Juan-Manuel Alonso was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1952. He spent his infancy and early childhood in a country in the midst of revolution. After Fidel Castro took power in 1959, Juan-Manuel’s family immigrated to America. Juan-Manuel thus grew up and became an artist in exile.

Juan-Manuel graduated from City College New York in 1975 and joined the design team at Tiffany & Co. Continuing his studies, in 1981 he graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and began designing for other major fashion houses. He was the head of design studios for Nino Cerruti, Sahara Club, and WilliWear. He had his own fashion label beginning in 1985 and shared his immense design experience, teaching at FIT New York, FIDM San Francisco, and other schools throughout the country.

The fashion industry created extensive opportunities for Juan-Manuel to travel. His experiences in Europe, the Middle East, India, and Asia inspired his creativity. He kept sketchbooks during each trip, which later became the source material for his vibrant paintings. 

In 1982, Juan-Manuel contracted HIV. By 1997, the virus forced him to withdraw from the fashion industry. He turned to painting and memories of his travels as the primary means to express himself. He declares that painting keeps him from feeling like he’s waiting to die. An unflinching optimist, in all of his paintings he works to convey messages of unity to the people around him.

A resident of Palm Springs, Juan-Manuel uses his artistic skills and teaching experience to build community. He created “Art on the Streets,” an initiative that brings together local artists to promote cultural tourism in the Coachella Valley. In addition, he is Artist in Residence for the Palm Springs Unified School District, where he mentors high school students. He is as devoted to the elder members of the community as he is to the youth; he teaches painting at a senior center and volunteers at the Desert AIDS Project.

Juan-Manuel describes Palm Springs as “a feel-good place”, surrounded by mountains that give off an incredible energy. While he continues to devote himself to his desert home, his mind also wanders to his birth place. He looks forward to returning to Cuba one day to walk its streets and feel connected to his ancestral past.
Mason Funk: When I ask you a question, see if you can incorporate my question into your answer so that your answer is understandable.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: So that you ... Yeah, okay.
Mason Funk: So that my question isn't necessary for understanding. Where are we shooting this interview today?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: We are shooting this interview today at my studio, which is a living space in Palm Springs, California 92264.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Great. Do me a favor. We're going to just roughly do a chronological thing. Tell me about your earliest memories in Cuba or your-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Early memories of what?
Mason Funk: Well, tell me about the fact that you were born in Cuba, and how long you lived there, and what your earliest years were like.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:02:00] I was born in Cuba in 1952. My memories are very vivid, and that's what I paint from. They're really, really nice memories. I got to understand my parents after they were gone. There were memories of going with my sister to the beach. She was only allowed to go with her friends if there was a chaperone, and they considered me as chaperone because I would talk when they asked. My mom would ask me, "What happened?" I would be going, "Blah blah blah." They allowed her because of that until her girlfriends and friends started to bribe me with candies, and ice cream, and things like that. Then I didn't say too much.
[00:03:00] It was really wonderful. As a child my father almost took me everywhere with him, and so I saw ... He worked at a company that was a construction company, and he was the right hand of the owner. He took me to all the sites. The sites were from the Riviera Hotel in Havana to the Havana Hilton, to the racetrack, to the baseball games, to everywhere. As I got older and I remembered all the places we'd go, there are also some ladies' houses that when we arrived, they were fully dressed, and when we left, they would come to the door to say goodbye in a bathrobe. I never understood that, but now it's like, "Oh my God." I guess I was the beard for my father as well.
[00:04:00] I miss them tremendously. That's the reason what I'm doing the three small portraits that you saw. One is myself as a child, my mother, and my father at the moment we went to say goodbye to my grandparents, who used to grow tobacco. I have one of the paintings, it's called Memory of Tobacco Field, and that's where those three portraits came from. My memories of Cuba were the beach, and horsemanship, and jumping with horses in competition. They kept me very busy. I guess they knew something that I didn't realize, and I got into a lot of trouble because I've always been very, not mischievous, but if you tell me no, that's what I will do, so school the whole time. Then there was a tutor. Then in the summer when there was no school it was Judo, and gymnastics, and diving, and swimming until there was no time only to eat and brush my teeth. As it was I found spaces to be myself.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] So you have positive memories of your parents?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Oh my God, yes.
Mason Funk: Tell me about.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:06:00] Yes. My parents are the kind of people that I was married, I got divorced, they never asked a question. I started living with a man. They came to visit. My father said, "Oh, there's only one king sized bed?" I said "Yeah, and the couch, and you know." That was the only question. I got divorced. When I got divorced before coming out, they didn't ask me anything. I started living with a man, as I mentioned before. There was not one question. The only thing was that after my dad died, and my mom became very ill before she passed away, she said she had something to tell me. I said, "Oh, come on." She said, "Well, when you got divorced, your ex-wife ... I have to tell you, because I don't want to die with this, but I didn't mention anything because I didn't want you to have an argument with her about it." When we got divorced, she called my parents and told them ... She asked me for my father to be on the other extension, and she told them that they have raised a faggot, that they raised a faggot. She was livid, not that she didn't realize what was going on, but she didn't say anything. My father's answer was "Whatever my son is, he's our son, and we love him," which I found out that maybe eight, nine years ago before my mom passed away.
[00:07:00] That's the memories that I have and all the inspiration from my parents because through them I learned that it's not the fittest who survive, that it's those who adjust. That's what I have worked so hard to adjust to who I am and to adjust after being HIV positive since '82, and to adjust to come out of depression, and to adjust to do whatever I can to help others on that feel, and to adjust that I had to stop working because I was very ill. In order for me to keep my sanity I had to do something, and that's when I started to paint. I paint for myself. I paint for myself because there's something that when I paint gives me a feeling that's incredible, so I took it as a therapy for my well-being.
[00:09:00] That's one of the reasons where it's hard for me to even dabble in the idea that there is not enough therapy, that our community needs it incredibly. Due to the fact that there's not enough or not affordable one, a lot of people in our community go for drugs, and alcohol, and a lot of self-destructive behaviors. That's what I push for on the client advisory for them to get more therapists and more help. I just had a big argument and a screaming match because they didn't have wheelchairs on the door. Now they're going to have wheelchairs at the door because someone ill can pass out and fall down.
[00:10:00] Through all these times I have lost so many people around me, lovers, friends, co-workers that it still gets me angry to see those who say they are there to help not doing their job properly. The fight, it's no fight, but whatever it is, it's not over. We as a planet need to realize that we have to do whatever it takes to teach the future generations acceptance and compassion and to behave in ways that help each other. I'm doing my part on that because through the Board of Education and Artists in Residence, and I go to the second graders because schools are not teaching art anymore. I have the freedom to do my own curriculum, and I teach them how each of the different ways of paint or techniques by showing different artists for them to create something like a Picasso, or something like Basquiat, something like Morikami. I have chosen a whole bunch that will be easier for them to understand and give them the freedom, that even if I open that door, because it's six classes a semester in each school, the little opening of that door will help tremendously.
[00:12:00] I do the same with seniors because the seniors, they sit there at home because for whatever reason they're always alone. If they have something to do which they enjoy, and the ones that come, I make sure they enjoy it to the point that two of them just sent me they opened a web page and a zine. One of them have sold already eight paintings. They're so happy that being at their age they are able to do something that will make them proud and earn a little extra money at the same time because that's welcomed by everyone. It's a satisfaction that's incredible. I have tried also doing art therapy for our community, but somehow if it's not sex and drugs, nobody comes. That's a shame because the same way that I get, "Oh my God, it's better than an orgasm or sex," when I paint, I could open that to all those who want. Unfortunately, I have no idea why, it doesn't happen, so I stopped putting my time on that and concentrated it on the ones that work, which is the kids and the seniors.
