Meet Roland Palencia from SHADES OF DISCLOSURE
Roland is a member of QueerWise, a Los Angeles based group of LGBTQ writers and spoken word artists and wrote and tells his own story in SHADES OF DISCLOSURE.
I was born and raised in Puerto Barrios, a port on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Although my hometown was small in population, it was oversized in its diversity, and I was exposed to dozens of languages and cultures. When I moved to El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de Porciúncula La Reina de Los Angeles (AKA L.A.) in the mid-70’s at the age of 18, I was used to everyone not looking like me or speaking the same language I spoke.
My family owned a small bakery business that employed over 20 people, allowing us an assortment of economic and social privileges not afforded by most Guatemalans. My father, Guillermo Alfonso Palencia Abadia, left the business in the late 60’s to join the underground guerrilla movement in a cival war that ultimately lasted for 35 years, ravaging Guatemala's economy and driving a stake through the soul and spirit of a country which at that time, had less than eight million people. In 1971, my father was assassinated because of his political activities.
The war and its horrific aftermath led to the massive migration of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans who made their journey to El Norte, creating an underclass of undocumented people in the U.S.
Coming to Los Angeles
By the time of my father's death, my mom Vilma Nelia Duarte de Palencia was already living in the U.S., trying to secure legal status for us to migrate and flee the terror in Guatemala. Alfredo Garcia—an openly gay Chicano man (whose partner was Stuart Lubin, a teacher at Roosevelt High School and a leftist-leaning Jewish man) offered to marry my mom in the early 70’s so she could bring us here to safety. I always say that my U.S. immigration story was birthed by gay love: the love between Alfredo and Stuart and the love they had for my mom and by extension for us, her children.
In the early 80s I was one of the founders of the LGBT Latino movement in Los Angeles. I also founded and/or led a number of LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, immigrant rights, workforce development, healthcare and philanthropic organizations. I executive produced of a couple of documentary films, including “TransVisible: Bamby Salcedo’s Story,” depicting the amazing life and work of its mega Trans activist. In the late 80’s I founded “Viva,” an LGBTQ Latin@ arts multi-disciplinary group committed to keeping alive the treasured legacy of HIV+ Queer Latino artists and their art since so many were dying or had already died of AIDS. Viva means Life!
Having been a first-person witness to death, starting at a young age here and in Guatemala, makes me insanely hungry to give and receive love, kindness, compassion and to be connected to my humanity and to extend that to others. I have a tremendous zest for life. I have learned to savor and enjoy everything life has given me, whether bitter or sweet. Most of my joy comes from simple things like daily walks, listening to books, dancing until I drop, being playful and humorous in every interaction I have whether with family, friends, or even strangers (I can’t sit next to someone and not talk to them. That would be torture!). Lately, I’ve event taken to reading dictionaries, as I am enamored with the power of language, our greatest invention where every word is free and freeing!
This is my first time as a performer in a play or in anything artsy. Thanks a million (millones y millones y millones de gracias) to Skylight Theatre!! I am especially grateful to Michael Kearns, our Artistic Director and literary mentor. I joined QueerWise to find my voice, but instead I found my soul, my authenticity and yes! my unsuspected resonant voice, and for that I am eternally indebted. My currency of payment will be to BE and DO what I want to see manifested in the world, especially in these times of blaming and shaming, marginalizing and demonizing.
Paz y amor,