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A Brown & Queer Memoir

by Lydia R. Otero 

 Building community


a city in the 1980s.

"A Powerful Memoir and Documentary History"

By combining the intimacy of a personal memoir with the rigor of documentary history, Lydia Otero weaves together a rich narrative of identity, activism, and personal transformation. With meticulous attention to detail, Otero traverses the homes of family members to dancefloors, bustling work sites, and organizing spaces in search of brown and queer belonging. Through photographs, archival documents, and compelling storytelling, Otero crafts a passionate narrative of personal becoming amid the political and cultural currents of 1980s Los Angeles.

Grounded in the philosophy that the personal is political, Otero portrays fellow organizers as strategists exploring previously unimagined avenues to address the needs of brown queers. The book traces Otero’s transformations and blossoming sense of self, which often felt constrained by the binary gender assignments of the time, while it tells a documentary history of Lesbians of Color, Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos (GLLU), Lesbianas Unidas (LU) and Bienestar: A Gay Latino AIDS Project—groups central to the city’s burgeoning queer, brown, and activist scene. 

Otero’s parallel story of becoming an electrician offers a unique vantage point of a city in the midst of restructuring, as Otero’s labor contributed to building some of the most iconic structures in Los Angeles, such as the Universal CityWalk, U.S. Bank Tower, and the Metro Rail. 

Meticulously researched, L.A. Interchanges invites readers to delve into the intricate interplay between personal experience and historical context. It is a testament to the complexity of intersectional identities, and the unwavering spirit of those who strive for justice and belonging in the face of adversity.

Books are available online at Bookshop & Amazon.

Click HERE for bookstores and shops in Tucson, Arizona that carry my books.


Check out the independent bookstores in

Los Angeles

that carry

L.A. Interchanges 


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Released on November 23, 2019 


Read "Freeway Dreams" in Los Angeles Review of Books.

Selected one of
"Twenty Good Reads of 2019"
by the 
Tucson Weekly.

The Journal of Arizona History Book Review here.


A thought-provoking coming-of-age memoir about growing up brown and queer in a Southwest city invested in urban development.

Raised in an adobe house built by their mother, Lydia R. Otero takes readers to a mid-20th century barrio that existed on the social margins of Tucson, Arizona. Nicknamed "La Butch" by their family, the author knew they were queer the moment their consciousness had evolved enough to formulate thoughts.

In addition to growing up fighting assigned gender expectations, a new freeway greatly influenced formative aspects of Otero's childhood. The author witnessed how the steady expansion of Interstate 10 (I-10) separated and isolated a barrio of brown and poor residents from the rest of the city. Growing up 200 feet from the freeway meant more than enduring traffic noise and sirens for Otero and other barrio families. It introduced environmental hazards that contributed to the death of family members.

The construction of the freeway also realigned school boundaries. Although able to attend the same the same schools as white children, the author details how Americanization policies and programs worked to racialize and separate brown students such as Otero as late as 1961.

This book, which combines personal memoir and family history with historical archives, offers more self-disclosure than Otero's previous works, as the author's experiences of childhood take center stage. Otero reveals the day-to-day survival mechanisms they depended upon, the exhilaration of first love, the love of reading and the support the author received from key family members as they tried to gain a sense of belonging in a world mired in change and dislocation.



Released in 2010 by the 

University of Arizona Press

Winner of a Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association

2019  "40 Essential Arizona Books

Tucson Weekly 


On March 1, 1966, the voters of Tucson approved the Pueblo Center Redevelopment Project—Arizona’s first major urban renewal project—which targeted the most densely populated eighty acres in the state. For close to one hundred years, tucsonenses had created their own spatial reality in the historical, predominantly Mexican American heart of the city, an area most called “la calle.” Here, amid small retail and service shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues, they openly lived and celebrated their culture. To make way for the Pueblo Center’s new buildings, city officials proceeded to displace la calle’s residents and to demolish their ethnically diverse neighborhoods, which, contends Lydia Otero, challenged the spatial and cultural assumptions of postwar modernity, suburbia, and urban planning.

Otero examines conflicting claims to urban space, place, and history as advanced by two opposing historic preservationist groups: the La Placita Committee and the Tucson Heritage Foundation. The author gives voice to those who lived in, experienced, or remembered this contested area, and analyzes the historical narratives promoted by Anglo American elites in the service of tourism and cultural dominance.

La Calle explores the forces behind the mass displacement: an unrelenting desire for order, a local economy increasingly dependent on tourism, and the pivotal power of federal housing policies. To understand how urban renewal resulted in the spatial reconfiguration of downtown Tucson, Otero draws on scholarship from a wide range of disciplines: Chicanx, ethnic, and cultural studies; urban history, sociology, and anthropology; city planning; and cultural and feminist geography.


"Otero is re-voicing the silenced and examining the role of power and voice in creating an imagined history. She offers a rich understanding of how resistance exists in everyday practices by individuals and how such resistance continues in the face of powerful--and disempowering--institutional and social relations."

--Gabriela F. Arredondo, author of Mexican Chicago: Race, Identity and Nation, 1916-1939

"Based on meticulous research and oral histories, Lydia Otero's La Calle documents the Tucson Mexican American community's tragic experience with urban renewal during the the l960s. It is an indictment of the politics, greed, and racism that led to the destruction of the Mexican American economic, historical, cultural, and architectural heart of the Old Pueblo. It is also an elegy and a eulogy honoring those who fought city hall, often in vain, to preserve Tucson's Mexican past. We owe them, as well as Lydia, our profound gratitude for telling their stories."

--Patricia Preciado Martin, author of Beloved Land: An Oral History of Mexican Americans in Southern Arizona

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