[00:13:00] Hopefully maybe next year, or the end of this year, or after the summer when everybody else comes back, I talk to the head of that department at the AIDS project, and maybe we can try once again. I don't mind keep going until something happens because at times I call myself the Chinese torture, which is one drop at a time. I don't stop the drops until something is done. I think that's one of the things I also learned from my parents is if you want to get somewhere, do it, and do it until someone realizes that you're doing it. It's something that we all need to learn as a whole.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's a lot. That's fantastic. Wonderful. Thank you.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: You're welcome.
Mason Funk: I wish the story were different about the art therapy classes.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:14:00] They will be because I will not give up. It's like, "bang, bang, bang." I mean I got them to buy wheelchairs when they spent money for computers. I understand the computers, but their priorities ... It's a bureaucracy. Unfortunately we live in a bureaucracy. Look how long it took for someone to realize that something was going on after so many people died. They were blinded. It took someone like Rock Hudson to die for them to say, "Oh." One thing also that I have noticed because it's been so long, maybe people are tired of hearing it, and there has been so many embezzlements done, that people have lost the gung ho that we all had in the beginning. That cannot be dropped. That cannot be dropped until something has been done. Unfortunately the majority stays in silence. That's one of the things that that pink triangle was that silence equals death.
[00:16:00] I became part of that the inaudible word New York because I became ... In '82 when you know something was happening, and I had no idea because there was no way of testing it. My lover got the same. We both got very ill at the same time, and he deteriorated very fast. By '86 he was gone. In '86 having someone that you really loved and cared for in a hospital bed where no one would even dare to come in and even open the door and throw the tray of food, that made me angry. I haven't stopped since making sure that something is done. I will continue bringing it up to the table and every meeting that I go, and everywhere that I come across, and every chance to continue my cheerleadings towards something that is human and acceptable by all, not only the gay people, but to everyone. That whole thing of putting people in boxes, it's like being typecast. Look, Marilyn killed himself . I know so many people who have too because they couldn't face it. It can no longer be accepted.
[00:18:00] These killings that happened yesterday, it doesn't silence me. It brings some of that anger back. Not that I'm going to go out and do anything because I don't believe in doing anything to anyone, but that will make me talk more and be more out there in making sure that something is done because educating, what's missing. Sex is not a taboo. To tell kids to not have sex and have abstinence when they're fourteen, fifteen, sixteen is totally unreal. If I go back to that age, oh my God. If it breathes and had a pulse, I'd jump on it, whether it was a girl, a boy, a cat, a dog, or a chimney. It's an experience that cannot be taken away from people. How many people have become HIV positive because they're not being taught and all they're being said is, "Don't do it." It's not the way. You need to tell someone at that age and teach them how not to become another number of the graph.
[00:19:00] It's the same with homosexuality, whether it's two females, or two males, or two people who decide they don't want to be male or female any more and have gone through a change on their body to become what they feel and what they wanted. It should not be anything for anyone to have anything against it. When have I or anyone from our communities have asked anyone who called themselves straight, which is another thing of a box, not to have sex or not to do whatever they do? Those who scream the most are the ones who are hiding something. By screaming they feel that nobody is going to know. The thing that we have to realize is that it doesn't matter who knows. What matters is who you are as an individual and what you do not only for yourself but to help others and to be part of a community that is varied . I don't know. I have an accent, so I don't know if I pronounced it the right way. It's totally a spectrum from one side to the other. What's important is what's inside. What we have outside is like a dress that every time you die the substance of who we are leaves, and all that is left is a corpse, which is like a dress.
[00:21:00] I notice also that there are so many younger kids in the new generations who are so talented. The only thing I could think of is that that whole amount of people have died before their times in the heights of their careers are starting to come back as new bodies on new little kids who are eight, seven, eight. They can play Mozart or anything out of memory. Or little kids who paints, or little kids who compose, that's something that is amazing to see and realize that because a generation that was lost to the virus of HIV and AIDS somehow is finding their way back to continue where they left.
[00:22:00] That's also one of the reasons that have made me strong not to sit there and wait to die because I'm going to die when the expiration number of my life comes up, like a yogurt that gets bad and you're gone. You cannot be eaten. It's maybe a way of escapism for me, but I don't think so. I think it's very much a reality that if you maintain yourself sane, your body will react in a way. In 5 years of having had a cancer that nobody thought that I was going to survive, last time I went to my doctor three weeks ago, he goes, "My God. Juan, whatever you're doing, keep doing it because even your T cells have gone up. I was told that my T cells were not going to go up past two hundred, and now they are almost at 400. I'm doing exactly the things that I've been doing all the time since, which is making sure that I'm enjoying every second, and making sure that I'm doing what I like, and not holding back at anything.
[00:24:00] My long hair, it's a reminder of the war that I have gone through, not only after cancer, because this is five years, which is the time that I'm free, but everything that I have to go through my entire life since I was a kid, not knowing why there were men approaching me and doing things that they shouldn't, that would freak me out, but realizing that there's something within me which is a creative thing. I see homosexuality as winning a lottery, that the prize is being who you are, and creating, and doing things like I am. Not everybody is born with a gift to paint. There's someone who does it for writing, for many other things. That's why I always say that when you do what you like, and don't care about anybody says, somehow, if you keep doing it, you will be noticed, and accepted, and taken for real. It works in every angle.
[00:25:00] I honestly tell you, it's been so long since anybody asked me whether I was gay, or straight, or anything. As a matter of fact, I was at a birthday party, and there was this girl going after me. A friend of mine noticed, and she goes, "Have you found a boyfriend yet?" Why is she asking me this? I have nothing ... Then I realized. It's the way I think, just to be.
Mason Funk: We're going to pause one second. Do you want to record room tone ?
Goro Toshima: Yeah.
Mason Funk: We're going to record the sound of
Juan-Manuel Alonso: If it vibrates?
Goro Toshima: Room
Mason Funk: Well, just one second. It's just a little technical thing that will take thirty seconds.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Okay. You mean the white noise?
Mason Funk: [00:25:40] Exactly. So we can use it.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: She's like that the entire night, and she leans against me. When it's hot, I have to wrap her in a blanket. Oh my God I sweat. Last night I woke up in a puddle of sweat, and she was even pushing herself onto to me because it felt warmer.
Mason Funk: [00:25:50] Just one second. Just thirty seconds of we're just going to record the room. You good?
Goro Toshima: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: Okay.
Goro Toshima: [00:26:00] Room tone . Okay. We're good. I'm going to cut and start a new roll.
Mason Funk: Yeah. There's lots of Manuel Alonsos.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Yeah. If you put the hyphen it goes whomp .
Mason Funk: Right to the top.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: There's the hair on the face, which was taken by Brian Griffin, the British photographer for his book on artists.
Mason Funk: Oh, cool. That's awesome. We're still speeding right?
Goro Toshima: Take two. Yeah. We're speeding. Take two.
Mason Funk: [00:27:00] Speaking of your career in New York, I know it's a lot to sum up, but tell me about leaving Cuba, and why you did, and how you made your way to New York. Tell me when you left Cuba.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:28:00] I left Cuba in the '60s with my family. We were supposed to come out at the beginning, but my dad went to the bank and took two suitcases of dollars, brought them to the Embassy, asked by the men that he worked for. Then he came back to get us, and he was taken to jail. We went into the embassy too, and when we left ... My father had said, "Oh my God. This is a crowded place, and we've been here for two to three weeks. Let's go back home because this is not going to last forever." When we got home that night, they came, and broke the door, and took him away. The thing was that he had ammunitions against the revolution. My mother freaked out, and took them to my bedroom, and opened the door, and "Here's the ammunition we have," which was my toy guns and things. We had to wait for him to come out, and then we all left.
