Traditional Mariachi attire is meant to be as loud and complex as the music, but musician AB Soto has taken his interpretation one step further by refusing to hide his feminine side when he headlines the "Mundo Latino Stage" on Sunday, July 17 at the San Diego Pride Festival.
AB Soto is headlining the "Mundo Latino Stage" Sunday July 17, and he said he is ready to show his Latinx fans how to be comfortable in their own skin.
Soto's refusal to abide by another's definition of masculinity powers the themes and images in his music, and it has invited homophobic criticism, Soto said. In his hit song "Cha Cha B*tch," which he recently remixed with world-famous drag queen RuPaul, he wears American flag-themes jumpsuits, zebra-print suits and sequin Mariachi outfits with sombreros.
"There is this discomfort people feel when you want to identify as feminine at a given moment," Soto said. He said it's interesting to see that "judgment" even within the gay community.
Born in East Los Angeles to a Mexican family, Soto self describes himself as gay, and also gender fluid. Like many gay people in the U.S., he grew up learning "passing" mannerisms, meaning he could appear more masculine when he needed.
"Growing up, I was comfortable in my own skin, but I also adopted masculine characteristics and mannerisms from my father and my brother because we are all taught to blend in," Soto said. "In the Latino community, there are very tense vibes when it comes to masculinity and going against it."
Like many of his fans, AB Soto uses "Latinx" to describe himself, saying it is a safe, all-encompassing term to describe his Mexican heritage and gender expression. His performances and videos combat homophobia against feminine gay men, and challenge machismo within Latino communities.
"Everybody needs to label you, whether it's about your sexuality or what kind of Mexican you are," Soto said. "This is the problem we need to address, and it's a conversation beginning with the Latinx and transgender people."
Soto said criticism comes, not when he wears these clothes, but when he begins to dance.
"My parents would dress me in sarapes and Mariachi outfits as a kid, so I wear them again proudly and in my own mannerisms," Soto said. "I challenge people to think about what offends them more: the cowboy hat, my traditional Mexican clothes or my feminine dance moves? That is how I challenge masculinity these days."
"When I wear these outfits, I represent my heritage, and I am proud of the garments my parents taught me to love," Soto said. "I wear them to embrace them and reclaim them because America made me feel that I was "less than" for wearing traditional Mexican clothing. For me, it is like going full circle back to my home."