Parque Del Oeste, Madrid

Recently, we were in Madrid for the very first time ever, even though we have lived in the Malaga area for some time. Different provinces, long distances, and having no car in general do make a sound reason for not visiting the nation’s capital, right?

But as it happened, we were there and we were walking around whilst my Wifey’s brother was watching a football match (something he loves, and as he was in Madrid…) we came across the Parque Del Oeste. A beautiful and serene, well kept, mature park near the city centre and the Royal Palace.

Looking at the serene views now doesn’t really give justice to the park’s history, which includes the Spanish civil war, Royal Gardens, and later, in the 1980s and 1990s, being an infamous area of prostitution.

Parque del Oeste was the place where, in 1986, an interview crew from a popular Spanish show Esta Noche Cruzamos El Missisipi came to make a story about prostitution in Madrid, and found Cristina “La Veneno” Ortiz Rodriguez.

Cristina Ortiz Rodriguez (19.03.1964 – 09.11.2016) was a transwoman, who was a sex worker in the park, and because of a chance encounter with a TV reporter, she eventually became a media personality, a singer, and an actress.

First of all, I didn’t know anything about La Veneno until earlier this year when my Wifey found the show on HBOMax (trailer here) and got very excited about it, so we ended up watching it. And it was just as fantastic as the reviewers in Google and Rotten Tomatoes wrote.

Watching the show got me thinking about La Veneno’s life story and the impact that she had on the Spanish culture. If back in 1986, a production company would hire an outrageous transwoman as a member of the television cast, and she would proceed to become one of the most high profiled transgender public figure of her time in Spain, then what does that tell of the society? Or is that open-minded society prevalent only in bigger cities?

La Veneno was born in Adra, a small seaside town in Andalucia. One day, out of curiosity, we decided to pay the place a visit. Funnily enough, the town looks quite nice and the area by the harbour is really upmarket. But as this was a “pilgrimage” to see the place where one of our idols was born, to our suprise, there was no mention whatsoever of La Veneno anywhere in Adra. It was like Adra didn’t even want her to be remembered. Then, I came across a review that one person had left on the city hall site on Google Maps:

Having visited Parque del Oeste in Madrid earlier, where they had a plaque for La Veneno as a memorial, it feels rather sad to notice that there was nothing in Adra to remember her by.

Invisibility Or Visibility?

For years, I had to be in the closet as in the past, the Finnish society might have been tolerant but not really accepting of homosexuality. Back in the day (2001), when we were demonstrating for same sex marriage, there were people who actually threatened me with a tire iron.

To think that at that time, when people in Finland were thought to be quite progressive and that the world might be ready for us to have equal marriage rights, there was already a transwoman who had appeared on a proper TV show 15 years earlier. And to see that her legacy in her hometown had been hidden away and erased made me feel very sad. It still does.

For me, it is no longer an option to become invisible, even though for us LGBTQ people, every encounter with new individuals is practically a coming out situation – at least when the talk turns to families and spouses. I hope that soon the world is ready for each and every one of us to be who we are openly, and without fear of prejudice.

To create a better tomorrow, we all need to be more open and learn from each other. Sometimes, we all need to be the ones taking the first step in order for something good to follow. If La Veneno had not been keen to appear on a TV show, she might not be remembered or even known. But because she did, she became a trailblazer for the generations to come.

Maybe Adra doesn’t want to remember La Veneno, but Madrid and the people who visit her memorial certainly do.

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