Curse of the Salsa Pumps comes to ConU

You can go home again, if you immigrate, settle in and learn to take the new land as your own. It may not be easy, especially if you are gay, have AIDS, and are trying to write fiction and research in a foreign language, but Chilean-Canadian Francisco Ibanez-Carrasco was able to pull it off.

Curse of the Salsa Pumps: Writing, Learning and Living with HIV, was the fourth in a series of five lectures presented last Thursday by the Concordia Community Lecture Series on HIV/AIDS. The findings of six years of ethnographic fieldwork and participant observation by Carrasco into the English-speaking world of

academic and community-based social science researchers on HIV/AIDS were the highlight of his lecture.

Carrasco’s many experiences as a rookie AIDS researcher, immigrant, author and community activist and as a man living with HIV/AIDS has certainly sent him down a road less travelled. “The kind of research that truly interests me is about the well entrenched contradictions of being a gay man, a cyborg unit in a collective that thinks [of] itself as young, healthy, potent and free,” said Carrasco. “I am interested in why us First World gay men can be conventional and reactionary; we want to marry and be equals at soldering and making war as well as competing for muscles, sex, and other physical feats. Our bodies, whether inebriated on cocktail drugs, crystal or sober, are a marvel of
modern technology and medicine, but our minds remain in cyborg camps, ghettoized, insular, profoundly patriarchal in a very Anglo way. I want research that helps us dialogue to understand why.”

Carrasco was born in Santiago, Chile and came to Canada in 1985. His stories have appeared in the anthologies Best Gay Men’s Fiction 2000,Contra/diction: New Queer Men’s Fiction, and his articles have appeared in magazines including Fuse, MIX, Front and Border/lines.

Much of Carrasco’s life is laid out in an extravagant, tragicomic novel, ‘Flesh Wounds & Purple Flowers’ that takes us into the world of Latino machos and cha-cha divas of Santiago’s gay underground, full of dreamers and schemers looking for salvation abroad.

One of them is Camilo, a strong-willed queen who makes it out of Chile in the early 1980s, but en route to New York lands in Vancouver, where he decides to stay. “Camilo is very much a part of me,” said Carrasco. “I wrote this when I thought I was going to die in 1994. I didn’t have anything to leave behind, so I started a long letter.”

As a man living with HIV, Carrasco has observed a charged climate. On the one hand he has seen the emergency and urgency in which people living with HIV/AIDS, AIDS frontline workers and scientists work everyday. On the other hand, he has seen a growing apathy and fatigue towards AIDS, specifically towards the in-depth examination of the cultural constructions of health, illness, emergency and even desire, love and seduction.

“My work attempts to contribute to the understanding that the lived experience of researchers plays a significant role in the construction of social scientific accounts of HIV/AIDS and in the process, how the social experience of HIV/AIDS is partly constructed by HIV/AIDS research.”

Carrasco reported his findings on how social scientific accounts of HIV/AIDS uniquely integrate the lived experience of research participants/communities and the lived experience of researchers, many of whom often belong to or who gradually learn to be a part of those communities.

“My ‘meta-analysis’ of AIDS research concerns academic and community-based researchers and research students in all health-related areas, AIDS activists, and queer theorists.”

Carrasco’s study clarified the complex web of social relations between researchers and the various communities they investigate. Carrasco revealed how sexual orientation and gender, alongside infection and illness, have permanently influenced the ways researchers “do” social sciences in relation to HIV/AIDS. It also reveals how intertwined the professional and the personal are in the field

of HIV/AIDS in the social sciences; there are indistinct lines between
professional and personal, individual and community, sciences and politics.

“In my research I have found that queer scientists are indeed inspired by their petty demons to carry out the research they do-take Kinsey as one basic example. When the scientific gaze is reversed from the HIV infected body to the AIDS researchers themselves, a remarkably different, indeed “deviant” practice emerges of how HIV/AIDS social science research is produced, a practice in which “queer” individuals figure prominently.”

These findings encourage both established and new members of the AIDS research community to remain flexible in their choices of methodological and analytical instruments. They call for new ways of sustained grassroots participation from research subjects in researching their own motivations, actions and psychosocial determinants around HIV/AIDS.

“We need to redirect and reflect on the queer body of knowledge,” Carrasco concluded. “We need to find a voice, a voice that does not remind us of who we are, a social science that does more than examine the demons of being gay. This is the true curse of the salsa pumps.”

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