Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico, May 4, 1997



From “The Memoirs, Volume Two” –



            Partly as a result of our state-wide meeting in Puerto Escondido the year before, and our general getting to know the other AIDS groups in the state, we contacted José Romero at the Panamerican Health Organization (OPS) of the U.N. in Mexico City, and mentioned that the little group in Juchitán, Gunaxhii Guendanabani, was doing great but could sure use a little money.  Well, he said, let’s see what we can do.


            Our friends in Gunaxhii Guendanabani, the drag queens and others, got to work and drew up a nice little proposal and we sent it up to José Romero.  I think it was called "Strengthening Gay Leadership in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec," or something like that, and the OPS went for it and the Frente acted as administrator of the grant.

            Well, they got a little bit of the money, and then they got a little bit more, and they were all busy working on their nice, big project "strengthening gay leadership."


            Our theater director Sergio was going back and forth and helping them out and he came back to Oaxaca one weekend and said, Well, they got their project all figured out, Bill.  They’re doing a big drag show for the final event!

            “A drag show?” I stuttered.

            “Sure!  That’s what they do,” he said, “they’re drag queens!”












            So, that’s what they did, a big drag show.  Sergio helped a lot and sort of stringed together the various drag acts they had with a fairly coherant, didactic message about AIDS and AIDS prevention.  I said I would do the sets, natch!

            There was a nice, little bus ride in those days, from Oaxaca to Juchitán, five hours.  I got to know it well.  And a little (dump!) of a hotel, called Litzi Biuza, right behind the market off the zocalo, and I always liked to stay there.  Our crew was back and forth and building a big glittery backdrop for the drag queens and the date was approaching.


            I went down about a week before the show, with my little crew.  We got rooms in the Litzi Biuza and encountered the girls of Gunaxhii in high anticipation.

            Sergio was rehearsing with them, practically all day, in a little room above the big, party rental hall which they had engaged for the big show on Saturday.  It was scheduled for 8:30 pm., bring-your-own-beer.  I thought, Oh, brother!




            We went to work building these big, cardboard, pointed panels that screwed together in a big fan shape, all covered with glitter and very “deco” looking.  It would be the backdrop.




            The day came, of course, and the big, glittery backdrop was in place and the girls had rehearsed practically up to the last minute and the tables and chairs were being placed on the floor.  It was a huge place, used for big dances and parties, and our broad stage stuck out into the middle of it all.  Names were already being placed on the nearest tables in front to reserve them.  It was looking to be a big crowd.


            Well, we were all busy running around, as you can imagine, Russell snapping away in the dressing rooms upstairs, where the girls were all looking just georgous!  It was almost eight o’clock.










            The crowd were begining to appear at the big front doors, cases of beer on their sholders.


            I looked down and noticed a little empty space right off the edge of stage left and motioned to the guys putting up the tables.  “Sneak another small one in right there, if you can” I said, “but, wait til the last minute, you know?”

            Sure thing, Bill, no problem! they said.

            The guys rushed over with a little round table and a couple of chairs and snuggled them into the tiny space just inside the corner light tower and virtually ON the stage.  I sat down.

            Then it was eight-thirty.  The people were coming in.  It looked like a good crowd.  Then it was nine o’clock.  The people were sure coming in!

            Then it was nine-thirty.  Russell came and sat down, assuring me that all the girls were ready and everybody looked just great.

            We looked around.  Nobody was bothered by the hour.  People kept coming in like they were right on time.

            “Have another beer,” I said.


            The big tables in the center front, all reserved for the big people, of course, still had lots of seats vacant.  Soon, a good sized group made its way to the front.  Among them, surrounded by a bunch of the big ladies of the Isthmus in all their full finery, was my old friend and contact to the Panamerican Health Organization, José Romero.  He was looking around him in awe, the huge crowd, the noise, the music.

            “Bill!  Bill, this is wonderful!” he exclaimed, “You’ve really done it again, Bill!”

            “Oh, well, José, after all, I didn’t really ...”

            But before I could finish he was lead away to his center seat of honor by the big ladies.  We would wave back and forth throughout the show.

            Ten o’clock came.  Ten-thirty came.  Ten-forty-five came.  I’m going like, Come on guys ...


            The lights went out.  The canned music came to a halt in mid-note.  And the place erupted!  Screaming and yelling and standing and stomping of feet, 'til I thought the poor old party house would colapse on our heads.






            It didn’t, of course.  The first of the drag acts burst onto the stage in a thunderous ovation.  And the show went on, number after number, and skits, and skits in Zapotec, and ending with Sergio’s great little 20-minute show-within-a-show about all the drag queens (playing themselves, of course) all backstage putting on their make-up and getting ready for their big show.




            One of them explains to another, a slightly dumb one, “Well, you see, we applied for a grant from the Panamerican Health Organization (lots of applause), to put on a big show!

            “Gee, that sounds wonderful.  What kind of show?” asks the other.

            “Why, it’s the most wonderful show in the world!  (applause)  A show that tells all the young people of the Isthmus, about how to protect themselves against AIDS, and all the young people of the Isthmus will be able to know about AIDS and how to protect them selves and live a long happy and safe life, here in the Isthmus!  And it’ll be the most wonderful show in the world!”  (wild applause)

            “Well, so what happened?  With the grant?”




            “Well, we won, of course!  We got the grant!  We’re going to do the show!”

            Here the place erupts in wild applause again.

            And the slightly dumb one says, “Gosh, I wish I could see that show!”

            “See it?  Silly, you’re in it!”

            “I ... I am?”

            "Of course, dummy!"  Here she stands and slowly walks to the front of the stage, “This is it!  This is the show, the most wonderful show in the world!  (applause)  Hit it girls!”  And the whole troup go into their high-kicking final number and, well, they just kill ‘em!










            There were about a million, tearful bows and curtain calls, and the mayor and the mayor’s wife and Elí Bartolo, the president of the group, all come out on stage and thank everybody about a million times.  And then they announce the man from OPS who made all this possible!  And a tearful José Romero is brought emotionally onto the stage to thunderous applause.  I think he said something like This is the happiest moment of my life!


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            Yeah, it was some show.  And Russell and I had prime front row stage-left seats, the whole long night.  We would later take the show to the big theater in Oaxaca city and pack it to the rafters, and kill ‘em dead, and then we would take it on the road to eleven more cities, and kill ‘em dead again.  We would make lots of friends, and work hard, and our message of protection and safe sex would be long remembered on the broad, furtle plains of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec that summer of 1997.



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(NOTE:  You can read lots more about the Intrepidas and their tour of eleven cities of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in "Those Darn Intrepidas" in RECENT WRITINGS.)