Interview: Jorge Cruz
Jorge Cruz is just like Pecker, the photographer played by Edward Furlong in John Waters’ film of the same name. Except instead of taking pictures of wacky white people in Baltimore, Cruz produces solemn and pensive portraits of his aggressively normal first-generation Mexican-American family in Chicago, and instead of being hopelessly in love with Christina Ricci, Cruz defines himself a nun-like “sexless” queer. And instead of turning his subjects into accidental celebrities and thereby ruining their lives, Cruz quietly connects with empathetic strangers over the vast expanse of cyberspace, without impacting his family in the slightest.
Okay, so maybe he’s really nothing like Pecker—but you get the point: They’re both outsiders living on the inside. Cruz’s fantastic series Living @ Home acts as a window through which we gaze into his family’s most intimately mundane moments—and through which Cruz peers outwards to the rest of the world. There’s a tension at play in Living @ Home, between Cruz’s desire to share these moments as an objective photographer and his inherent role as a compassionate relative. Below, he expounds upon the family dynamics that make these images so fascinating.
Can you share a little bit of background on your family? Tell us about the boy with the pencil-thin moustache, the girl texting in the back of a minivan, the man with gel in his hair, and the woman who also takes on a range of roles in your Untitled series.
My parents are from Mexico City. They moved to LA, enjoyed all those things like Rodando Beach, Anaheim, Orange County– and then I was conceived. My parents moved to Chicago because the majority of my dad’s family that was in the United States was living in the suburbs of Chicago. So I was born in a transitional town close to Northwestern University, and later my parents just had three more kids.
After me, my sister Cintya was born– the ‘princess’ of the family. Then my younger sister Tanairi (she’s the one texting in the van; actually she was in a murderous rage when I took that photograph), after which my mom rested for one year before giving birth to the youngest of all of us, JR. He’s the one with the mustache. It’s actually kind of crazy because I had always noticed, especially within minorities, that when they are going through puberty the youngest looking kids grow the oddest facial hair. But since, you know, they’re young– they don’t really know whether to shave it or what. Such an unfortunate thing, really, because you look like, so in-between, so vulnerable. It’s like a billboard to the world saying, “I’m going through puberty.”
My mom and my dad are actually the gelled one and the person in the Untitled series. I know, don’t we all look so young?!
What is your family like as a unit?
We’re really, really close to each other, but not in an “I’ll tell you everything about my life” kind of way.
How do you fit into the picture, and how do they react to your role as a documentarian of everyday moments in their lives?
I don’t! Hahaha. I swear, I’m like this ball of everything my parents didn’t expect. I’m queer, a feminist, into the Arts, ‘soft spoken’, a writer, and not like anyone that I have known or grown up with. For the most part though, Cintya and my mom are used to the camera on them but my younger sister and dad are still really awkward on camera a lot of times. They’re so alike in so many ways, too. Also, they really have no idea what I do. They just think I breathe and do stuff, but they probably won’t read this interview or even know I’m talking about them. They don’t understand what I do and nor does anyone else around me, but that’s because no one here comes from a visual arts background. People here didn’t go to museums, read the New Yorker or critically read/analyze stuff. People here just want to live, just want to make sense and try to carve out a space for themselves and their families.
If my family knew about my real thoughts or what I do or anything, I think it would make them uncomfortable because the ideas are so abstract, so out there, and I don’t want to make them feel like I’m judging them (which I’m not). I’m in a tough position, mainly because I don’t and never really had a support group to foster my work, so in turn a lot of the times I end up being shrugged off by the people that care about me. But it’s good, because they don’t question me, so I’m able to do anything I want. I end up talking to myself a lot. Thank god for the Internet and college or else I might have ended up being a freak.
Is there a generation divide in your family? How would you characterize the changes that you see happening, and what stays the same?
As we grow up I see the changes between how we all think, especially my parents. They seem so conservative now. My sister had a baby, baby Leo and we’re all trying to make sense out of where we are in life right now. Just trying to live, trying to make sense of who we are.
