“The half-breed, the half-dead”
: Blood-Mixing, Queer Latino Cultural Production, and HIV/AIDS, 1981-1996

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This project examines cultural production by gay Latinos responding to the American HIV/AIDS epidemic from 1981 to the “protease moment” of 1996, when effective medical treatments emerged. Through close readings of a wide but underrepresented range of published and unpublished literature, performance, and visual art, I argue that key groups of cultural producers accentuated blood-mixing both as a marker of Latino racial and cultural identity and as a vector of HIV transmission in this period.
Reading across Chicana feminism (a primary theoretical springboard, I argue, for modern Latino/a studies) and HIV/AIDS scholarship—two discursive contemporaries of 1990s queer theory, rarely discussed in tandem—this thesis evaluates the shaping influence of blood-mixing for Latino hybridity, queer relationality, and viral exchange. This synthesis, which I term “viral mestizaje,” proved a unique nexus for subjects identifying as both Latino and gay in the age of AIDS.
The thesis redresses several imbalances in the scholarship of HIV/AIDS and Latino/a studies in the U.S. As I argue, HIV in the bloodstreams of particular raced sexed bodies suffused cultural narratives in gay Latino communities, thereby troubling notions of racial specificity during an epidemic often labelled a “gay white man’s disease.”
I first examine abjection as an affective mechanism contouring the lived experiences of queer Latinos with HIV/AIDS. I argue that existing narratives of Latinos as racially ambiguous border-crossers paralleled and patterned rhetoric of viral transmission across spatial boundaries to disrupt the coherence of late twentieth-century identities. In the following two chapters, reaching from the East to West Coasts, I analyse the conceptual art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and the writing of Gil Cuadros to demonstrate and deconstruct dual narratives of assimilation (as both an imperative of American cultural acquisition and a feature of viral reverse transcription) and economies of cross-racial HIV transmission. Finally, I chart the politics of memory and mythology by queer Chicano cultural producers in Los Angeles reading HIV/AIDS through the historical and mythical optics of blood-mixing and its legacies in the borderlands.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJohn Howard (Supervisor), Lara Shalson (Supervisor) & Max Saunders (Supervisor)

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