Rolando Chang Barrero's Pajaro Story
El Pajaro / The Bird is a symbol that has many meanings. Culturally it has, for the most part, been a symbol associated with freedom and strength, as well as harmony with fellow creatures.
The bird meaning signifies illumination and empowerment. It ushers in fortune and luck, and it represents purity, elegance, opportunity, and victory.
Pajar(o) has also, been used as a slang term in a many latin countries ( ie: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Republica Dominicana ) to refer to the male homosexual, inversely the feminine Pajar(a) is the slang term for lesbian.
While attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago during the 80’s the AIDS pandemic was devastating the gay community. Among the often overlooked during this crisis were young, homeless, and disenfranchised young gay latino men who were my friends and were about my age or younger. Most of us were in our late teens or early twenties I was one of the eldest at twenty-four.
As the deaths arrived, one here and one there at first and subsequently growing exponentially each month, there were a few of us that took it upon ourselves to contact parents and next of kin upon the deaths of our friends and other young men who we didn’t know. We were naive and were hoping that our friends would be put to rest peacefully after such an excruciating battle with this awful disease. Many of these calls were heart wrenching experiences; some of the parents and family members would reply with unbearable scathing anguish upon the news of the loss of their loved one, but most indelibly stamped on my soul were the cold and heartless responses of some of the righteous and homophobic families who made it clear that they had buried, not only their sons, but seemly all of us years ago without as much as a Hail Mary. There would not be cards sent, nor condolences offered by either group. No thoughts and prayers were ever offered that I can remember.
My response to the repetitive chorus: “En mi casa no hay pajaros! Estas equívocado!” (translation: “In my house there are no birds! You're wrong “) was to make a commitment to place a “pajaro” in everyones home in honor of my friends that died unacknowledged by their birth families, but honored by a few of us that were a part of their chosen family, of which I was proud to belong, if only too briefly.