At the same time, though, our family (my mom’s side) is growing. I have a ton of younger cousins, a ton of new experiences watching them grow up and realizing how many people we have in our lives. We threw a birthday party for one of my younger cousins in the park and we were all setting up and whatnot as my cousin came, and she was sitting in the backseat, the window rolled up to her eyes and she just looked deadpan as she saw us. When she arrived she said, “I was in the car, and I was like, ‘Why is all my family here?’” At that moment in time I think it clicked in my head how huge our family was becoming. Personally, I am just figuring out what family is, what it makes of us, where it will lead us, and what it means to grow up as a first generation.
I’m fascinated by Leo because he’s a male and it’s interesting seeing how you construct or try to construct a gender identity for someone who is not even three months old yet.
Are you able to talk to your siblings about being queer? Have you ever brought a boy home?
Oh yeah, it’s not big deal around here. I think for them it would have been more difficult to understand had I been a bitch or more effeminate. I think it was good for me to be the way I am, because they have this view that being gay equates to all the gay stereotypes in the world. I proved to them otherwise, I guess. I’m really sexless and boring and I don’t like going out. I’m just not ‘gay’, I just happen to like men.
No, no boys for me. I’m living a nun-like lifestyle, just like Bradford Cox. You either spend your life chasing a relationship or you spend it finding and developing yourself. If I’m going to be with anyone it’ll be when I’m all good with myself and I have time. Plus, I like being alone…. and I have a lot of work to do before that.
What is it like being “first generation,” and how tied to their Mexican heritage do you think your family is?
I think for me, growing up first generation was a really difficult psychological time in my life where I felt disconnected to the world around me because of language barriers and just cultural differences. I used to not know the translations of “hot chocolate” or “supreme pizza” and other smaller things. It took me a while to get there mainly because in school you’re taught English but not jargon. A lot of teachers were mean spirited and impatient BUT look at me now! All thanks to Norman Lear and forcing and forcing myself to learn, learn, learn!
I know when I was in school with other ‘Mexican’ kids they would think I was ‘white washed’ and hated being Hispanic, and for a while I did (when I was in elementary school). But my parents are from the city, my grandma speaks and writes like she’s educated, and she is the one who taught me how to read and write in ‘proper’ Spanish. So to me I never understood why there is this hang up that being Mexican means having to be dumb or dressing like a thug or anything like that, never made any sense because my family wasn’t like that and they’re from Mexico! To me being Mexican was just that– nothing more and nothing less.
I don’t know many things that happen over there in regards to cultural movements, don’t know the ‘scene’ but how can I? It’s already so difficult to keep up with American culture. To me being Mexican is more about being Hispanic in America and all those struggles we all go through. I like being able to talk in Spanish to a waiter or wait staff, I like the fact that I can watch films in Spanish and the news and understand it. I like being bilingual– it opens up an entire world to me. But to say that being Mexican is having to do folk dances around the neighborhood, or chanting to the ancestors, or riding a horse, or being a cowboy is nothing of my experience or of my grandmas or my family in Mexico. They have cable, Internet, and are just as distant from those things as we are.
What sort of artwork/writing/film/music influenced you growing up, and helped you come to terms with your queer identity?
I don’t think being queer actually ever gave me any inspiration, I was accepted by pretty much everyone. I think it just changed my worldview, made me realize there is no one right way to live, no one way to be.
What kind of music do you like, and how did you start taking photos of bands professionally?
I like music, but I also get bored of hearing it over and over again. For instance, I’ve gone for about two months without just opening up my iTunes to listen to music. I just listen to what I’m reviewing or whatever. I started shooting bands just accidentally? I like shooting bands, it’s something different. But I’m not the regular concert photographer, those people have lenses and this crazy ability to run around the pit. I do not. I like how I do it, but let’s just say Rolling Stone won’t be calling me up anytime soon.
Describe your relationship with the Internet.
Oh the Internet! I love it, I’m able to open up my miiiiiiiind. I like to read, keep up with the world around me. Via the Internet I’ve been able to discover different bands, different people, different lifestyles. I write via the Internet, I Interview via the internet, you can make changes via the Internet. The Internet is an amazing thread if you use it to its full advantage. By that I mean going outside of YouTube, Facebook and just getting lost. Love to read white supremacy websites, I like knowing how other people justify their thinking, I like just being in everything without having to leave the room.