On Saturday the auditorium of El Museo Del Barrio in New York City was full of members of the ballroom and nightlife communities to pay homage to Hector Xtravaganza who died on December 30, 2018. Attendees included Dominique Jackson, an actress on FX's Pose for which Hector was a consultant, Ladyfag, a New York nightlife personality, Jennie Livingston, who directed Paris is Burning, and Kevin Aviance, a musician and legendary figure in New York City nightlife. Mayor Bill de Blasio did not attend but he sent a message in his stead.
"Today I am proud to join El Museo Del Barrio and all those gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of this cherished New Yorker who enriched our cultural landscape and left an indelible impact on the five boroughs," Karl Xtravaganza, an elder and historian of the House of Xtravaganza said from the stage at the celebration service, reading the message. Written as an official proclamation from de Blasio's office, the missive traced the arc of Hector's accomplishments mentioning his early reputation in the ballroom community walking (and winning) multiple categories, his work in the fashion world, his HIV and queer related activism, as well as his roles withPose, a show in which he also made on-screen cameos.
"Today I am pleased to join in paying tribute to this trailblazing New Yorker who exemplified the boundless creativity, diversity, inclusivity and spirit of generosity of our great city," the message read. "Now therefore, I, Bill de Blasio, mayor of the city of New York, do hereby proclaim Saturday, March 9, 2019, in the city of New York as Hector Xtravaganza day." Those gathered in the theater rose for a standing ovation at the announcement.
Throughout the program, which was hosted by G Xtravaganza wearing five separate looks (all included the shade burnt orange, which was a favorite of Hector's in his later years), many took to the stage to commemorate the Hector's life. The stage itself was set with props like two large golden X's as well as an oversized, handstoned pump that Hector once created for a Bloomingdale's display. For some it proved too emotional, like Coko Xtravaganza, grandmother of the house, who couldn't make it through her opening prayer without choking up -- another member of the family finished for her. Others like Jose Disla Xtravaganza, looked back to Hector's legacy by remembering some of his own words.
"Blood does not a family make; those are relatives," Jose Disla said, quoting Hector. "Family are those with whom you share your good, your bad, and your ugly; these are the ones you select." Throughout the program, the strength of Hector's family, the connections he made, and the love he put out was continually highlighted -- in addition to his beauty and creativity as three photo and video montages of archival imagery were shown. Livingston told a story of Hector stepping in to help her pivot a screening of Paris is Burning back in 2015 that was receiving community backlash into a joyous occasion. Tito Xtravaganza, who knew Hector from age 15, remembered that when Hector became the father of the house in the 90s, he helped usher members from the darkness -- caused by the deaths of a string of house leadership-- into the light. Current house parents Jose and Gisele Xtravaganza also spoke. Jackson, who plays Alektra Abundance on Pose but is an icon in the ballroom stage, too, had a personal story to tell.
"He was my dad," she said from stage, recounting how he found her in Chi Chiz, a now-shuttered gay bar in the West Village. At the time, she was preparing to go compete in the Miss Continental pageant. Hector took her to the bank and gave her $500. When she returned, he found her again, took her to the bank and gave her another $500, unasked, to give her the help with bills he knew she needed. That idea of selflessness and undying love was clear when Jackson asked all the trans women in the room who had felt supported by Hector through their transitions (he was present at both of Jackson's surgeries) to stand up. About a dozen women did. Jackson then implored all of those gathered to take something from the celebration.
"I ask you all today: lead with kindness," she said. "We come into these spaces and we're so upset and so distraught over loss of the people that we loved and we don't realize that we could give this love every single day." And that's, something Hector would have wanted.