[00:29:00] We came with my sister, her husband, my nephew, myself, my mom, my dad. My grandmother didn't want to come. The other people denied her. My sister, her husband, and my nephew went to New York until they could establish themselves there because they had a girl from my sister who was living in New York at the time. We stayed in Miami. We met with a guy who my father took the money, and he gave him some money too. Once my sister settled, we went to New York because, I mean, the fact that as a kid I was thirsty ... I spoke no English, and it was Miami. I saw a water fountain. I went to drink water, and I was taken to the principal and paddled because I was drinking water from a black water fountain, which I had no idea what it said on the wall.
[00:30:00] Our plans were to leave anyway, but we left and went to New York, and I grew up in New York. I went to junior high school, high school, college. Then I went to not graduate school, because I didn't want to go to college and to do "blah blah blah." Well, my parents wanted a title in case for the future, which I understood that, so I went. I took Spanish literature and art, which was something I knew I could get really good grades. Once I did that, I gave it to them. Then when I was able, I went back to school and I went to FIT for design.
Mason Funk: Let's backtrack a little bit in terms of your ... You made reference to men in Cuba being drawn to you and doing things with you.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:31:00] No, not doing. I never let them, but yes, they were, and I didn't understand why. In one of the many things that my parents put me to keep me occupied, I was in the gym during the summer because it was inside. The horses, I couldn't ride the horses in the summer, it was too hot, so I was in gymnastics. The person in charge of the gymnastics, instructors and all that, it was one of those really fancy places, and he came out and said, "Before you go home, come to my office." I'm like, "Oh my God. What did I do wrong?" Everybody left, and I went to the locker room and changed. I put my clothes and everything inside my bag. I knock on his door, and he says, "Come in." He was laying on a bed naked with the biggest thing that I have ever seen. All I could think of was, "Run away," and I run away home. I didn't want to go to the gym ever again.
[00:32:00] There were several places that I went that sort of the same person appeared, and I would run away because I had no idea what it was. Also on the beach club, on the yacht club, there were certain guys that I would let ... My parents allowed me to have the freedom that if we were all on the beach, and it's a private club, there's nowhere to run to, so go to the beach. If I wanted to go to the bowling alley, I went to the bowling alley. I liked the swings, so I would do the swings as high and to almost becoming horizontal, so that way I got the back the same way. It would be like one of those ["tock, tock, tock" 00:32:15] machines that came in the '70s. There was a guy that was always lurking around, and all of a sudden he pulled his bathing suit down, and there was ... "Oh my God. What is this?" I was afraid to tell my mom because maybe she would feel that I was doing something wrong. I didn't know how to think at that age.
[00:33:00] That plus I was molested by a family member as a child. I didn't say anything because I thought I was going to be blamed. I mentioned it to my mom at the same time she told me about what my ex-wife had done. I said, "Well, there's this." Her answer was, "Oh my God. Why have you hold that all this time? You should have told me immediately and I would have thrown that person from the house." I said to her, "I thought you were going to blame it on me." It caused a lot of things on my trust, but happily I've been able to work on it. That's why.
[00:34:00] Then in high school I used to be with a group of kids who were also Cuban, and we were okay. The girls protected me. I didn't realize why. I had a girlfriend too, but it wasn't from the same group. Whenever we went to the city, to a party, or anything that we took the subway, one of the kids would always pick me up. The girls had to get in the way to "Why are you doing this? He hasn't done anything." It was this anger that this kid had, and he used to call me faggot. I didn't notice that I was doing anything wrong, I mean you know?. I had a girlfriend. I was doing everything that I was supposed to be. Maybe either he saw something I didn't, or he felt something on himself that he had to take it out on me. There's always someone who's a bully for whatever reason. That happened to a point when I got a stick, and I beat him up. Then that stopped.
[00:35:00] I graduated college. I move to New York City. I was living with my parents in Brooklyn, and after that no one ever bothered me again. I mean, I've been called everything in the dictionary in the street to the point that once a car stopped on the line, and I knocked on the window, and I said, "Roll it down." I said, "Why are you calling me ..." That was in Miami, maricon, which means faggot. If you're going to call me something, call me something that I don't know. The kids felt so bad that I apologized. I said, "Just be careful what you say because someone can just turn around, and grab you by the neck, and kill you. I'm not that, but I'm able to give you an advice. Don't be calling people names when you are not in their shoes."
[00:36:00] Now, well not now, a long time ago, they can say anything to me. I have taken the non-reaction, which is the best reaction, sort of very Gandhi-ish, but it's not. It's just why would I alter the state of being that I am at the moment because someone is not able to be vibrating at the same vibrations as I am? Why get upset and give somebody else the satisfaction of doing, or saying, or feeling, or for whatever reason? Why would it bother me? I know who I am. I know what I do. I know that I'm a really good person. Why would I allow someone from the outside that doesn't know me to influence how I feel or get angry? It's a good saying that I always say when something happens. It's like, "Nothing or anybody is going to take me out of my zen zone." That's that moment that, okay.
Mason Funk: Take you out of your what?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:37:10] Zen. Z-E-N. It's like “Ahh.” A lot of those things really help when you have something, when someone says something hateful, that you just either "Tell me something I don't know," or you think ... It's always someone who's not well-adjusted that's not going to be able to accept who you are or who they perceive you as being. That has to do with their upbringing and their education. I don't mean education of how your parents have brought you up, how angry you are. I understand the anger that people feel not only by being gay but also by being HIV positive. It's like the feeling of "They have cut my life," which I felt it on the times.
[00:39:00] I worked as long as I could without telling anyone, but it became very difficult because the virus took, was eating my platelets. Low platelets, getting into a plane every two weeks was not a good combination. Luckily enough I was able to afford to go on the research of Dr. Burcell(?) in Children's Hospital with children and use WinRho, which brought my platelets to normal in two hours or something like that. I would get the infusion. The next day I went and had my-
Goro Toshima: Sorry. Just one second. My battery went out.
Mason Funk: We just have to change the battery.
Mason Funk: ... W=way down and going to Brazil for this special-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: No. No, I didn't go to Brazil. It was in New York City.
Mason Funk: Okay. I heard Brazil somewhere. Tell me again.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Okay. I went to Children's-
Goro Toshima: Take three.
Mason Funk: Do that again. Sorry. Hold on. One more.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Oh my god. Do I start when I left? When I finished?
Mason Funk: Just basically say, at a certain point my platelets were way down. Then fortunately I had the resources to-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:40:00] Yeah. I was working while I was able to hide it, but it got to the point where my platelets were coming down because the HIV was eating them. The only person that knew was my assistant, and she would back me up whenever somebody asked that I wasn't there. It was either, "I'm on the market," or "went to see fabrics," or something. "I went to see the merchandise in the store" was a good one too. It got to the point that it became so expensive. The research I went into at Dr. Burcell's Children's Hospital, it was with WinRho, which they had to check my blood to see if it was the same pH as the medicine, and I did. Every time before going on a trip for work I would have to get an infusion two days before, then go and check it because the cabin pressure on the plane ... If it's New York-Tokyo, which is twelve and a half hours and then you wait two or three hours to connect to Hong Kong, I would have bled myself away, and so the injections helped me.
[00:42:00] They brought my platelets up, sometimes even to the point that I was able to come home again, until one of the trips. I was staying in India a little longer because things were not happening with the collection. My assistant came in the morning. We had always a connecting room. That way you don't feel like you're by yourself. Usually they were girls, or guys, or whoever it was was allowed to come in. When she came into the room, she just went through from her room just by the door and she opened it. I saw her face. I said, "What's the matter?" She said, "Oh my God. You're full of blood." I looked, and at the Taj Mahal in India when we were in Delhi, it was white marble everything, so it was blinding, and white sheets and everything around me. It looked like a film. It was all red and I was bleeding through my pores.
She called immediately the doctor, and he came. He freaked out. He goes, "You have appendicitis. I said, "No, I don't. You're not going to touch me. Just cauterize my nose if you're able to." I said my to my assistant, "Can you take care of everything here? I'm flying to New York." I came back to New York, and they put the infusions. I had to stay longer because I had gone below six thousand. The doctor wanted to make sure that I have gone up enough and stabilized before I went back to San Francisco. I was living in New York and working in San Francisco, which was insane, but it worked.
