In “’I Am Who I Am’: Walter Mercado on Gender Non-Conformity & His Long Career,” Christian Portilla (Remezcla) writes about Walter Mercado (also known as Shanti Ananda)—a Puerto Rican astrologer, actor, writer, and major television personality (for at least five decades). The HistoryMiami Museum is presently showing the exhibition “Mucho, Mucho Amor: 50 Years of Walter Mercado” as a tribute to Mercado’s famed public persona. The exhibition, which opened on August 2 and will be on view until August 25, showcases 12 of his iconic capes, along with jewelry, tarot cards, and ephemera used during his astrological readings. Portilla writes:
For many of us, our households would come to a complete stop as we waited for the most important moment of the day: Walter Mercado‘s rundown of the horoscope. It was a way of life for our families, who would base their decisions on finances, love and life around the words from the astrologist who has been dubbed the Latinx community’s spiritual advisor.
But what’s curious about Walter’s unassailable and long hold on our community is that as a whole, Latinidad tends to follow gender norms (i.e. why young girls are expected to learn to cook, while their brothers are not), something that Mercado does not. For many of us, he’s one of the first interactions the Latino community had with a gender non-conforming person. And no one, not even your abuelita seemed to care. Neither does he.
“I’m so into who I am, and I do [what] feels right for me,” he tells me in a phone interview. “I’m so connected to people and to the divine for that. That I look feminine with a cape? Everyone knows we have two energies – yin and yang – and I know how to balance them. If I have to be a warrior, then I’ll be that. If I have to be soft and subtle, I can be that, too. I broke the barriers. Boys wear blue and girls wear pink…Why? No, that’s in the past. Extreme gender conformity, machismo, and weak, submissive women, no, no, no, no. We are humans; people have the right to think whatever they want. I follow my own path, and I am who I am.” His charismatic approach and perfected knack for telling us about ourselves with incredible accuracy won the hearts of his followers around the world. That’s why after five decades of giving himself to the public, he’s getting to show a more private side to the masses.
[. . .] Before he became a household name – reaching 120 million Latino viewers a day for more than 30 years – Mercado was a loner. He has mixed feelings and emotions about this stage of his life. He’s honored and proud of his career, with 50 years of work in TV, radio, and press, along with everything else he’s done. But on the other hand, he feels nostalgic because of everything he’s lived through.
“I remember that little boy, who was lanky and sickly, and was always alone,” he adds. “I never had any friends or played with anyone. As a child, I remember I would look to the stars and would question, ‘Why are there so many stars if God doesn’t need to prove himself?’ I’ve always been curious, and my mother would buy me books by controversial French and European authors. I had a cool mom who was very into the arts and literature. She was my root. My practical side comes from my father, who was a genius and loved the earth. He would farm tomatoes and pumpkins anywhere he would find a patch of dirt. These energies formed Walter Mercado.”
The exhibit is a voyage and an invitation into the world of those energies of Walter. He started his spiritual work in Puerto Rico, in a small home he built above the space where he’d conduct consultations and tarot and horoscope readings. Then, he took his work further, to people in Miami, Brooklyn and New Jersey. At the height of his consultations and readings, he had three centers in Miami, one in Jersey City, and another in Brooklyn. His happiness, he says, came from seeing people leave with a smile despite all the problems they walked in with.
He credits his popularity to his realness. His particular style of work was to let the stars align and give people suggestions versus commands on what the guides were telling him. His messages have to come from his soul, so that it reaches the person’s heart. Faking it is not an option, and he detests things that are rehearsed.
“The stars will give an inclination, but they don’t force anything on anyone,” Walter says. “I would tell people the tendencies I would see show up for them, but I was always very clear with my messages. I let people know they shouldn’t have expectations from me or expect me to tell them the exact location where they’ll run into the love of their life. I would formulate it by saying, ‘I see a tendency that love is around you and following you.’”
Walter has always been a dreamer. He says he visualized himself in the public eye, with lights and photographers, but his iconic cape look came about accidentally. For a production of the play Critico del amor, dolor y muerte, where he was set to recite poetry from Clara Cuevas, he wore a cape. He ended up needing to unexpectedly fill in for a segment on Telemundo.
“Running toward me was Charytín Goyco’s late husband, Elin Ortiz. In a frenzy, he told me that his guest singer, Camilo Sesto, had not arrived and I needed to fill in and talk about the production I was going to be in that night,” Walter says. “I was dressed in a full cape with rings on every finger. I even had a third eye painted in the middle of my forehead. I sat down to do the 15-minute segment with Elin Ortiz when he says, ‘I don’t want to talk about your play. I want to talk about what you always talk about since I’ve met you. I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Astrology, tarot, palm readings and anything that has to do with metaphysics, so the world knows who the real Walter Mercado is.’ Once I was done, everyone in the studio was silent. The cameras were on me, and people were shocked. As I was leaving the program director said to me, ‘We’re not doing this program only today. We want to do this tomorrow and the day after. They locked me in for those 15 minutes since that day, and the rest was history. The look eventually evolved and became my signature.”
Walter says his gift came from a divine source and although he didn’t have mentors, he did have a talented Jamaican astrology teacher who inspired him. Love has also been his biggest motivator. His trademark “Mucho, Mucho Amor” was created during a spontaneous moment. [. . .]