Monthly Archives: September 2016

Juan Gabriel’s Legacy of Courage

A Catholic priest blesses the statue of late Mexican singer Juan Gabriel during a mass in his honor in Plaza Garibaldi, in Mexico City, Mexico August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

A Catholic priest blesses the statue of late Mexican singer Juan Gabriel during a mass in his honor in Plaza Garibaldi, in Mexico City, Mexico August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

When I asked my best friend in Mexico, a leading member of the Central Christian Church in San Luis Potosí for many years, what he thought of Juan Gabriel, he replied, “Well, I don’t like the fact he’s homosexual, but whenever I hear his song, it’s one of his trademark songs, “Amor Eterno” (“Eternal Love”), I just have to cry.” Hemer then went on to say that the song made him think of his mother and that would lead him to describe her for me. “She was so good and kind; I never could thank her enough.” This was said with a trembling of his chin.

I had read an article on Mexico by Alma Guillermoprieto in The New Yorker magazine years before our move there which led off with a description of the peculiar hold the singer/songwriter had maintained on the Mexican public for a few decades. For the writer of the article, it was Juan Gabriel’s in your face, and yes flamboyant, femininity that intrigued her. In the renowned bastion of machismo that is Mexico, one of the country’s leading celebrities had survived, and thrived even, on his ability to make fun of the sombreroed, booted cowboys who came to his concerts to taunt him. They taunted but no one got the better of him, and his quick wit added to his appeal.

I was fascinated by the article as most Mexicans were fascinated for a very long time by the story and personality of a man who loomed larger on the Mexican cultural landscape than anyone I can think of in the U.S. Juan Gabriel was, one commentator has noted, like Elvis and Frank Sinatra combined. But given the nature of his trajectory from orphaned boy vagabond in Ciudad Juarez to Mexico City stardom at age 21, you’d have to throw in Little Richard and Ray Charles too to approximate Gabriel’s appeal among the Mexican people.

His death last Sunday in Santa Monica, California, the fact he had left his homeland to live in a more open social environment, and the enduring power and popularity of his music throughout Mexico may well contribute to the growing momentum to make gay marriage legal south of the border. That he died living in a rented apartment on the beach in “El Norte” could well force some would-be opponents of this significant social change to remain silent or even support it. No doubt the Catholic Church will be more tactful in their opposition. It seems no one in Mexico wants to be seen as hostile to Juan Gabriel at this time. After all, everyone in the country has a mother.

Postscript from the movie “High Noon” (1952):
“It takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man Harvey and you Harvey, you are not a man.” Saloon owner Helen Ramirez as played by the Mexican actress Katy Jurado to Deputy Sheriff Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges).