Yosimar Reyes Ponders Being Too Mexican, Too American, and Too Queer in ‘Prieto’

It’s a hot summer night in Los Angeles. It is the final showing in the three-day preview of Prieto, and the show is sold out. The air is thick and, despite portable AC units placed around the stage, it’s difficult to ignore the overwhelming mugginess the current heatwave has left the room in towards the late evening. The last of the crowd find their seats, and shortly thereafter, Yosimar Reyes takes the stage. The first sentence comes out of his mouth to the beat of ’90s hip-hop, images of an Eastside San Pedro neighborhood serve as the backdrop, and suddenly the heat is just a minor inconvenience as the crowd becomes instantly enthralled.

From Define American comes an unapologetic take on the Latinx immigrant experience. In Prieto, Yosimar Reyes has managed to create a narrative that is true to the queer millennial immigrant and the ever-conflicting feeling of being too Mexican to be American, and too American to be Mexican.

With lots of humor and touches of nostalgia, laced with strands of his other works, Reyes presents a first-person tale that is bound to resonate with a large number of Americans, more specifically, those who came to this country as children, such as the DACA recipients known as DREAMers.

Prieto (Spanish for dark) is the story of Yosimar, a young feminine boy growing up between two cultures. One that preemptively disowns him for what he is becoming; a “high maintenance” boy who envisions himself as the female protagonist of Mexican telenovelas, and the other, a culture that has labeled him illegal before he even has the capacity to understand what the word means. To many of us walking the same fine line growing up, Prieto is as relatable as it gets.

With charm and wit and that has the room laughing out loud from the first few lines, Reyes reflects on a less-than-ideal childhood, which includes but is not limited to a game of cops and robbers that culminates in an encounter with a local gangster, as well as the experience being raised by his working-class Mexican grandparents, who collected cans and did manual labor to make ends meet.

While Prieto is an autobiographical account, it is the story of many who are of the 1.5 generation. We grow up in neighborhoods that are less than safe, our parents work jobs that don’t quite pay minimum wage, and we live in homes that are just barely big enough to house us, let alone the roaches and other critters that come along with low-income housing. Despite all this, when looking back, stories of growing up poor are surprisingly more humorous than tragic.

“It started out as a bunch of short stories,” says Reyes of the one-man show. “I don’t know, I just always thought stories of growing up like that were really funny.”

For a workshop preview that is still being polished, it has very few sharp edges to smooth out. It is a compelling tale that does not pause to explain the idiosyncrasies of Latinx culture to outsiders, instead embracing its audience by trusting their investment in the story. No subtopic is off limits; immigration, sexuality, love. It’s all tackled with gusto. Hence, it becomes a unified experience of reminiscing about family, identity, economic struggle, and the fortitude of the migrant community.

To label it just a show would be severely underselling it. It is a rollercoaster of emotions. It starts off with an eruption of laughter, with the sensation you’re sitting right next to young Yosimar while he is being lectured by his grandfather about the importance of being a real man, hearing the warning that he better not turn out to be a joto, experiencing eating spaghetti for the first time, yearning for more American meals like the other kids at school, and before you know it, you’re crying, mourning his losses, and the losses of his family, leaving the theater with the emotional lightness that follows a good therapy session.

Among many things, Yosimar Reyes is a nationally acclaimed poet and performance artist whose work covers various subjects. In “Acts of Resistance,” he talks about love and sexuality, and the radical act of queer sex.

This is not fucking

Not to be confused with lovemaking,

this is resistance

Your hand pressed against my chest,

the way your lips feel on mine,

this could never be anything but that.

The Guerrero-born writer who migrated to The U.S. from Mexico at the age of three writes in a fearless punch-per-word style that does not let up until it is finished. Every verse, every sentence aims to cut straight to the core and he succeeds.

His first publication, For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly was self-published with the support of Carlos Santana, and went on to garner positive reviews internationally. When asked about his hopes for Prieto and its future, Reyes says he’d like to take it as far it can go. Regarding the possibility of a TV series based on the show, he smiles and says, “Yeah! Why not? It’s time people see a femme brown boy on TV.”

Considering the buzz around the show already, a series might not be far off.

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