1997 -


“When Tania Libertad

came to town”




by Sergio Santamaría

With photos by Russell Ellison

            One afternoon a bunch of us members of the Frente Común were sitting around and very excited about the opening of our new little condom store and saying, it’s the very first establishment of its kind in the city of Oaxaca, and then we said, well, we could really say in the whole of southern Mexico?


            But first we had to decide on a name for our store and we said it should be something attractive, you know, not like “sex shop” or such. After some hours of discussion, we came to the unanimous decision to call our store Condón-Manía.” And we all liked it a lot.


            Then second, we had to decide how we were going to do our inauguration. Well, we’re all theater types and artists and we knew we had to do something totally dramatic that would attract the attention of the whole city. After a couple more hours discussing this, I mentioned that I might be able to invite Tania Libertad. Well, everybody was suddenly all excited and saying “YES!” and then saying “Well, do you think she would accept?” or “How much does she cost?” and “Do you know if she’s even in Mexico?” Well, I said I would try.


            I had previously known Tania from her visits to Oaxaca and her acquaintance with a mutual friend, Rodolfo Morales and, so, I took the telephone in my hand and called her up.


            In one giant breath I told her the whole thing, ending with the simple phrase, “…and we have no money to pay you.” After the briefest of moments, her voice came all the way down the phone lines, “You haven’t changed, Sergio.” She covered the mouthpiece and spoke to her secretary. Then she consulted her agenda. Then she said, “Send me an airplane ticket for 9:00 in the morning of the 12 of October with a return at 6:00 in the afternoon and feed me a big lunch and invite all my friends and I’ll come.” She told me to invite Rodolfo and Juan Alcázar and Justina Fuentes and a dozen others.


            I couldn’t believe it! Tania Libertad had agreed to inaugurate our Condón-Manía!


            That morning a large group of Frente Común members and hangers-on found themselves in the Oaxaca airport waiting anxiously to receive Tania. We paced the floors, fully aware of the importance of a person of such stature as Tania Libertad and what it could mean for our little condom store.


            She arrived! After that everything happened very fast.


            I handed her a copy of the day’s “agenda”: A visit to the offices of the Frente Común Contra el SIDA. A press conference in one of the big, downtown restaurants. A traditional Oaxaca “calenda” parade through the streets of the city. The official inauguration of Condón-Manía. A traditional Oaxaca “comida” at the Restaurant El Laurel, with her friends. Farewell festivities at the airport. All in six hours.


            She looked at me with a big smile, “This is Oaxaca exploitation!”



            It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining down on the green stones that characterize Oaxaca, when we set out on our musical walk through the old colonial center of our city.


            We had done a good amount of publicity for the event, but still I got quite choked up to see the enormous outpouring warmth and gratitude for Tania by the large crowds gathering along our route. Every corner more and more people were coming as our little, traditional brass band of Oaxaca led our happy group carrying heart-shaped balloons and condom-shaped banners. The crowd was crying “Tania! Tania! Welcome, Tania!”


            The municipal police had warned us that there was a teachers’ strike on and we might not be able to pass through some of the streets on our route. Well, about the time Tania leaned to me and said, “Sergio, how much further? I can’t walk any more!” we turned into a street completely blocked by teachers.


            “Well, we have to go through there,” I said.


            She looked up at me.


           Suddenly all the teachers knew Tania and began cheering. “She’s come! Tania’s here!” they shouted. They effusively welcomed us in and ushered us through the blockade. Some of the teachers even followed along to Condón-Manía!


            As I said, the municipal police were a big help, of course, and they had closed the street in front of Condón-Manía to accommodate the big crowds that were coming. The kids had set up an improvised sort of stage in front and a good, rented sound system.


            I led Tania up the few steps and we turned to the crowd. Tania said how glad she was to be in Oaxaca, and how wonderful to have a place like this in Oaxaca where all Oaxaqueños can come and then she was about to invite everyone to come with her to cut the ribbon when the crowd began shouting “Sing, Tania. Sing!”

We had no music, of course, and hadn’t spoken about her singing, but she took the microphone in her hands and a great hush fell on the street. In her sweet, clear voice she began acapela a haunting melody in Zapoteco called “Guendanabani,” love of life.




            When she finished, there was a pause and then the crowd went rabid! Cheering and calling her name. Then someone started shouting, “Condón-Manía! Condón-Manía!” and we turned to enter our little locale.

            Well, she cut the ribbon and we tried to move inside; only about five people fit in the place. The photographers pressed in. A reporter called out, “Hey, Tania, what’s your favorite condom?” I gulped.


            Tania calmly reached into the counter and pulled out a shiny pink square. “Why, this one, of course! Made right here in Mexico!” Everybody clapped.


            She’s smooth.




            The lunch was delicious, of course, in the patio of El Laurel, and the company was warm and friendly. Nor did Tania, surrounded by her friends, almost all artists, and offered her favorite dishes, neglect a bowl of Oaxaca’s famous “chapulines” (grasshoppers!).


            We told her about our plans for the Frente and our hopes. She listened, smiling, and then raised a cup of her favorite, Don Julio tequila. We all stood.


            “To Condón-Manía,” she said. “To it’s success.  And to the lives that it may save, …for ever and ever.”




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