“Nothing Connects Us All But
Performing Trans-Boricua Memories, Identities, and
Nationalisms Through the Death of Héctor Lavoe
Se te olvidó decir que yo soy el hombre que respira debajo del agua.
Si yo me muero mañana / mañana por la mañana / no quiero que nadie llore / no quiero que digan nada.
—Héctor “Lavoe” Pérez
Pulling you this way and that, mimesis plays this trick of dancing between the very same and the very different. An impossible but necessary, indeed an everyday affair, mimesis registers both sameness and difference, of being like, and of being Other. Creating stability from this instability is no small task, yet all identity formation is engaged in this habitually bracing activity in which the issue is not so much staying the same, but maintaining sameness through alterity.
—Michael Taussig (1993:129)
On Tuesday afternoon, June 29, 1993, one of Salsa music's greatest soneros (improvisational singers), Héctor Juan Pérez, commonly known as Héctor Lavoe, passed away at St. Claire's hospital in New York City. Lavoe died of a heart attack, bringing to an end his struggle with HIV. Héctor Lavoe's passing marked a turning point in the world of Salsa music as well as in the transnational Puerto Rican and Latina/o communities in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Latin America. 1 Thousands of Lavoe's admirers in Puerto Rico, la República Dominicana, Venezuela, Colombia, Perú, Panama, New York City, Chicago, and other urban and national hubs conducted vigils in his name. Throughout New York City, the songs and sounds of Héctor Lavoe's music emanated from people's homes, car stereos, and boom boxes, blurring the boundaries between public and private cultures. 2 The popular La Mega FM radio station in New York City played Lavoe's music all week long, motivating his followers and admirers to sing and dance, almost in unison, in the streets of la Gran Manzana (the Big Apple).