(The Center Square) – A University of Oregon professor wrote a book and a short film for “queer children growing up in Latinx communities,” — and plans to make an 80-minute film using the same storyline, according to a press release from the school.
Ernesto Javier Martínez, associate professor and department head of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies (IRES) in the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote the book the short film and is working on the longer movie.
He is, “interested in how people value queer kids and what they do to provide them with information about who they are and who they can be,” the release said.
As a result, he wrote a children’s book that positively depicts a queer boy’s crush. He also produced a short film with director Adelina Anthony “to spark conversation,” according to the release.
Martínez got the idea for the book from his experience “in organizing with queer Latinx communities,” the release said.
“We started to hold workshops where queer adults could start thinking about their pasts and the complexities of what it was like to grow up queer and Latinx,” Martínez said in the release. “We touched down on that pain, but we didn’t want to reproduce that for youth. Rather, we wanted to transform it through storytelling.”
Martínez also said the book reflects on the childhood he wish he had.
“I was a childhood singer who stopped singing because I started to fear the homophobia around me,” he said. “It made it very difficult to sing, so I stopped singing in resistance. But, at the same time, I feel like I hurt myself in the process.”
Titled “When We Love Someone We Sing To Them,” Martínez said the book has received much positive feedback, including awards, library adoption and a positive reception from children and parents.
“Parents are showing me videos of kids enjoying the book,” Martínez said. “There is a section of the book where there are no words, and the kids think that’s the place where they should sing. So they just start singing.”
Martínez said the book is about love and family and hopes it bolsters support for queer youth.
“Oftentimes for queer kids growing up in Latinx communities, the framework for thinking about how to be a healthy queer kid is to go to queer communities,” Martínez said. “We’re saying, ‘You have a love tradition that you can tap into, and it’s ancient.’”
The book reinterprets ancient Mexican culture. For example, it includes the figure Xochipilli, the prince of flowers, the god of creativity and song.
“So we are saying let’s reframe Latinx communities as having resources for queer children,” he said. “Let’s encourage our queer youth to find empowerment through our cultural traditions.”
Although Martínez wrote the book first, he felt it “only scratched the surface,” according to the release. He felt that creating a short film would bring greater depth to the story.
“We wanted to make a less child-like story that framed some of the challenges that parents face,” Martínez said in the release.
The short film La Serenata, a winner of multiple Best Film awards that HBO Max later licensed, inspired Martínez to create a movie. Martínez and Adelina Anthony co-wrote a longer, 80-minute script after earning awards in 2022 from Outfest Screenwriting Lab and the National Association for Latino Independent Producers.
Currently, they are in pre-production with some of the same actors from the short film.
One of the biggest challenges Martínez and his collaborator will face is getting funding for the film. He plans to raise money via a crowdfunding campaign this month.
“It’ll be a 30-day campaign with opportunities for tax-deductible donations in multiple categories,” Martínez said.
Martínez also wants to use the campaign to build support for the film.
“A grassroots fundraising mentality is always grounded in the idea: Don’t follow the money, follow the people power,” Martínez said.
In addition to the money raised, the University of Oregon is helping fund the effort in many ways. Backers of Martínez’s efforts include IRES, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, and the Center for the Study of Women in Society, according to the release.