[00:43:00] It got to the point that I was spending ... The last year that I worked, when I did my taxes, it was fifty-five thousand dollars of my salary that went to infusions of injections. The next time I went to the doctor I mentioned it, and the doctor said, "Do you want me to do the papers for your disability?" I said, "I think so. I think it's time." I wasn't feeling too well, and I was losing weight. I was like “blah”, all the things that happen to everyone who is HIV positive on the ten or twelve years way back then when there was no medications or anything. It was deterioration. I was fast. I became disabled and sat there. I had no idea what I was going to do.
[00:44:00] I am not a person that will sit and not think of what to do to make this better. I said, "Oh my God. I like painting and drawing and all that, so I'll start it. The first things that I did, I still have some of them because I kept them because they're very meaningful for me. I did them with magic markers, with magic markers since I was used to do the illustrations for my work in magic markers. They're priceless because you don't even see that it's magic marker. It looks like it's a print. Then I started experimenting, and experimenting, and experimenting. Yes, I took art, and I know how to draw, but I had never painted.
[00:45:00] So it was a new thing that I had to learn. I put myself in a state of mind that it was like going back to school, and I was going to learn. By trial and error I am where my work is now and also because I went through a lot of therapy, and I went and started therapy when it was psychotherapy way back then that the same psychiatrist that now only pushes pills once used to do the therapy. That was incredible because all of a sudden I started to live again. I continue painting and not only that make me feel good, but I saw that from one canvas to the next there was an incredible transition that I was making or progression.
[00:46:00] Then when I noticed that, I made it to myself to make sure that from one to the next they keep evolving. That not only makes me happy to see, but hopefully when I'm gone, which I write all this, so they're going to know, it will be, the viewer will be taken on a trip of where I have been, and what is in my head, and see how it progresses in a story like a storybook for kids. But this is for grown-ups to see and to read the descriptions of every single one because I make sure that every piece that I do has consciousness and it has a meaning just by the name. It's like Conclave One. The other one is It Takes a Village, We Are One, I'm Still Alive, those kind of names.
[00:48:00] Then once you explain or read what you're looking at, most of the time everybody says, "Well to see just by the name what it is." It shows equality. It Takes a Village is seventeen people, and there's north and black, and white in the south, east in yellow, and red on the west. Those are the main races. The rest of all the people who are in the paintings are a mixture of all those colors, which is what our world population is. We are all equal. That's the meaning of that.
[00:49:00] This one here is We Are All Connected. The connection there is done from the universe through every single one of them with one strand of my hair. It's to represent that no matter whether you are male or female, or as the names that we're called, gay or straight, or whatever, we're still one. We're all connected. We all come from the same gene pool that started thousands of millions of years ago, and as parts of stardust, as they said the universe was created, all those stardust are inside of every single one of us. Representing on this picture is that, and the jewelry is on the colors of the gay flag. One female has a necklace that is a mask with the tongue out, and there's one bracelet that has tongue, and the other bracelet have another tongue, and the three tongues because there are three people. They are sticking their tongue at those who don't understand that we're all connected, and that calls names, and who are against equality.
[00:50:00] I painted this before the law was passed. It gives me such a pleasure to see that what something, that it's not meaningful for so many people, but for myself to have done that kind of work before, it's like putting consciousness, bringing out of my head. That painting has been exhibited in a lot of places, and it has a story next to it. It's incredible with just one person's ideas what you can do when a lot of people see it. I feel very blessed or whatever you want to call it. I don't want to include any religion because it's not about religion. It's about oneness, that through my work I'm able to have that message. It not only gives me satisfaction of putting it out of my head, and putting it out there, and in the last five years ... Actually I thought of painting much before, but in the last five years after I survived cancer, I made it my goal to leave something for prosperity and something for the future for all the people to see that I was here, as my mark.
[00:52:00] If I can do it through my artwork, I don't care if it sells. What I care is that it's in places that are seen by a lot of people. I'm fortunate. I just got a contract, which I went to a lawyer this morning, and it's for a license where it's part of the series, of my travel series is going to be put in suitcases that are going to travel the world, which is more satisfying than having someone come and give me X amount for it because this will be in pieces that a lot of people can afford. Then my artwork will be roaming the planet as I did when I worked in the industry. It's like a full circle right there.
[00:53:00] It gives me an incredible satisfaction, and the rest will happen by itself. I have some of my work published in books. I have a stack of magazines of articles, and the film where you saw me that's on migration , and now this, which is like, "Oh my goodness. What I put on the universe of being able to leave a mark for prosperity is happening and all by having the clear message of putting it out.
Mason Funk: Can we pause for one second? couldn’t make out - someone’s name? Do you want to cut and restart?
Goro Toshima: Sure.
Mason Funk: We're just-
Goro Toshima: Speeding. Take ... What is this? Four?
Mason Funk: Four.
Goro Toshima: Take four.
Mason Funk: I'm still rolling. I want to go back because Doc had an interesting story also about when the time came for him to stop working. I want to just capture that story and get a little context in terms of what year this was roughly and where you were working. Just kind of give me a shorter version of the events that led up to you finally -... I sense this is huge change that happens.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Yeah. It was a point of adjustment.
Mason Funk: [00:54:00] What year was this, and where were you working?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: I was working in New York in the fashion industry. I had my own collection in Bergdorf Goodman with my label. I had to work in order to pay for that, and it got to the point that I could not continue because of the platelets. I had to make a very large decision, and I'm glad I did stop working because by doing that I have more time to take care of myself and do whatever it took for me from within me to make sure that I was here to do everything that I needed to do before I'm gone.
[00:55:00] It was an incredible experience because I was making so much money. Even though now I don't care about the money, if it sells or not, but it helps a lot. I went from earning all that to not earning anything, and living through with my savings, and having to sell my life insurance, and having to ... I was in a relationship that had fallen apart already, but I had no means of getting out because I had no money to get out of it. It became abusive mentally. Thank God to the guy I was seeing for therapy that he helped me. He found someone to pay for my rent, and someone to pay for the truck to move, and I did. I was so scared of being by myself in such a fragile stage and have not one penny to be able to say, "Okay. I don't have food in the fridge, let me go to the bank and get money, because there were none." It was a big turning point in my life. I learned a lot from it.
[00:57:00] They gave me, through the psychiatrists, therapists at the time, Housing Opportunity for People with AIDS because I wasn't working, and I wasn't disabled, so it was really tough. Once my disability came, I was so happy that I was going to have money to be able to pay rent and my food, and not have to be dependent on anyone, and still have whatever freedom I was able to have. I overcame a lot by doing that, so when my disability came I went to the people HOPWA, Housing Opportunity for People with AIDS, and I told them that "I don't want the check anymore." They looked at me like, "What do you mean you don't want the check? You're the first person that has come here to say ... I said, "Well, I got my disability, and with the money that I get, I'm able to pay my rent and able to pay everything. You guys helped me so much that I don't want that money to be taken when I'm able to afford it. Then you can help somebody else who might be in that position that I was."
[00:58:00] The woman could not believe it. I said, "Yes. Believe it. I am able to pay my own, so use that money to help someone else as you helped me," which I think is the way it needs to be done. I could not do it any other way because I would not feel the way I do by doing insane things that they tell me that I'm insane for doing those things, but I don't think so. I'm one of the sanest around, even though I don't come across that way. Does that answer your-
Mason Funk: Yeah. That was great. That was good.
Goro Toshima: I'm going to change my camera battery.
Mason Funk: Okay. Change-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: ... at least for me.
Goro Toshima: Speeding and take-
Mason Funk: Five.
Goro Toshima: Five. Take Five.
