“The nature of men is to be flirty and quick to fall in love, like a rooster, or a horse. I have a fucking rooster that mates with all twenty hens. Men want lots of hens, many women. It’s my male instinct.” —Mariachi singer Jaime García.
Jaime García might not sound like the most enlightened man in the world, but the controversial protagonist of the new documentary The Charro of Toluquilla is helping to challenge some old stereotypes in Mexico.
García stars in the award-winning documentary that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week. The film, directed by José Villalobos Romero and winner of the best Ibero-American Documentary and Audience Award at The Guadalajaran International Film Festival, showcases the life of García, who is an HIV-positive mariachi singer in Mexico. His wife and daughter, with whom he lives, aren’t infected with the virus.
García is the archetypical charro, a macho cowboy and lothario dressed in a full black suit with tuxedo lapels and silver bottoms. He spends a lot of time watching old movies with Pedro Infante, a legendary actor from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, and develops a fascination for old notions of masculinity.
But the documentary follows his life as a mariachi from a unique perspective. He becomes somewhat of a reformed man after spending his younger years sleeping around. Once he becomes diagnosed as HIV-positive, he tries to commit to his family— his wife Rocio, and their 5-year-old daughter, Analía.
The film focuses on García’s daily routine as a mariachi, where he drives a truck with his horse to get from Toluquilla to Guadalajara to sing Vicente Fernández songs at a bar. When not on the road, he is a self-styled family man. In showing his professional life and family life, the film challenges some enduring stigmas about HIV/AIDS in Latin America, where many people still think the disease is a death sentence, and something that is automatically transmitted to children and sexual partners.
"What I wanted to do is use this taboo that exists—one that I had when I met the character—and show it. You feel that taboo, that prejudice, when you see the documentary," says director Villalobos Romero.
The Charro, 49, was one of the first HIV patients in the Hospital Civil of Guadalajara. He explains that he got the virus about 15 years ago.
“I had a wild life when I was 28. I think. From when I was 28 until I was 32. That’s when I think I got infected,” Charro says in the documentary. Since then he has taken his antiretroviral medicines, and wants people to know that, “You could live well, and I’m well,” as he says in a recent video.
Garcia's relationship with his daughter is complex. At one point in the film, he says “Bendito sida” (“blessed AIDS”), suggesting the disease has helped him become a better person and commit himself more fully to his daughter. He says it's a miracle that she's not infected.
García teaches his daughter mariachi songs, such as “I want to have a father,” by Pedrito Fernández, and spends time with her riding his white horse in the mountains of Toluquilla.
Being a mariachi also helps García deal with his HIV.
“If people love me I’m happy. It strengthens my immune system and makes me feel better. If I want to make people happy, I must sleep well, eat healthy, take my medication, and ride horses,” he says.
El Charro’s also seeks strengthen in his eccentric personality. Director Villalobos says the mariachi sees freedom as a survival method, which makes him universal and endearing, even though it implies selfishness and a level of political incorrectness that makes him a complicated man.
“The Charro shows us that he has a goal that goes beyond his chauvinistic values and then you don’t judge him. I think that this has to do with his freedom and the desire to survive, which we can all identify with,” says Villalobos.
Ana Luisa González writes about Latino arts and culture and also makes documentaries.