Commentary: In naming Elon Musk its Person of the Year, Time Magazine said, “Musk has spent a lifetime defying the haters; now, it seems, he’s finally in a position to put them in their place.”
The same can be said for our selection of Person of the Year, Chachie Pedraza Van Wales. The Galveston resident spent much of his life fighting to achieve acceptance of his true self and found success and happiness during the height of a worldwide pandemic. But unlike Musk, Chachie is too kind and gracious to waste energy putting anyone in his or her place.
We first got a peek into Chachie’s story with a much-read story in the August issue of MONTROSE STAR. It reads, in part: “Chachie, 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 pussy.’
“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.)
“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 anybody,’ he said.
“For the first time in his life, Chachie finally moved into his own apartment (in 2019). 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.”
Since the August article was published, Chachie has emerged as one of the most loved and inspiring performers in the Houston area. He won his first title of any kind when he was crowned Miss Robert’s Lafitte in August of last year. In December, Chachie took home the title of Miss Island Goddess.
In addition to performing at Robert’s Lafitte, Chachie still bartends, bar-backs, and was recently named host of the bar’s new Drag Me to Bingo on Thursday nights.
In an era where there is so much negativity, there is so much violence, there is so much jealousy, there is so much unrest and people at war, Chachie is someone who inspires us to be better.
Chachie Pedraza Van Wales is our 2021 Person of the Year!