Mason Funk: You mentioned the psychiatrist who didn't just push pills on you, but who-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:59:00] Well the ones now because the therapists one and the psychiatrists all are interested? .
Mason Funk: Well, let me ask you a question. I want to really talk about the value of ... As long-term survivors, you and Doc, for example, you're carrying the tremendous loss that you have witnessed. I guess I want to capture your perspective on what it's like to carry that and you can't bury it.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: No
Goro Toshima: You know what? I'm going to have to change my card because that.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Teresa.
Goro Toshima: Can you watch that mike?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Sorry.
Mason Funk: You can just grab it.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: I'll put it on my pocket.
Goro Toshima: Oh, sweetie girl.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:00:00] Is she coming yet? That's a good girl. Okay. Good boy.
Mason Funk: I think for the last time maybe just, you understand where I'm going with my question. It's about trying to understand with all the grief and the loss how you don't get stuck in that, what you do with it and how you personally ... What is your story around what you've done with the grief and the loss you've experienced?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:01:00] I have done a lot of therapy work, and I have gone within myself to make sure what is it that I wanted to do. I realized that the times that I spent sitting and doing nothing ... Because there was a time in my life that I spent two years with a mask on because I didn't want to even see the light. I realized that by doing something like that I was taking away from whatever was supposed to happen. I went to therapy again and with that and ... I'm a person that is very persistent. I'm like a strong wall when it comes to realizing how, and why, and why am I still here when so many people have died. I accepted the fact that all those people have died, I was still alive. Just by being alive I have to make something of my life that was meaningful.
[01:03:00] It's very hard and especially when like yesterday I had not eaten anything and I didn't feel like making myself anything or going to the supermarket. I went out. I went to the bakery. I had a nothing but a sandwich that's from a good place, and fresh, and all that, but it was still strong. It got to my stomach, and I should have come home, but I wanted to do everything out at the same time. I went to the bank and I poo pooed myself because it's too strong. At that moment when that happened, it's like "Oh my God," but then I got home, took a shower, and I washed everything, and I started to paint. That moment was totally erased from the Memorex because we have no control of anything that is happening. If I'm going to spend time thinking about things that I have no control, then I waste the time that I could put in something that is beautiful and that is meaningful.
[01:04:00] That's the way I think. I'm very rational. Rationality and all that have had a lot to do with me coming out of the dumps, realizing that if, when I became ill with cancer, that it was like, "I have to really change my way of thinking and change whatever it is because now I'm not ready to go. I have too much inside of me that I wanted to do, and I have already promised myself that I was going to achieve X, Y and Z. there was no time for a pity party of one. I know it's very strong to say something like that. When I say that, a lot of people get upset, but I'm only talking it about myself, that if I allow myself to go there, it won't be long before I'm gone. I'm not going to go until my time comes.
[01:06:00] Maybe having that kind of stubbornness or that kind of get up and go, it is something that I think back on my parents. They left everything they had to leave the country they were born, to come somewhere else that they didn't know, to start from zero, from not being able to do what they did back there, and just for the mere fact that I could be free to do and be myself and the person that I have become. It was hard on them too, and life is not a movie. There are realities, and it's a cycle. You go up, and you go down. It's something that we need to understand, that the frame of mind has so much to do. Yes, it's very easily when you are making so much money working, and you're on a silver tray, that I used to call it. You go in first class, five star hotels, a limousine waiting. Then going from something like that, it might put some people on the cloud. I did whatever possible to keep my feet on the ground. But it was very difficult, and I'm still, after '97 to now, Oh my God almost whatever long, I don’t know. I will have to get a calculator ... That I couldn't waste any more time. I lost what I was saying. I'm sorry.
Mason Funk: That's okay.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: It's just that I-
Mason Funk: I think you were saying the time ... '97 is maybe when you stopped working.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Yeah. I stopped working in 97.
Mason Funk: You said "from '97 until now," and then you got distracted by the math. I think you were going to say ... I'm not sure where you were going with it.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: No, I was going to the point that yes, it's very difficult.
Mason Funk: You lost a lot. You gave up a lot.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:08:00] My God, yeah. I lived in a penthouse in New York City facing Central Park. So, you know. Now, that is nothing. That's only material. I cannot complain in my life. I'm doing what I want finally with no one telling me it's the wrong red. "You should not put a dick in the painting because people will not accept it." So what? Yeah, it's a big change, but you have to adapt. Even lizards change colors to adapt to where they are. It's just being aware of everything that's around us. If you put that into perspective, which I did, it's what got me to where I'm at. Yes, it's very difficult, and still very difficult when something happens healthwise , but it happens to everyone, so why would I feel the need of having an attention because of something that happened to me at a period when no one knew what was happening? It's not that I did something wrong, or that I deserved it. I don't blame.
[01:10:00] It's something that happened because it was meant to happen. Every one of us is a book, and that was written before, a very long time ago. As I mentioned before, adapting to the moment in time, I'm maintaining a positive mind frame, which is very difficult because at every angle there's an obstacle, and every turn you make there's a wall. You have to know and believe it really deep that it's not the end because you find a wall. If you find a wall, and you sit in front of that wall, then you'll really go fast. It's one of the reasons why I believe so strong that if I've done all that work, there should be more of a facility or facilitated to the rest of our community to be able to go through therapy and to be able to go and work on themselves and make themselves be in a better space, acceptance, so many things.
[01:11:00] That's one of the reasons why I continue being and screaming, and getting people angry at me, because it's worked for me. It worked for me that I did have the money to put the injections, which that should not be ever a subject with anyone, that I had earned good, so when my disability came I was able to still maintain being by myself, realizing that I'm happy by myself, realizing that yes, it would be nice to have someone else next to me, but I'm not willing to compromise anything because if it's meant to happen, that person is going to be there. It's going to be there, and it's going to accept me whether I have long hair or whether I have no hair, and someone that's not going to try to change me. Maybe I went out of the subject, but that's where it took me.
[01:13:00] It's very hard. It's very hard to find yourself in a place where you have to let go, not knowing what's going to happen the next moment. It's somehow taking the step into a space that has nothing to hold you. I don't even want to call a leap, a step of leap, no, a leap of faith because then I would sound very religious, but it's the same idea of knowing that your strength is within you and that you are resilient and time cures it all. Yes, we have to be strong. If we are all strong, in the strength there is power, and the union of more people having that kind of power is what's going to make change.
[01:14:00] Our community needs to heal. It needs to heal from just accepting themselves that they are homosexual, which is just another label that you are something that's nothing wrong with it, that even in the animal world there are some that like to be with their same sex. That doesn't ban them from the rest of the animal world, so why as human beings, when we're supposed to have knowledge to put us ahead of the so-called animals or savages, why do we still think like that? It's the programming that is done that is not right. That's what I believe that if in educating the children to realize that it's nothing wrong, it's help everyone. Look at the young kids. They don't care whether you're gay, or straight, or blue, or black, or yellow, or green. It's a certain acceptance.
[01:15:00] Also it has to do with generations of people having to fight the fight that we have had to do from the moment I realized, that I accepted the fact that I liked another man. It was a struggle, and I remember my first lover gave me a necklace of black South Sea pearls that I never took off. I went to interviews, and someone got turned off, and didn't give me the job, or asked me, "Why are you wearing pearls?" It's like, "Why are you ... Do you have underwear on? Why aren't you wearing them?" type of thing. Being sure that no matter what everyone or anyone said I was not on the wrong, and this is what I needed to do to become a happy full individual, that will give me the strength of being who I was.
[01:17:00] That is something that our whole entire community, there's a lot of people who are lost because it's very hard to be hit with an answer "You are HIV positive." There's no need to hide anything. There are so many people who are still hiding the fact that they're gay, or hiding the fact that they're HIV positive, or hiding the fact of their life. It's not right. That causes mental anguish that is totally unnecessary, that it's not needed. It puts people in a space that they're not happy about who they are. Who cares if you are tall, or small, or black, or white, or fat, or skinny? That's just all these labels that have been made that need all to be torn and broken. That's not where the important things lie.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you this because I want to capture the story of you being diagnosed with cancer five years ago. Was it five years ago?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Well, yeah.
