He would be a major Instagram star today with millions of followers. He of the flowing capes, bejeweled dancer’s hands and blow-dried hair. He is none other than the late Walter Mercado, the Puerto Rican astrologer who was about much more than the moon and the stars.
Watching the Netflix documentary on “Waaalter,” as we affectionately call him, reminds us why he was so universally popular and loved despite or because of his campiness. “I want to tell you a story,” he says in the documentary.
What a story: a hardscrabble beginning in Depression-era Puerto Rico. The gift of being different. The family and fans who adored him for it.
I loved the idea that he was pushed into television by Elín Ortiz, the same man who gave us Iris Chacón, la vedette de América. But the most telling moment for me was when the camera panned over a dresser with a drawing of Oscar Wilde, the 19th century Irish poet and playwright.
Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, about a man who doesn’t grow old, to which Mercado alluded. Mercado also said his fans were the love of his life, echoing Wilde, who said, “I put all my genius into my life.” Wilde also was jailed for “homosexual acts.”
A gender-bender, Mercado in the documentary says he is androgynous. He never confused me. I knew he was a male dressed like a queen. Few people dared challenge his sexuality, whatever it was, for fear of offending abuela.
Abuelas across Latin America and beyond shushed everyone when Waaalter appeared on screen. They anxiously waited for him to declare their zodiac sign with his customary dramatic flare. “Sagitario!”
He was not much of an astrologer in my view, but a mishmash of every form of spirituality out there. It’s clear Mercado was searching, and he was always positive, wishing all of us mucho, mucho amor.
Mercado, like Wilde, believed in art for art’s sake. Which is why it’s not surprising that Mercado lost the legal rights to his name and brand. He was busy being an artiste, an all too common story that landed in court.
I’m glad that Waaalter is getting his due just a year after his death, that Netflix didn’t make him out to be a freak. He was, after all, a gentle soul and, beyond that, our Waaalter.
I close with Oscar Wilde, who so greatly influenced Mercado.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken,” Wilde encouraged. And he also said this: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
˜˜María Padilla, Editor