William Calvo-Quirós: Puro escándalo

September 23, 2022
Written By:
Luisa Sánchez

William Calvo-Quirós knows when someone looks at his work, they might find it a bit psychofrenic: From studying murals and chupacabras to low-riders and saints, all is fair game for the professor of Latino/a studies.

William Calvo-Quirós
William Calvo-Quirós

“From the outside, it looks that way but for me it makes total sense in that we’re unifying the Latino life experience in the United States. And a community has many expressions of their lives,” Calvo-Quirós said. “We’re talking about cultural studies and therefore the cultural manifestations of that community.”

Born in Costa Rica, Calvo-Quirós immigrated with his family in the late 1980s to Reno, Nev. His professional career includes his undergraduate degree in industrial design; his first doctoral degree from the Department of Architecture and Environmental Design at Arizona State University (ASU) for his ethnographic work on lowriders aesthetics; and a second doctoral degree from University of California at Santa Barbara focusing on Chicana and Chicano Studies and “Monsters of Late Capitalism along the U.S.–Mexico Border: Legends, Epistemologies and the Politics of Imagination.”

In this episode of the podcast “Latinx @ Umich,” he discusses the importance of finding safe spaces and how lowriders, camp culture and barriología are all connected. He also speaks about his new book, “Undocumented Saints, The Politics of Migrating Devotions.”

In addition, he shares his personal journey as a gay man in Costa Rica, a would-be-priest turned scholar, and how the communities he belongs to helped him in this journey.

“I grew up in a nation where for a long time I thought that I would never get old because I would die from AIDS or I would get beat up,” he said. “So when my mom made the decision — as a single mother — to migrate to the United States without documentation, risk her own health and everything, she created a space for me to exist.

“When my mom decided to embrace me and love me beyond what she understood, she made a revolutionary act,” he continued. “She said, ‘I chose love over what the church says, over what the state says.’ And that moment transformed my family and everything.”

Puro escándalo

Book cover art: "Undocumented Saints"
Book cover art: “Undocumented Saints”

Calvo-Quirós says it was while studying the lowriders’ aesthetic that he was able to make a connection between Latinos and ‘camp,’ the aesthetic movement that seeks to exaggerate differences to command attention.

For lowriders, that might be a bold pink car, adorned with flowers and symbols commanding the police to look, since they knew they were looking anyways.

“Camp is fantastic because it’s disruptive … is this kind of excessive, extravagant, loud aesthetic. Camp is political because it’s a creative rupture of the norms of what people should wear, or how they should talk. So, in that sense, for many communities of color, camp allows them to carve a space where they say, ‘I exist in my own differences.’

“I am a scandal because we are saying that we don’t need to be defined by this system, that we can imagine a world where Latinos can fully flourish as a community. So that’s a scandal, because the system cannot imagine that.

“That’s why I say: People, embrace your escándalo. Just be escandalosos. Be proud of who you are.”