The Pride Issue
Drag's New Dawn in SA
Published: June 26, 2013
At first, it’s the bone structure that tips me off. Then, the thick, full lips. But ultimately, it’s the way he walks with unmistakable precision through Lulu’s crowded restaurant on Main that finally confirms that this man in a Spurs t-shirt could be none other than the singular Tencha La Jefa. When he joins our table and orders a cup of coffee, his suave carriage grossly contradicts his outlandish showbiz persona as one of San Antonio’s preeminent drag luminaries. Fasten your seat belts because there’s only two things to remember on this ride: Pronouns are increasingly interchangeable — and drag, in all its diverse forms, is making a big comeback.
When Tencha, now 44, haphazardly began her drag career to make good on a dare for a fundraising event over a decade ago, she set in motion a public life dedicated to community service that would reward her over time with local notoriety. The dare was, however, on his terms. “I was like ‘I don’t want to come out pretty,’” he recalls. “I want to come out doing something funny.” How he came up with the name for his dentally-challenged brainchild goes back to his wonder years. “I remember there was this lady that was at my aunt’s house. Her name was Tencha. She always had rollers in her head,” he says, chuckling.
And La Jefa, a last name of sorts, came from someone at a function she was running who called her “La Jefa” in passing — it stuck. Monolingual fans have sometimes mistaken the last name as “La Heffer.” “I know I’m fat — but, no. It means ‘the boss,” he says.
When he smiles, I am genuinely surprised to see a full set of teeth.
A few days later, up the street on what is commonly known as the Strip, Michael Rodriguez, assistant general manager of the Pegasus Show Bar leads me to his office and shuts the door behind him. He tells me how the previous owner of the Saint — Raphael Ruiz de Velasco — spent a lot of effort going around the country in search of the best drag performers of the day. Ruiz de Velasco passed away in 2002, but he planted a seed.
“He would book girls like crazy,” Rodriguez remembers. “The Saint kind of became the drag mecca. When he passed away, the family took over and they weren’t making an effort to basically bring the talent over and no one really focused on the shows.” Eventually, the entertainers began to go their separate ways, ushering in a dark age of drag.
Rodriguez, now 31, managed the Saint for six years before coming to the Pegasus in February. He introduces me to Gabriel Dominguez, the Peg’s general manager, who was also one of Ruiz de Velasco’s employees. “He really fell for his legacy and what he had going on,” says Rodriguez of his GM.
Dominguez also fell for Ruiz de Velasco, a man roughly 30 years his senior, and for a time, they were an item. “We would talk all day long about business...about drag,” Dominguez recollects. He is impish and soft-spoken. “He would always tell me, ‘Listen closely to everything that I’m telling you because one day you’re going to need it.’ Ten years later, I’m using everything he taught me.”