Gil Cuadros’ City of God reveals to readers a gay’s life from a twofold perspective. The narrative center draws heavily from Cuadros’ memories as a Latino child with gay tendencies. Cuadros’ family was working class, his parents Mexican. City of God consists of two distinct parts. The first part uses short narrative, the second, poetry. This choice is significant. The short stories re-create Cuadros’ childhood world. Their main characters are children who are expected to display a strong masculine behavior, but these children are sensitive individuals who are struggling with their first gay experiences. Following the traditional pattern of a diary, the narration focuses on sexual incidents as centers of the action, which, in turn, serve as material for the second part.
Sexual desire is a main theme and cohesive leitmotif of these stories. The main character confronts physical changes at the beginning of his teenage years and his discovery of sexual pleasure. As an adult, besides dealing with his family’s disapproval of his gay lifestyle, he must struggle against the racist attitude of a predominantly white gay community that views him as a sexual object. In addition, he must deal with the imminent death of his white gay lover and his own HIV-positive status. Of particular interest is the main character’s coming out to his family at age twenty-three, disclosing to them that he has a white lover. This stand clashes with the traditional Hispanic treatment of gay life, which, as reflected in another short story, is to cover it up with a marriage.
The poetic second part continues Cuadros’ adult recall of the most memorable events in his gay life. This section contains a remarkable view of life with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which serves as catalyst for self-analysis by means of specific recurrent themes (the strong father figure and gay sexual practices). Through the protagonist’s anguish, the reader faces starkly the immediacy of death and the necessity of preparing for it at the peak of one’s life.
Cuadros’ work fulfills several purposes. It introduces into Latino literature taboo issues such as the painful recognition of being gay and frank descriptions of gay sexual acts. Cuadros’ major contribution, however, is his open treatment of AIDS in a positive light. His characters are normal Latino gay men who are forced to examine their lives as they fight their survival.