Charles Rice-Gonzalez got the inspiration for his novel Chulito while sitting on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse in 1991 and watching pedestrians go by.
Then employed in Borough President Fernando Ferrer’s education department, Rice-Gonzalez saw a pair of junior high school-aged boys running down Grand Concourse yelling back at their friend “ew! He’s gay!” The third boy came running down the street seconds hollering back “yo! Yo! I’m not gay!”
As he watched the scene unfold, Rice-Gonzalez thought to himself, “what if that kid really was gay? What would life be like for him?”
Twenty years later, Rice-Gonzalez is getting set to release Chulito, the story of a young Hispanic gay male coming of age in modern-day Hunts Point. The novel will be released on Tuesday, October 11 through Magnus Books. It is the first published novel for the 47-year-old, who himself is a gay, native Bronxite.
“When the book starts (title character) Chulito is not confused about being gay,” Rice-Gonzalez said. “But he feels like he cant come out as gay. The persona he’s created with his friends, the guys in the neighborhood, the people at the bodega, has kept him in this macho prison.”
Rice-Gonzalez originally intended to have the novel take place on Grand Concourse, but decided to shift it to Hunts Point when he moved to the neighborhood in 1997.
“One of the things I love about Hunts Point is the sense of closeness among the community there,” he said. “Because it’s cutoff by the Bruckner Expressway and it’s on a peninsula. There’s something really small-town feeling about it. Everyone knows each other.”
Rice-Gonzalez, who grew up mainly in Soundview, is frequently asked if Chulito (which means “cutie” in Spanish) is semi-autobiographical, but he said the main character’s experiences are based more on what he imagined from that teenager on the Grand Concourse, than his own life.
He did, however, base a lot of material on what he saw growing up. He based a character, and her role in the community, on a transvestite that lived in his mother building while he was growing up.
“The guys around Chulito are very homophobic, but very protective.”
He decided to get serious about publishing his fiction writing eight years ago.
“The love was always there,” he said. “But I wanted to write to get published.”