Ernesto Chávez will be spending his fellowship year writing a book titled Body and Soul: The Closeted Performance of Ramon Novarro. Today Novarro is probably best known for how he died (at the hands of a male hustler) rather than how he lived. This project emphasizes the latter. It endeavors to cast Novarro as a vibrant historical agent, rather than simply a tragic movie star. Novarro was a Mexican-born, devoutly Catholic, closeted gay actor, who achieved Hollywood stardom in an era of intense racism and homophobia. Thus, his life provides a window into how the motion picture industry, sexuality, and religion functioned in early to mid-twentieth-century America. His experience also speaks to contemporary issues including the continuous influx of Latinx immigrants to the U.S., the lack of diversity in the film industry, and the persistence of violence against sexual minorities despite the seeming gains made in LGBTQ civil rights.
Currently a professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso, Chávez has previously published two books ¡Mi Raza Primero! (My People First!): Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement, 1966-1978 (University of California Press, 2002) and The U.S. War with Mexico: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martins, 2007). After completing his current project, Chávez will work on a book focusing on the effects of the HIV/AIDs epidemic on Latinx communities in the United States.
Please click here for a short interview for the American Historical Association’s Member Spotlight.