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
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
“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.
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
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
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,”
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,
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!”
“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 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!
* * *
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.
* * *
(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.)
CONDON IN "THE MONTH OF LOVE"