If “that which does not kill us makes us stronger,” there is a drag performer across the Galveston causeway who should have the strength of Superman and Wonder Woman combined. Chachie Pedraza Van Wales works and performs at Robert’s Lafitte where, depending on the day, one may find him bartending and hosting a movie night at the front bar, slinging adult libations at the pool bar, or spinning songs from the DJ booth. However, his passion comes when he spends hours applying makeup and getting into drag for the bar’s legendary, if not notorious, drag shows.
Galveston’s up-and-coming drag queen has not always lived life in the bright lights of the stage with an ever-growing fan base. The road to where he is today is paved with bumps, bruises, rejection, heartaches, and hard times.
Chachie, 33, the youngest of three children, grew up on Houston’s east side in “the hood,” as he recalls it. At five, the family relocated to the Bayou City’s south side where they lay victim to a drive-by shooting intended for a neighbor. Subsisting on rice and beans, the family struggled to make ends meet.
At 19 his parents separated, and he lived with his father in the Conroe area until he came out. He was promptly told to leave home with his father saying, “No son of mine is gonna be a damn homosexual. You’re supposed to like p*ssy.”
He briefly stayed with mom and a stepfather, but they were not able to take in another person. That began a series of turns where Chachie found himself homeless over the next several years. He resorted to sleeping in apartment complex washaterias and public restrooms, and on park benches. He even found himself staying in an apartment with 12 or 13 other guys. That is until apartment management discovered them and they were evicted.
Eventually, Chachie moved back in with his mother but that stay ended when Hurricane Harvey flooded them out of house and home. His fortunes started to turn in 2017 when he said to himself, “If I’m going to be homeless, I’m going to be homeless in Galveston where at least I’ll have the beach.” He stayed a short time with a friend on the Island until he wore out his welcome. Homeless again, he landed a job at Robert’s Lafitte, the oldest gay bar in Texas.
There he met Matthew Pope who offered Chachie his couch for a couple of weeks. The two instantly became best friends and a couple of weeks turned into a couple of years. “Matthew believed in me,” Chachie said. “Without Matt, I would not have my own apartment or be as happy as I am.”
Chachie’s story of the first time he did drag is probably not so different from a lot of performers. It was for a Halloween party and that was only the beginning.
He soon connected with Audrey Love who told Chachie, “I see a lot of promise in you.” Chachie soon ventured into “fish glam” and horror/gore/shock drag, putting to use his prior experience of working in a haunted house. His eyes have a definite twinkle when he performs comedy routines.
With Destiny Dion Van Wales and Kiki Dion Van Wales, both regular performers at Robert’s Lafitte’s, it wouldn’t be long before Chachie joined that illustrious family of entertainers. He earned his first name from his mother who gave it to him one day when they were watching a Happy Days rerun. She thought Scott Baio’s character and her son resembled each other. (He prefers not to reveal his birth name.)
Chachie was flattered the first time he was recognized outside the bar, saying “I felt famous.” Fame has not gone to his head, however. “I love seeing everybody loving what I do. The creepy and the comedy. It makes me happy that I can be a totally different character on stage, and it makes me happy that I can be who I am. If you know me you know my Chachie language,” said Chachie.
Having been through the proverbial wringer and emerged on the other side, Chachie has a noticeable sense of self-worth. “I’m not like everybody else. I am a person! Don’t treat me like a nobody,” he said.
For the first time in his life, Chachie finally moved into his own apartment last year. Then COVID-19 hit. With his place of employment closed for much of the year and not wanting to end up on the streets again, Chachie took every job offer that came his way. “It was hard. I got three jobs and was doing drag shows on Facebook Live just to make ends meet,” he said.
Chachie is still enjoying his apartment and has had a boyfriend for the past 20 months.
He has performed at venues in Houston, and he would love to be a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race in the future.
With his drive and determination, do not bet against Chachie Pedraza Van Wales!