The start of October marks the beginning of LGBTQ History Month and the midway point of National Hispanic Heritage Month — two cultures with rich histories and contributions to the arts.
To celebrate, TheWrap recently caught up with five LatinX standouts from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”: Alexis Mateo, April Carrion, Bianca Del Rio, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and Crystal Methyd. The queens shared their personal herstories and how their Latino heritage inspire their drag.
Check out the interview below and behind-the-scenes of the queens’ LatinX Heritage Month shoot above.
How did Latin culture inspire your drag?
Alexis Mateo (Season 3, All Stars 5): My mom was a fanatic of Miss Universe, and it’s a huge event in my house in Puerto Rico. When she was younger, she used to train people for pageants. I competed in pageants since I was a little boy. And of course, when I became a drag queen, Miss Universe was an inspiration. I love evening gowns. I love watching the competition. Every year for Miss Universe, I invite all my friends. It’s like the Super Bowl. And I think that’s the reason why I started doing pageants when I was becoming a drag queen, not only to polish myself, but because I love the competition of being a beauty queen.
Vanessa Vanjie Mateo (Seasons 10 and 11): I didn’t grow up in Puerto Rico. My mom took us and moved to Florida. But once I met [my drag mother] Alexis, I got really into pageants. When I was living with Alexis, we would watch them all the time like “Jeopardy!”
April Carrion (Season 6): I remember one of my earliest gifts was a Celia Cruz CD for Three Kings Day. She was very impactful because she was very extravagant. Salsa music, merengue, it’s just part of my culture. It’s how I grew up. And traveling made me appreciate it more, because I’m like, “Oh, damn, I come from a really colorful and flavorful place,” so I really needed to honor that.
Bianca Del Rio (Season 6): My mother’s from Cuba and my dad is from Honduras. My parents came to America in 1959 and they met here, actually. So we grew up in an Americanized Hispanic situation. We had a good mixture of both, I think, because they were finding their way in America, as well as keeping some tradition alive from where they came from.
My mother was all about music, and one of her favorite performers was Celia Cruz. The theatricality of it and Celia in particular with these colorful costumes and lots of garish makeup — she’s like the best of the best of a drag queen — was something I grew up with that was really influential.
Crystal Methyd (Season 12): I grew up half-Mexican and my mother was the Latina figure in my life. She is such a fabulous woman and loves to get dressed up. She’s a tiny woman and I outgrew her pretty quickly. But when I was a little boy, I would sneak into her closet when she was at work and try on all her clothes. You know, she’s so vibrant and colorful, lots of jewelry. So I’ve always loved playing in that kind of sense. And I think after I sized out of her clothes, and she started noticing I was stretching them out, that’s when I gravitated to makeup, because then I could put it on and wipe it off and no one would know anything.
How has your heritage influenced your drag and performing?
Mateo: My drag is based on Latin dance culture. I used to go to dance school since I was a little boy, so the whole Latin ballroom competition is always around my fashion and the way that I perform because it’s part of my life as a real person.
Carrion: I need to nuture and expand Puerto Rican queer culture. I think Puerto Rican culture is very queer. We’ve always had drag queens; we’ve always had diversity. Yes, we come from a machista background. But now more than ever, with more gender expression, men have come to embrace their femininity, which is so important.
Del Rio: For comedians, like George Lopez — whom I absolutely love — when you speak of your culture, speak of your history, it’s always amusing because there is somebody who’s experienced it, especially if you’re Hispanic [because] there’s so many things that you can joke about. But it’s also fascinating when you have, let’s say, a white audience or Black audience, or when I’m in Amsterdam, we all end up laughing at the same thing. Even though it is based in my history, people can relate to it.
So I always try to bring those stories. For me, in particular, self-deprecation is highly important. I know that I’m a man, I know that I’m Hispanic. So all of that works into the act. You have to find the humor in all of it.
Vanjie Mateo: Everything I do always has a Puerto Rican flair. A lot of my drag is based off of my mom and Latin, strong women that yelled at the kids to get inside the house and did everything by themselves and are kind of like a Wonder Woman of their own. My drag is kind of based off of strong Latin women with that spice.
Methyd: The piñata [finale look]! Since we were filming from home [due to COVID] I thought I needed to do something that I wouldn’t typically be able to do. Like, I wouldn’t have been able to travel with that piñata on a plane. I made it the day before we had to film out of cardboard boxes because I’m a procrastinator.
I make a lot of the stuff myself, except my final lip-synch look, which was the designer Mondo Guerra. He made this holy [Catholicism-inspired] look. Collaborating is so fun with Mondo because he’s like a raver, crazy Latina, too.
Will we see you in an All Stars season?
Mateo: I don’t know so much about “All Stars.” But I would love to do an “Against the World” season. I find them very interesting. I also would love to compete in something that shares my language of Spanish. So you never know!
Carrion: Hopefully soon, honestly. I feel like the world is preparing me. You know, when it’s time it’s time. Look at [All Stars 8] Jessica Wild. It took her some time, but when she came back, she surpassed everybody’s idea. She did amazing!
I’m working on my craft because when I go there, I want to win. Puerto Rico, we need that f–king crown!
Vanjie Mateo: This show for me has always been a blessing. I don’t feel like there’s anything I can do that’s going to recreate the experience of being on the show. They always ask me to do it, I haven’t gone. But yeah, I definitely want to go back at some point and have fun.
Methyd: I don’t know! If Ru calls me. Going back to this show is something that will definitely happen at some point. I had such a hard time watching myself on my season. Sometimes it’s kind of awkward watching yourself on TV, hearing how you sound. I definitely want to show an evolution and a growth, so I just want to make sure that I’m fully secure in my character and my rebirth.