I grew up with Walter Mercado. So many of us latinx did. I remember his voice very clearly, can still bring it back with no problem, even if I hadn’t thought about him for at least two decades. Ironically, my family never really believed in what he was selling, and yet there he was, a staple of my childhood, and a staple of the childhoods or many, many latinx kids.
And now, there’s a Netflix original film made about him.
There’s a part of me that gets it, a part of me that feels bad for even daring to question the way his legacy is presented. We don’t get many heroes, many legends, after all. And Mercado was many things, but he was, above all, an mysterious, interesting figure, and one who, in many ways, shaped my childhood, and that of many other latinx. There were always many questions asked about him, questions no one knew the answers to, and no one could even begin to do anything but guess. This is reflected even in the documentary log-line, which reads:
Every day for decades, Walter Mercado — the iconic, gender non-conforming astrologer — mesmerized 120 million Latino viewers with his extravagance and positivity. Then he vanished from the public eye. Award-winning documentarians Cristina Costantini (Science Fair) and Kareem Tabsch (The Last Resort) direct MUCHO MUCHO AMOR, produced by Alex Fumero.
The problem is – however – that the documentary does a lot to show us this interesting, captivating man, and the many things that made him so, and very little to show us the part of him that many of us didn’t learn when we were little, the part about how he created a network that took advantage of people, over and over again.
A man – and a structure – that took money from people who had very little to give, and promised that the knowledge imparted to them would help them achieve something better.
Do you know someone who spent half their paycheck, or maybe even more, calling the Walter Mercado psychic line daily? Do you know people who would rather call than eat some days? If you don’t, then maybe you don’t have the full story.
Or you don’t want to know.
You can say it’s people’s fault, and point out that everyone makes decisions but that means ignoring the cult of personality that existed around Mercado, and the way he – and the people around him, took advantage of that.
So, yes, a part of me understands the documentary, the celebration, the idea that this larger-than-life figure, one that was always flamboyant, non-binary and transcendent, deserves a spotlight. It just worries me that, for a documentary who pretended to show us the rise and fall of a legend, they only focused on the mucho, mucho amor, and not the mucho, mucho dolor he caused so many people.
Mucho, Mucho Amor is streaming on Netflix.