Mérida, Yucatán — The death of superstar singer Juan Gabriel brought out disparaging comments from the city’s cultural head, Irving Berlin Villafaña.
On a day when social media was flooded with condolences, Berlín went off key.
“Yo no voy a poner nada de Juanga. Me da como hueva. Lo siento,” he wrote, which translates as “I will not post anything about Juanga. I can’t be bothered. I’m sorry.”
His cold-hearted comment on Twitter provoked strong criticism from the public. He then erased the tweet and apologized.
“Rest in peace this idol of Mexican music. My personal taste in music will not have anything to do with my institutional responsibility,” he said. But the damage was done.
Megamedia reported yesterday that the mayor is shaking up his cabinet, and Berlín will no longer be in charge of cultural affairs.
Daring, yet mainstream
Gabriel’s music was not intended to impress the gatekeepers of high culture. His flamboyant style was decidedly populist, and in the macho world of Latin America, somewhat daring.
“His nickname — JuanGa — was a slur in my Latino-majority school in Anaheim, used against any boy perceived to be gay,” wrote Gustavo Arellano in the Los Angeles Times. “So I grimaced every time my mom pressed play, putting on headphones to lose myself in N.W.A, the Supremes — anything manlier than JuanGa.”
A Mexican-American contributor to a U.S. college sports site attempted to explain JuanGa to her friends in Connecticut.
“Perhaps the best I can come up with is some combination of the gender-nonconformance of Liberace with the cross-societal appeal and humble roots of Johnny Cash,” she said. “But I don’t think that even Cash matches the depth and breadth of musical output of Juan Gabriel, who as a songwriter, arranger and producer churned out a staggering number of international hits over multiple decades, in songs sung both by himself and by other artists.”
A national figure, Nicolás Alvarado, also lost his job after publishing uncharitable remarks about Gabriel. The head of TV UNAM, an educational channel, was dismissive of Gabriel’s sequined attire and “iletrada” — unlettered or illiterate — song lyrics.
The university did not explain the firing, but in its announcement, alluded to its commitment to diversity and tolerance.