Paquita la del Barrio signs off at Feria de Texcoco: ‘I’ll always treasure your applause’

On the same stage that witnessed her debut four decades ago, the Mexican singer gave an emotional goodbye performance on Saturday

Paquita la del Barrio durante su presentación en el palenque de la Feria Internacional del Caballo de Texcoco 2023.
Paquita la del Barrio during her performance at the Texcoco International Horse Fair 2023.Rodrigo Oropeza

Paquita la del Barrio was at it long before Shakira. Back when the Mexican artist began singing songs fueled by animosity, revenge and feelings of betrayal, the term ‘diss track’ was not yet part of our everyday lexicon. Born Francisca Viveros Barradas in Alto Lucero, in Mexico’s Veracruz state, Paquita celebrated her 76th birthday this weekend with a dazzling performance at the Feria de Texcoco – a Mexican cultural festival held just outside the nation’s capital, Mexico City. An event that includes bullfighting, horses, dances and concerts, the Feria was her opportunity to close a circle that has taken her across the country, to some of its remotest towns.

It was also her opportunity to bid farewell to her most trusted stage, the palenque – an arena similar in design to a bull ring – with a final show in front of thousands of fans who hung on her every word. Most were women over 50 who have found in Paquita and her songs an escape from the abuse and infidelities they have suffered at the hands of their husbands. But both men and younger fans were also there. Three generations in thrall to the art of scorn and wit; every concert is a catharsis.

The people adore her. Paquita la del Barrio has not only gone down in the history of Mexican music; she has won a place in her audience’s hearts. She’s so well-known that she’s recognized by a single name: just Paquita will do. That was the shout that could be heard as the women and men inside the arena awaited her arrival on Saturday, with the clock ticking past midnight. “Paquita, Paquita, Paquita!” they chanted. According to the official schedule, the concert had been due to begin at 9pm, but everyone knows that at the Feria de Texcoco, the real party starts after the clock strikes 12, when the atmosphere has really warmed up – and plenty of alcohol has been consumed. The palenque is like a little Colosseum. Nobody has any mercy. If they’re bored, they boo; if the show doesn’t get going, they whistle, they get worked up, they shout: “We love you, Paquita!” On and on.

On the same stage that witnessed her first performance in 1984, the singer said goodbye – a goodbye enforced by ill health. She hasn’t retired altogether, but from now on will only sing in places that she can travel to easily. Confined to an armchair by her struggles with sciatica and a stomach ulcer, Paquita showed that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her vocal chords. She wowed her audience with a magnificent performance. Draped in a chiffon dress, her jewels and sequins glimmering in the light, her emotion was evident as she poured her heart out with each song.

For more than two hours, she sang hit after hit – each dripping with sarcasm and a sense of mischief. A worker inside the arena, squatting on the stage throughout the concert, was tasked with turning Paquita’s throne so that everyone could catch a glimpse of her. She began with “Invítame a pecar” (“Invite me to sin”), before continuing with a set list that included “Me saludas a la tuya” (“Say hello to your girl for me”), “Tres veces te engañé” (“Three times I cheated on you”) and “Tu última parada” (“Your last stop”). “I found out that you think you’re a luxury bus and you’re full of lady passengers every day / I see they haven’t discovered that your tires are flat / That if you go uphill your engine gives out.” With every jab she aimed with her lyrics, she brought laughter and applause from her audience as whisky, beer and tequila flowed in the stands.

As if this were an early Mother’s Day concert (the holiday is held on 10 May in Mexico), the women in the arena sang along to every line – many with their husband by their side. Others turned up with female friends and neighbors. For example, Angélica and Isabel, two women from San Vicente Tecoloapan, weren’t going to miss the show for the world, and sang in unison: “We go all out, the women of today / We don’t put up with abuse anymore / Raise your voice if you’re a silent victim / Of those damned, evil nobodies.” In response to Paquita’s lyrics, they also chanted: “The women are in charge here!” In the row in front of them, two men dressed in checked shirts and gilets shook their heads and made obscene gestures with their middle fingers. In reply, Angélica and Isabel laughed and applauded even more loudly. “There are so many women that have been hurt, and my music really strikes a chord with them,” Paquita told EL PAÍS ahead of her performance.

She knows all about being hurt by men. Her first husband hit her, and her second was unfaithful. Her latter marriage led not only to floods of tears, but also her famous phrase “¿me estás oyendo, inútil?” (“can you hear me, you useless man?”). It lent the title to a song that became a hit, before Paquita recorded the track that truly launched her career: “Rata de dos patas” (“Two-legged rat”). Never before or since has infidelity proved so profitable, or revenge so sweet. Dedicated to all the men who have hurt her, the song became a veritable anthem. Inevitably, it was Paquita’s final number on Saturday.

There were also surprises during her concert. About halfway through the performance, she turned to the audience and said: “I want to say hello to my friend from Cuauhtémoc: Ms Cuevas.” Out of the stands came Sandra Cuevas, the mayor of the Mexico City borough of Cuauhtémoc, bearing an enormous bunch of red roses. To a mixture of applause and boos, she took to the stage and hugged Paquita, before opening out her arms and facing the audience with an ear-to-ear smile that smacked more of provocation than gratitude. A cry of “fuck off!” could be heard from one of the back rows.

To finish off the night, a mariachi band began to play and, with a visibly emotional Paquita surrounded by her children and grandchildren, everyone in the palenque got to their feet to pay a final tribute to the singer. “Money isn’t what’s important,” she told her audience, mindful of the fact that this was her last appearance in an arena of this kind. “I’ll always treasure your applause – I’ll take that with me to my grave.”

In all her interviews, Paquita insists that she is most at home among “the ordinary people of Mexico.” She doesn’t forget her origins, and how hard she had to work to put food on her family’s table. When she talks to her audience, she’s a much shier woman than you’d imagine; sensitive, very sensitive. She shows that what has most characterized a career spent singing about her eventful life is her authenticity. It’s a trait that has remained intact throughout the nearly four decades that she has been on stage in Mexico, the United States, Spain and the whole of Latin America.

Now, she has two more concerts scheduled: one in California, one in Monterrey. After that, who knows when we’ll hear Paquita la del Barrio live. We’ll always have her songs, though.

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