Mason Funk: Tell me. Just kind of start there-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Even I found out about HIV not because I did a test.
Mason Funk: Okay. Tell me that story.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:18:00] Oh my God. That was horrible. I was living in New York and working in San Francisco. The oncologist in New York, who was the same oncologist as Mayor Lindsay. I said, "Listen, I got a job where I'm going to be working in San Francisco and living in New York. What am I going to do when I'm there?" He said, "Don't worry, Juan. I have a very good doctor in San Francisco who is a friend of mine.
Mason Funk: Wait. This was-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: In New York.
Mason Funk: This was before you knew you were HIV positive?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Yes.
Mason Funk: But you already had cancer?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: No.
Mason Funk: Okay. You said oncologist.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: No, this is something else. Oncology because when you have no platelets, you have to go to the oncologist.
Mason Funk: But you didn't know that had HIV, you were HIV-
Mason Funk: Okay. Then we need to fill this story in. Why were your platelets ... Tell me what ... How did your platelets get so low to the point where you had an oncologist, but you didn't know?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: I had no idea.
Mason Funk: Okay. So tell me that.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:19:00] As a kid I used to bleed through my nose, so I figured that if I got older, it got worse. No one knew why I was bleeding so much. I had to get my nose cauterized, and my nose cauterized, and my nose cauterized. Then I was working in New York. My doctor was in unsure - area of New York?, so all I have to do is a taxi. When I got the job, when I got the license, the contract with Bergdorf Goodman to do my own collection for them, they made me sign a contract that I could not design for anybody else in New York. So I had to earn money because otherwise how was I going to pay? I went to the agency that always took care of getting me work, and I said, "This is happening." "Don't worry," she says to me. "I'll get you a job in California. It's a different state. It's a different thing."
[01:20:00] I got this job where I was working in San Francisco, but I was still living in New York. In order to make that happen I needed also an oncologist in San Francisco. I was recommended to this very good San Francisco oncologist. I went the first time, the second time. The third time I went, instead of having the test which I always had, the blood test done to platelet count, he says "Come into my office." He said to me, "I cannot see you anymore, and you cannot come here anymore because I did a test, and you're HIV positive" without even asking me if he was okay to have the test. Of course I would have said yes to find out what, but I didn't know. To encounter someone telling me they didn't want me to come to the doctor anymore because I would contaminate everybody else's blood? That was a tough one.
[01:21:00] I didn't get sad. I became angry at the fact that I wasn't asked to have a test. His son, who was on the same, he came in, he says, "You cannot do that. That's against the law." I said, "Listen, don't worry. I'm not going to make any trouble. All I want to do is go to the doctor so I don't bleed myself to death." No one knows anything, so they didn't know whether just by using the same thing to do the blood test on the count that I was going to contaminate something. I didn't understand it 100%, but I could see rationally. As long as you get me someone else who can see me in case something happens, I'm okay. I got out of the office.
[01:22:00] I called my assistant. Always the assistant, thank God. I said, "Deborah, this is happening." She goes, "Oh my god. Get home. I'll be there." I get home, and Deborah came with a bottle of champagne all ready with the two flutes. Hers was full, and she was drinking. She said "Let's drink this, and let's go to dinner." She said, "I know you like to do flower arrangements, so let's go around San Francisco or anywhere you want to go and let's steal flowers from everybody's gardens and make an arrangement of flowers." That's what we did.
[01:23:00] That helped me a lot, but it was, "What am I going to do? When am I going to die?" Then I went back to New York on one of the trips, and I told the oncologist there. He goes, "Oh my God. Dr. Burcell has ... He just started research to see if the WinRho, which is what they use for the ladies who are pregnant and they don't have the same pH as the child, if that will work for people with HIV. Your blood and the medication have to be equal, otherwise it might kill you." I said, "Okay. Let's have the test." I took the results of the test to the doctor. I go to "Dr. Burcell?" He says, "Yes. You are able to." We started immediately.
[01:24:00] It was really pleasant, because it was with children's oncology. I was scared of needles and all that, and just to see the kids giving themselves their own injections sort of made me realize if they can do it, I can do it too. Then I was taught how to mix the A vials, and how to get it into a syringe, and how to apply it in case I had to. It was something that sort of saved my life. Then they found what was eating my platelets. It was the virus. They didn't find out ... They did a test on my spine, and they did a spinal tap, which is more painful, I think, than anything else that I have happened, well, besides radiation on my behind. It was so painful, and I had to take that to the lab immediately myself. That's when we found out my bone marrow was producing the platelets, so there was something in my body that was eating them. Then when all the medications and all the research, they find out that there were two things. You can get either those marks that people get on their skin, the-
Mason Funk: KS, Kaposi's sarcoma.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:25:00] Kaposi's sarcoma. You could get the low platelets. I got the low platelets. I learned how to be careful, how to realize if my platelets were coming down because of petechiae, little dots on my skin. I was always constantly checking to make sure that wasn't happening. Go ahead.
Mason Funk: What did I want to ask? When you were having these health problems, for example, the bleeding out, did it not occur to you that you might have HIV?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:26:00] No, it didn't occur to me because as a kid I used to have nosebleeds. A nosebleed was for me no big deal. From having so much swimming lessons, and high board diving, and all that, I had sinuses. Then I had a deviated septum to drain the sinuses. I figured it was just the skin was so thin, and I even asked the doctor, and they said, "Yeah. That's because of that." I never thought that I had HIV. Not until '85 or '86 is that they had the first test. This happened before that, so I had no idea that there was anything. In the beginning no one knew what it was. It was something that was killing people, and they called it a gay cancer, and they made so many names on it, but we didn't know what was happening. Why would I think that I had HIV if HIV wasn't found as of then? I didn't know.
Mason Funk: Another question, I think you alluded to the idea that some people may have criticized you, or judged you, or resented you because you could afford certain treatments that other people couldn't afford. Was that true?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:27:00] The the point, yes. I had to be very careful who I told, and then it came ... Yeah. It comes down if you're able to afford it. There were a lot of clinics in Paris too that were doing research. There were people who were flying there, one of them was Rock Hudson, that had the money to be able to afford that kind of treatment. I was able to afford being in a program on a research that the insurance didn't pay, but I have to pay it out of my pocket. So I was very fortunate at the fact that I was able to afford something like that, that in my mind I didn't know that I had HIV, but it will progress and increase my lifespan.
[01:28:00] Then I found out once the test that I had HIV. That was the destruction of being cut by my ankles, and seeing the deterioration, and deciding that I had to stop working. When you're all at the height of what you have done your entire life, to work so hard to have your own label, and be the one man circus, and have to make the decision that I could no longer do that because my health was failing. That's a very hard one. The one with the cancer, it was five years ago, so I have gone through all that reprogramming on my head, and I knew that whatever it was, if i was going to continue being alive, I would be, and if it was the end, I would be. I wasn't scared of it.
[01:29:00] I had a GI bleed while I was mentoring the kids here. Every semester I get two or three kids from the high school down the block. Then I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and I didn't even make it there. By the time I went to take my pants down and put my underwears, I had a GI bleed. The walls, the floor, everything was blood. I cleaned myself as well as possible. I cleaned the bathroom and the walls as well as possible. I put a sign on the door, "Do not enter," and I went to the head of the program. I said, "Can you take me to emergency?" Then when they did all the tests and the whole thing, the doctor came and said, "We have the results." She said, "First I'm going to tell you the good. Whatever you have, we can take care of it. The bad is that you have cancer."
