The Power of Pedro

Denise Chávez's Girls are 'Loving Pedro Infante.'

Want to get lucky? Try the old Double L: Recite some Lorca, play some Lara, and the odds are that your odds will improve. Poems and songs don't get much more romantic than those written by Federico García Lorca and Agustín Lara; if Lorca can get your foot in the door, Lara just might seal the deal. As my girl says, girls love that stuff. (It sure wasn't my sunny disposition that won her over.)

Guys like it, too. In fact, the old Double L worked on me once. A few years ago, in a Juárez brothel, I spent a night drinking with the madame, a stunningly beautiful young travesti. She had Lara on the jukebox, and, get this, Lorca behind the bar. By morning I was ready to marry her, spare parts and all. (Alas, she went south, to become Vicente Fox's Mistress of Cultural Affairs.)

When you're in Juárez, or El Paso or Las Cruces, if you run into a 30-something former teacher's aide named Teresita "La Tere" Ávila, and you want to get into her chones, skip the Lorca, bypass the Lara, and go right to Pedro Infante. Tere, the narrator of Denise Chávez's ribald riot of a book, Loving Pedro Infante, is nuts for Pedro. "Just watching him on the screen makes my little sopaipilla start throbbing," she says.

With all the Pedro-inspired throbbing, it's not surprising that Tere is secretary of the Pedro Infante Club de Admiradores Norteamericano #256, headquartered in Tere's home town of Cabritoville, N.M. Tere's childhood friend, Irma "La Wirma" Granados, is the club's vice president, and Tere's comadre: best friend, confidant and spiritual advisor.

The girls spend Thursday nights in El Paso's El Colón theater, watching Infante films. They spend every Friday and Saturday night carousing in Tino's La Tempestad Lounge, looking for someone like Pedro. Other nights they're likely to be at Irma's house, conducting one of their frequent Pedro-athons (films and food). So who's this Pedro Infante that's got the girls so hot and bothered, "all sticky and hot like the popcorn with butter"? Here's what Tere says:

"What can I tell you about Pedro Infante? If you're a Mejicana or Mejicano and you don't know who he is, you should be tied to a hot stove with yucca rope and beaten with sharp dry corn husks as you stand in a vat of soggy fideos. If your racial and cultural ethnicity is Other, then it's about time you learned about the most famous of Mexican singers and actors.

"Pedro was born [in] 1917, in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, and died in 1957 in a horrible plane crash in Mérida, Yucatán, when he was forty years old and at the height of his popularity. He was the biggest movie star in the Mexican cinema of the forties and fifties, what is called La Época de Oro del Cine Mejicano. Many know him as 'El ídolo del Pueblo.' Some people even call him the Dean Martin of Méjico, but he's more, much more than that. He was bigger than Bing Crosby or even Elvis Presley."

And he gets the women wet. That's a good thing, of course. Problem is, Pedro was also a lady's man--wives, mistresses, random pieces, kids scattered all over the place--and a bit of a borracho. So, when Tere finds herself a weak local version of Pedro, a married businessman named Lucio, it's no surprise that she gets what she was looking for, good and bad.

Born and raised in Las Cruces (she lives in her childhood home and writes in the room where she was born), Chávez has filled her book with the neighborhoods and neighbors she knows well: Pedro has lots of local color, and its language is nicely steeped in the raunchy rhythms and cocky colloquialisms of the region.

Not surprisingly, parts of Pedro get pretty girly. There's plenty of talk about periods and pussies, and in one slapstick sequence, La Tere uses seven (!) different nicknames for her diaphragm, which is described in loving, moist detail. But Chávez renders it all so wittily that even proudly unreconstructed lugs like me can read even the mushy stuff with a smile--and cringe less than we do during feminine-itch commercials.

Loving Pedro Infante is a love letter to Infante, and to Denise Chávez's people and place. It's a charming, chattering chronicle of love, lust and lessons learned. It's also a reminder of the one lesson we somehow never learn: that reality can't live up to fantasy, and that some things are better left up on the screen.

One lesson learned: If you're on the make, try some Lorca and Lara, or better yet, some Pedro Infante. They could work wonders. And if they don't, the object of your desire probably isn't worth the effort.

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