he visits periodically. (Photograph by Arlene Mejorado for Caricias)

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