[01:30:00] My reaction immediately was, "What can we do, and when can we start?" If it's that, it's like an unwanted baby, and I want it out. Let's do whatever it takes. She says, "Would it be okay to start radiation and chemo tomorrow?" I said, "Yes." I was never scared whether I was going to die or not. I live by myself, and back then I didn't even have a dog, so it's believing that it's not yet and being rational enough to take anything that was drama out, not even movies. I only wanted to see anything that made me laugh. I survived cancer. It's a miracle if you want to call it that.
My brother-in-law, my sister's husband, passed away from colon cancer. The day that I came out of the hospital I had to call my sister and tell her. She went to pieces when I told her. She says, "Guillermo just died, and he had the same." I said, I call my sister Mimi, "Mimi, I'm not going to die. I'm strong." "Oh, Guillermo was strong too." I said, "I'm not going to die, so calm down." "Why are you so far away?" "I'm okay."
[01:32:00] I maintained that kind of mentality through the entire ... I only complained once after almost two months and three weeks of radiation that it was burning too much. I asked the doctor if I could take a break for a week, so the pain come down. She said yes. Then a week I went back, and she said, "Oh my God. You're back." I said, "Well, I told you I needed a week." She goes, "Yeah, but every time somebody tell me they need a week, they never come back." I'm that kind of a person that I'm straight to the point. I set what I need to do, and I say what I have to say. I believe that within us there's that kind of power. I don't know if it's my beliefs or if it's for real, but as long as it work, I'm going to continue believing it.
Mason Funk: Great. I think we're almost done. I know I have a few more questions.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: No, you ask all the questions you want.
Mason Funk: [01:33:00] One of the things that you mentioned was that your response to the AIDS epidemic and all the people you saw dying was not only sadness and grief, but anger.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Anger.
Mason Funk: I just want to say this, that I have this theory or belief that AIDS brought a lot of anger to the surface for the gay community that had been buried because all of us were told at various points, "You're not alright . You're not okay." That anger was all inside of us, and AIDS unleashed it.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Well, it was a kind of repressed anger that everybody has because look at what's happening in elections, even though I don't like to talk. The separation has been so large within everybody that everyone is on each other's throat.
Mason Funk: Did you say the separation?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:34:00] The separation. They have separated people by religion, by sex, by belief, by Democrats, by Republicans. Now two different Democrats, when one of them that's running is not really a Democrat. It's a Republican. Why continue pulling people apart? That repressed anger, yes, the community, the gay community realized it ahead of time because of the AIDS epidemic due to the fact that we have been put down, and stepped on, and made believe, some of them, people believed that they were less people of . . . I'm sorry. I get nervous, and I stutter, and then I get itchy. Believing that we were less because we were not what they called quote-unquote "normal." What's normal? Yes, that's the repressed anger that it was that then it would leech at the time when our peers were dropping around us.
[01:36:00] I worked in the fashion industry, so it hit. First it was Perry Ellis, and then Perry Ellis' assistant who we went to school together. Then it was Willy Smith that I worked for at Willy Wear. Then it was like, "Oh my God." The main reason why I accepted the job in San Francisco was to be away from everybody I knew, so in case anyone else died, I wasn't there. One day I'm sitting on a rock in the middle of US-1, Route 1, in the middle of nowhere. I see this Rolls Royce. I go, "Huh, strange, a Rolls Royce." The Rolls Royce stops. The window comes down, and out comes, "Hi, Juan," Halston. That was the last time I saw Halston because a week later he passed away. I said to myself, "Oh my God I got away because I don't know anybody here, and this happens, which means that there's no way to get away from anywhere."
[01:37:00] It's amazing and incredible. I'm rambling now because I forgot your question. I get so upset that that same anger comes out of me when in a meeting and I hear someone, "Oh, we'll take care of it." You have been taking care of it for the last five years and a member of this committee. How much longer do we have to wait, and how much longer are we going to have people dying? This past Friday I worked on that on my therapist, and I understand it now, why I get like that, but that anger is not going to go away. It's going to come back as ... Let me see how I can put it. As if you were on the Actor's Studio and you got into character.
[01:38:00] Because by being calm I know that nothing gets solved, you know? And it needs to. It needs to be solved not only by institutions but by every single individual, and they need to heal. It's so much anger, and I see it all around me, and not only anger, self destruction, which I understand to a point, but you have a choice. I know that if you’re stuck on that, it's very difficult to grab that rock from on top of you and see the light again. I know. I was there, as I mentioned before for two years of my life with a sleeping mask, so I couldn't see the light because I didn't want to see light. Thank God that I changed my way of thinking because otherwise I'm sure I would have been gone too.
Mason Funk: How did you change? What caused you to take your mask off finally?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:39:00] I was living in South Beach, and my mom was still alive. She was living on the area of South , South Miami. She convinced me to move closer to her because every time she came and visit me, I was a mess. Sometimes I didn't even shower for weeks. I wasn't taking care of myself. I was just letting go of everything. Her and my sister said, "Move close to mother’s name?. You're losing too much weight." My mom said, "I can cook," and "Let's gain weight." It was hard to do that, but I did. The day that I moved, my mom went into the hospital, and a month later she passed away. That conversation with my mom towards the end of her life made me turn around, and think in a different way, and seek help.
[01:40:00] She passed away, and I left Miami because I didn't like Miami. I came here not knowing it. I knew California. I would love San Francisco. I couldn't afford to move to San Francisco any more. LA I don't like. I never have liked LA. It's too spread out. It's very difficult because everybody wants to be a star. My whole thing about fame is even when somebody mentions, "Oh my God, you're famous," because you come out on a magazine, I'm not. That's something that is part of an ego thing. It's not about being famous. It's about doing what you like. I came here into Palm Springs because it's a place where at the time I came it was very affordable. I was able to go on vacation, which I haven't done in a long time. Why would I go on vacation if I lived on the beach?
[01:41:00] I came here and it was like I had to readjust to the slower life, and I had to readjust to everything, but then it gave me time to learn to be by myself, to enjoy being by myself, to create. I'm not by myself. I have so many artist friends or wife-of-artist friends, that it's amazing how much acceptance, how much togetherness, how much of a family type we have been able to build. I have been able to build. I say we, like an old lady that I used to work when I work at Tiffany's, that she would tell the African-American ladies, "Oh, let's polish silver today." She would put the little white glove, and spend the whole time with the glove like that, but she didn't polish anything. So that's maybe why I say we.
[01:43:00] I realized that I had to just do what I like, and that will keep me alive. I remove at that time with the cancer anything and everything that's around me that was negative. If you don't understand ... Because there were people at home, "Your paintings look like child's work." To me, what I would think of is, "Do they realize that it took an entire life of Picasso to try to paint like a child, and this is happening normally?" I believe in myself because of how I was raised, of what my background was, and the things that I have done. At the same time I feel very fortunate at the fact that because of the work I did, I traveled the entire world for free on an expense account. I was exposed to so many cultures, and so many different people, and so many ... That was a part of my education as well.
[01:44:00] Once the acceptance of everything and being happy with who I am and realizing all those things, it's okay. It's okay to like men, and it's okay to ... Everything that was a taboo, I realized that since I was a kid I never wanted to be controlled by my parents, by anyone. The church, I went, and I did my communion. I did all the things because my father, not my father, my parents wanted that. I did the catechism. Oh my God, I never opened that little book because it didn't make sense to me. Not that I'm an atheist, I believe in a higher power, but the whole thing of, "Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea grandissima culpa," it wasn't for me because I don't feel culpable. I don't know how to say, "Culpa." I don't feel that I have to blame myself for anything. All the things that they make you ... I go like this because it's like a puppet. They want you to learn ... I didn't even learn all those prayers. When I did my communion i saw when everybody was going like ... I just mimicked that I was praying. I live in my own world.
