So, my mom met a guy. It's been almost five years since my dad, her husband of 39 years, died of cancer. He was the only man she'd ever been with, having married him when she was just 19 years old. Life without him would take some getting used to.
She once confided in me that the idea of even holding hands with someone who was not my dad made her feel weird, sad and uncomfortable. I forced a smile, not wanting to show her how much this information twisted my heart into a knot, and told her that it was understandable that she'd be skeeved out by the idea, but that if she ever did want to hold hands with another man, it was OK with me.
Don't feel too sorry for Amelia Zaragoza. At a recent baby shower, she told a table full of my aunts that while the idea of moving on gives her pause, I've never had that problem. Es que tu heredaste lo puta de tu papa. "It's because you inherited your sluttiness from your dad." She cackled like a witch, and all I could do was nod.
But now she's met someone who seems to have changed her life and has opened up a whole new world to her. His name is Richi, and he's a gay, Santeria-practicing witch doctor who speaks to otherworldly beings and is said to have been sainted in Cuba. I'm not sure how to fact-check that.
Ever since she met Richi, it's "Richi said this" and "Richi did that" and "Then Richi and I saw a drag performer get her wig kicked off, and there was a pair of underwear holding her hair."
Apparently, he took her bar hopping among Downtown Tijuana's best gay bars. Then they grabbed tacos and walked home at 3 a.m. This is unheard-of. Amelia's always avoided leaving the house after 4 p.m., and here she is now, 63 years old, swigging beer at gay bars and stumbling home with taco breath like—well, like her youngest daughter. I had to meet this special fellow of hers.
My mom's newfound role as queen of the gays came as a surprise. She's always been naïvely uninformed and intimidated by the gay community and has that not-so-rare gift of making a seemingly progressive statement totally offensive. "I donít care if gay people want to get married. But don't maricons just fuck anyone whenever they want anyway? What's the point?" This has led to many exasperated conversations.
After hearing her gay-club-hopping saga, I decided to tag along on their next jaunt. I walked into my mom's kitchen and met her new bestie. Richi stood there, towering over us with a robust belly, shiny cue-ball head and skin the color of rich Mexican hot chocolate. He ate reheated carne asada, and we chatted about where we'd be partying that night, a boyfriend who's been annoying the shit out of him and how he wants to lose weight. Then he pulled out his tarot cards and lit a cigarette, and we drank wine as he read my fortune. He also asked if he could bathe me in a river soon. Go to town, Richi. This guy is amazing.
We headed out to Latinos bar in Downtown Tijuana, grabbed a booth and ordered a bucket of bottled Tecate. We danced in our seats and watched as Jenni Rivera, Paquita la del Barrio, Gloria Trevi and other legendary Mexican singers took the small stage that was dressed with a glittery "Viva Mexico" sign. Their faces were contoured to high-cheekbone perfection, waists cinched to hourglass proportions and their male parts tucked snuggly away. The Paquita impersonator was right on point, looking like Ursula the sea witch, dabbing sweat off her brow and lazily sauntering on the stage as she sang about a rata de dos patas (a rat with two legs: a terrible man). She even drew in the big, hairy chin mole that Paquita is known for! Don't give me that dainty Kate Upton-mole shit. Give me a bruiser of a mole on a haggard old lady who sings about every dude whoís disappointed her—Mexico's answer to Taylor Swift.
The place was brimming with gay and straight folks, coupled up or on the hunt, singing along with the lip-syncing performers. Old men selling Spanish hand fans walked past, realizing that it's the preferred system of cooling for those with a dramatic flair. Amelia, of course, brought her own, which just happened to match her signature turban. Servers came to our table, each with a lit cigarette pressed between their lips, and opened bottles of beer for us, then walked away, ashing their cigarette onto the floor. You gotta respect that zero-fucks-given attitude.
I've been to a few drag shows in my day—really sad ones, where the performers sleepily sing along to their vocal tracks and the wigs look like a Party City Halloween discount-bin leftover or one of Liz Taylor's old pubey-looking wigs. At Latinos, however, they were going full-force in beautifully constructed costumes and lace fronts that Beyoncé would envy. JK! Beyonce's wigs are made of unicorn hair and woven by angels.
Gloria Trevi busted out the splits, and a ball-gown-clad Jenni Rivera whipped her lusciously fake locks around, and Richi and Amelia screeched over a joke he made that I couldn't hear. She took undoubtedly blurry pictures on her phone with the enthusiasm of a teenage girl. (Seriously, has any parent older than 60 ever taken an in-focus cell-phone pic?) We capped the night with the Tijuana special—late-night tacos—and Richi marveled about all the dudes who were hitting on him that night. Ay guey, tuve un chingo de pegue! And we laughed. I looked at Richi and mouthed a silent "Thank you."