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Photo Essay: The Vaqueros of Tempo

12:12 PM PST on February 6, 2018

The Doors of Perception Volume One: The Vaqueros of Tempo

Club Tempo in East Hollywood is an unassuming club if you are a pedestrian or driver passing by, but to the communities that congregate there, it means much more. Every Sunday, for the past 27 years, Club Tempo has been the home of “Vaquero Night.”

I was first intrigued by the fact that Tempo is located in a strip mall. An orange and red sign is advertised amongst a dentist office, a travel agency, a nail salon, and an El Pollo Loco (typical L.A. strip mall vibes).

Any bar or club in a strip mall always catches my eye; three other great and random bars in a strip mall include Carlitos Way in Van Nuys, The Lost and Found in Mar Vista, and Chicos in Montebello. I did some research and found out that Tempo hosted a gay cowboy night every Sunday. I decided to check it out, so I stepped inside and was instantly blown away by the fashion and style of the vaqueros.

“Vaquero Night” is a community staple for Mexican and Central American LGBTQ communities to connect and feel free to express themselves in a safe environment. The vaqueros come dressed in typical cowboy gear from their home countries of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with some extra individualistic style. There are three rooms that play a range of music from corridos, cumbias, and techno. The club also hosts the city's only LGBTQ mariachi band.

I first started shooting with an unassuming Yashica T4 point and shoot camera, but quickly realized that I wanted to have a deeper relationship with the club and the vaqueros that congregated there every Sunday.

Audio Interview: Martin, one of the patrons of Vaquero Night:

I approached the manager of the club and gave him a copy of one of my older zines titled "Sean's Star Shots" and asked if I could shoot the club on Sundays. He asked, "Why are you interested?" I told him that this night and this culture was something beautiful that the world should see. He seemed cool with that answer and gave me access.

The following Sunday I brought a backdrop and would take portraits of vaqueros before they entered Tempo, and would later enter the club and shoot them inside. From the start, most of the Vaqueros were open to me shooting them. The following week I returned with 5x7 prints taken the prior week. Eventually, I became known and accepted. Security would help hustle portraits for me and the vaqueros appreciated getting a print in the upcoming weeks.

Audio Interview: Maritza:

To step into Club Tempo on “Vaquero Night” you immediately enter a festive, open environment with multiple symbolic layers everywhere. This space is uniquely American — part of a tradition, but not traditional. It is a space where individuals are free to dress in their cultural attire from back home, speak Spanish, and free to be LGBTQ openly while vibing to music from this country and back home. The weaving of different cultures from past and present is so vibrant, so free. The energy of the night is all about moving forward to create something brand new and organic.

Audio Interview: Francisco:

Audio Interview Joel:

Audio Interview Carlos: 

The Doors of Perception is a new series by Sean Maung that combines audio, text, and photography. It will run semi-regularly here on L.A. TACO.

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