Mason Funk: [01:45:00] You know what I find interesting? I personally love the intensity of your anger. I think it's brilliant. I hope you never think that you have to get rid of it because it's a life force.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:46:00] Yes. It's a power from within that I have been able to connect to that is so strong that I'm able to see through people. As I said to you, I'm very blessed to have all the different things that have maintained me alive, a little bit whatever they call. I'm alive. I'm not normal by everybody's health standards, but mine, I see myself as a normal individual, who cares, and loves, and feels, and do good to others as I would like them to do to me. I'm trying to live by example. At the same time we're all humans, so we make mistakes at times. That's okay. Nobody or anything is perfect. No matter how much I try on a painting not to show a brush stroke, once in awhile it's there because the hand shakes, so that's acceptable.
[01:47:00] As an individual I would like to get my message to all the people who are under that rock like I was. Whenever I try to talk to any, they get angry at me because they think that I'm blessed because I'm artist, that I'm blessed because some of them are, and they don't get noticed, I'm blessed because ... Don't envy me, and don't hate me. I have a clear mind, and you too can have a clear mind if you take care of all the things that are putting you on that space, which society around us have pushed us to go into that space. It's not self made. It's like paying too much attention what anybody else thinks. The moment you realize not to pay attention what anybody says, or thinks, or feels about you, you have achieved that freedom. We all deserve to be free. It's something that is so difficult to get across to so many people in the HIV community, in the gay community, that they throw themselves into drugs, and then-.
Listen, so could I. I could have been on that route too. I'm not an angel. I have tried everything you could think of except heroin because I've always been scared of that. Maybe I don't have an addictive personality, and I know that if I tried it once, and I didn't like it, or if I like it, I don't have to do it every day. It's the same with drinking. I'm fortunate that I can have one drink. I can have the second drink, but if I ask for the next one, I'll puke on someone's shoes immediately. That's what I consider myself being fortunate because of all the things that make the parcel .
[01:49:00] Also the strength that comes from the anger that I have at times puts me in a space of having control over my own life, over my own health, over my own ... I don't consider myself being a control freak with anyone else but with myself. I need that strength to continue my life path, and to help others, and as I mentioned, to open that little window to some kid, and make an old person that even their kids don't want to see them anymore because they don't live here, give them something to feel happy about themselves because we all have a lot of things to be happy about, waking up, breathing. It's like, "Oh my God. Another day of having a choice whether I'm going to be like, "wee, wee, wee." I have guys that when I go, "wee, wee, wee," they get so angry at me. I'm not saying the "wee, wee, wee." I don't want to wee, wee, wee myself because it will put me in a space that will put me back under the rock. There's no room for that. That's one of the things that have kept me also alive.
Mason Funk: This is all great stuff. We're going to have to, I think, wrap up.
Mason Funk: Should we cut the roll? ... questions that I, like final questions.
Goro Toshima: Take eight.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Like the Actor's Studio?
Mason Funk: Like what? Like the Actor's Studio.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Okay. Shoot.
Mason Funk: The first two are super simple, which is just say your name, "My name is," and then your name in a simple complete sentence.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:51:00] My name is Juan-Manuel Alonso. I'm an artist. I'm alive, and I care.
Mason Funk: Great. Then tell me "I was born in" whatever year you were born.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: I was born in Havana, Cuba, 1952, the 26th of September. I'm a Libra, and I'm a Golden Dragon, like Isadora Duncan.
Mason Funk: Nice.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: That's why the insanity comes out.
Mason Funk: I'm a Libra too. Then let me ask you three final questions. One is, what is your ... These questions, let's keep these answers short.
Mason Funk: What is your hope for the future?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Oh, my goodness. My hope for the future is to continue being alive, creating, and making beautiful things.
Mason Funk: Great. What advice would you give to the younger generation, the kids, twenty year olds today?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Never to give up.
Mason Funk: Just my advice-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:52:00] My advice to the younger generation is never to give up, to be strong, and to believe in themselves.
Mason Funk: Fantastic. You're good at the short answers. You're good at the long answers and the short answers. The last question is what is from your perspective the value of a project like this one, OUTWORDS? If you could say OUTWORDS in your answer-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: The value of a project like this-
Mason Funk: That's where you say ... Oh, yeah. Go ahead. The value of-
Juan-Manuel Alonso: Maybe I constructed the ... See, my original language is Spanish, so it's backwards, so I have to ... What was the question again?
Mason Funk: What's the value of this project, OUTWORDS?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: The value of the project OUTWORDS is what I believe so strong, which is part of educating the universe, the planet, everyone on this ... I'm sorry.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: the question again?
Juan-Manuel Alonso: The value of OUTWORDS project to me is incredible because it's all about educating and by leaving things for others in fifty years come back and be able to do research to make it easier for the rest. Is that okay?
Mason Funk: That's perfect. That's great. That's it. I think we're done. Your friend, look, he's right there, Terry. I'm going to cut sound.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [00:37:10] Zen. Z-E-N. It's like "Ahh." A lot of those things really help when you have something, when someone says something hateful, that you just either "Tell me something I don't know," or you think ... It's always someone who's not well-adjusted that's not going to be able to accept who you are or who they perceive you as being. That has to do with their upbringing and their education. I don't mean education of how your parents have brought you up, how angry you are. I understand the anger that people feel not only by being gay but also by being HIV positive. It's like the feeling of "They have cut my life," which I felt it on the times.
[00:43:00] It got to the point that I was spending ... The last year that I worked, when I did my taxes, it was fifty-five thousand dollars of my salary that went to infusions of injections. The next time I went to the doctor I mentioned it, and the doctor said, "Do you want me to do the papers for your disability?" I said, "I think so. I think it's time." I wasn't feeling too well, and I was losing weight. I was like "blah", all the things that happen to everyone who is HIV positive on the ten or twelve years way back then when there was no medications or anything. It was deterioration. I was fast. I became disabled and sat there. I had no idea what I was going to do.
[01:06:00] Maybe having that kind of stubbornness or that kind of get up and go, it is something that I think back on my parents. They left everything they had to leave the country they were born, to come somewhere else that they didn't know, to start from zero, from not being able to do what they did back there, and just for the mere fact that I could be free to do and be myself and the person that I have become. It was hard on them too, and life is not a movie. There are realities, and it's a cycle. You go up, and you go down. It's something that we need to understand, that the frame of mind has so much to do. Yes, it's very easily when you are making so much money working, and you're on a silver tray, that I used to call it. You go in first class, five star hotels, a limousine waiting. Then going from something like that, it might put some people on the cloud. I did whatever possible to keep my feet on the ground. But it was very difficult, and I'm still, after '97 to now, Oh my God almost whatever long, I don't know. I will have to get a calculator ... That I couldn't waste any more time. I lost what I was saying. I'm sorry.
[01:38:00] Because by being calm I know that nothing gets solved, you know? And it needs to. It needs to be solved not only by institutions but by every single individual, and they need to heal. It's so much anger, and I see it all around me, and not only anger, self destruction, which I understand to a point, but you have a choice. I know that if you're stuck on that, it's very difficult to grab that rock from on top of you and see the light again. I know. I was there, as I mentioned before for two years of my life with a sleeping mask, so I couldn't see the light because I didn't want to see light. Thank God that I changed my way of thinking because otherwise I'm sure I would have been gone too.
Juan-Manuel Alonso: [01:39:00] I was living in South Beach, and my mom was still alive. She was living on the area of South , South Miami. She convinced me to move closer to her because every time she came and visit me, I was a mess. Sometimes I didn't even shower for weeks. I wasn't taking care of myself. I was just letting go of everything. Her and my sister said, "Move close to mother's name?. You're losing too much weight." My mom said, "I can cook," and "Let's gain weight." It was hard to do that, but I did. The day that I moved, my mom went into the hospital, and a month later she passed away. That conversation with my mom towards the end of her life made me turn around, and think in a different way, and seek help.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Goro Toshima
Date: June 14, 2016
Location: Home Of Juan Manuel Alonso, Palm Springs, CA