New York drag is famous for mixing gritty attitude, explosive performances and boundary pushing aesthetics that range from uncanny female illusion to the depths of gender dismantling. Brooklyn in particular has become an avant-garde playground for artsy gender fucking queens and kings that are defining much of the borough’s current queer identity. Horrorchata, a Selena-loving glam-punk Tejana queen who crash landed in Brooklyn nearly eight years ago has emerged as a driving force in the borough, elevating the scene by working with a tightly knit circle of POC queens and promoters. Horrorchata has reshaped the landscape of Brooklyn nightlife and last weekend she once again unleashed Bushwig, the buzzy drag and queer performance festival smearing lipstick all over NYC.
Horrorchata is the campy and always-giggly drag persona of Matty Mendoza, a San Antonio, Texas native who’s made her name as a Brooklyn entrepreneur. Chata, as most people call her, is 31 years old and one of seven children in her family. Her father migrated from the state of Coahuila in northern Mexico and met her mother at a San Antonio restaurant. From there, the rest is make-up and gigs.
“I feel like Horrorchata was raised really early,” she says after stepping out from behind the DJ booth at one of her weekly gigs named Cakes, hosted at Metropolitan Bar in Williamsburg. “My dad’s a payaso so I’ve been going to shows since I was five. I used to help him, blowing up his balloons, making balloon animals. When I was 12, 15, I started being a clown too; you know you gotta get the gigs early, girl! But when I got a little older I told my dad I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
“I was this punk Latina girl. Gay, queer, you know? People just weren’t accepting.”
Chata began feeling confined in San Antonio and relocated to Austin when she was 20, a decidedly more liberal city where she could explore the breadth of her personal and artistic identities. “I’ll always remember who I am and where I came from, but there was something about San Antonio that didn’t give me what I wanted,” she reminisces. “I was this punk Latina girl. Gay, queer, you know? People just weren’t accepting.”
She spent three years in Austin growing her brand of Latina-flavored camp, but a trip to NYC soon sparked an itch for change. Upon her return to Austin, Chata was simultaneously terminated from two jobs, and her boyfriend of the time suffered a family loss that forced him to move back home to Illinois. Without much tethering her to life in Texas, she decided to take the leap. “I’d been in the city about a month before,” she says, “so I just came back to San Antonio, said goodbye to my parents and left for New York with a duffle bag and not a lot of money. I was on a couch for many months.”
The early days of Brooklyn drag were admittedly sparse, with Horrorchata and fellow POC queen Merrie Cherry acting as the main promoters in the area. But Chata’s experience with event production while working at her parent’s catering company soon proved she’d gained invaluable savvy. “I used to throw this party named Cumbia Queen a long time ago at TNT. No one came!” she says with a loud chuckle. “No one was doing drag back then and now it’s exploded. I call it the drag explosion and I’m glad I was there to see it and be part of it. I just grabbed on and was like ‘yeah, I’m gonna make a fucking festival out of this.'”
Bushwig, the festival she co-founded with local punk agitator Babes Turst, entered its sixth year last weekend with fans and performers from around the globe flocking to Brooklyn for the massive extravaganza. Queens, kings and any other variety of irreverent performers under the LGBTQIA umbrella have made Bushwig a can’t-miss event on the Brooklyn calendar. Bushwig has also traveled for pop ups in LA, Austin, New Orleans, and Berlin, and a planned upcoming stint in Mexico City this November also signals Horrorchata’s vision for the festival’s global possibilities.
“Our take on drag [is] a bit more unique and punk and artsy and experimental. We’re the backyard queens honey!”
However it’s the small personal flourishes that continue to make Bushwig a relevant and exciting endeavor for Horrorchata. “My number one thing that I’m really excited about is my two older brothers are coming up from San Antonio to make tacos for Bushwig,” she shared with Remezcla last week, visibly giddy. “They’ve never been to New York and they’ll get to meet my whole drag family.”
And family is what Bushwig, drag and the whole queer experience are ultimately about. By catering to an othered community of queers, trans people, Latinxs and other POC, Horrorchata has established herself as both a Brooklyn powerhouse and the scene’s defacto mother figure. Monthly ragers like Be Cute and Yas Mama – the latter of which caters specifically to a queer Latinx crowd – consistently feature local Latinx queens like Lady Quesa’Dilla, Jen D’Role, Untitled Queen, Warhola Pop, Momo Shade and Kandy Muse. Even Latinx DJs have gained more visibility, with Hannah Lou and Ickraus setting dance floors ablaze with parties like Tanlines, Sábado Gigante and Bitch Nasty.
“People in New York know how to work, what to do and how to get it done,” she says reflecting on the scene’s newfound success. “Most of us don’t have a car or houses or a lot of space for our drag, which a lot of queens often have outside of New York. I think it makes our take on drag a bit more unique and punk and artsy and experimental. We’re the backyard queens honey!”