The Galveston diva Misty Valdez celebrates more than two decades.
It all started over free hot dogs and 10 free-drinks tickets. When you are a young man waiting tables and trying to get by, any bar that offers free food and adult beverages after a long shift is a sure stop. No one, including Rolando Suniga, realized that nearly 25 years of charity work and entertainment would develop from those frequent Sunday-night stops, which actually were an accident in the first place.
Misty Valdez, dubbed “the original Island diva” by friends and fans, is the fabulous creation that evolved from that young man’s visits to that bar to quench his thirst and watch drag shows. Misty, Suniga’s other, and perhaps better-known, diva name, has been seen performing all over Galveston for almost a quarter of a century. Suniga/Misty celebrates a 50th birthday on December 23. Though she jokes about retirement, Misty shows no sign of stopping her legendary Island shows.
“I got interested in doing drag when I accidentally walked into Robert’s Lafitte,” Suniga says. “I started with nothing and learned as I went. I was so nervous—I needed all 10 drink tickets to get on stage”
Suniga, who was born and raised in Galveston, began doing shows as Misty armed with only some fabric and a pair of Dr. Scholl’s shoes that he used to fashion a costume. As he performed in the Misty persona, Suniga became more comfortable on stage and perfected his craft. Now Misty needs no drink tickets—nor any introduction, for that matter.
Suniga’s reason for taking to the stage derives not just from an obvious love of performing, but also from a desire to raise money for a beloved cause, the AIDS Coalition of Coastal Texas (ACCT), the nonprofit organization in Galveston that provides a host of HIV and AIDS-related services for residents of Galveston as well as Brazoria and Matagorda counties.
Suniga’s work with raising money for AIDS care and research began in 1987, when Misty Valdez raised $387 at a show. Since then, Suniga estimates that he has collected as much as $15,000 at a single event. Misty holds several fundraising events every year, including her popular benefit tour for ACCT. Earlier in 2007, she celebrated the 20th anniversary of that annual tour, which consists of shows at various Galveston clubs held over six months. The tour is a highlight of GLBT life on the Island and attracts numerous, prominent divas from Galveston and Houston. At her finale show this year at Undercurrent, the array of guest stars included SoFonda St. John, Serena Sky, Felicity Bliss, Symphony Oz, and Trecenia St. James. The 2008 tour begins in January.
A good friend, who Suniga lovingly refers to as Tina, was the inspiration for the years of charitable work for the AIDS coalition. Tina passed away in 1986, in those early, frightening years of the epidemic. The first charity event presented by Misty Valdez took place in 1987.
Over her years of volunteer work, Misty Valdez has appeared on stage with drag performers from across Texas and the United States. However, her work on the Island is what has made her famous. Misty is arguably the longest-serving drag diva performer in Galveston and without doubt the biggest name. Misty packs the house every Friday night at 3rd Coast Beach Bar and every Saturday and Sunday at Robert’s Lafitte, the club where she got her start so many years ago.
Even with her prominence, Misty acknowledges her fans, as a gracious star should. “None of my charity work would be possible without the support of the many people who not only donate money, but help make my shows possible,” she says.
To state that Misty is a fixture on the Galveston scene seems a bit too obvious. Misty—as well as Suniga, the generous man behind the diva—is a beloved and significant part of GLBT history in Texas. That designation is more accurate and does true justice to a legacy of good work—not to mention countless hours of entertainment. Now, at 50, Misty plans to throw a huge birthday bash, scheduled for December 22, at one of the clubs on the Island. In typical Misty fashion, she plans to make the event an appreciation party for all who have supported her. At press time, Misty hadn’t yet determined the precise venue. “I can’t decide which club to have it in!” she laments. Misty fans should check her recently launched MySpace blog, at www.myspace.com/theoriginalislanddiva , for updates. (In true diva style, on her blog Misty imparts some tart advice to readers and fans: “I am very friendly and outgoing and also trustworthy and easy to get along with. But never take my kindness for weakness, ’cause my parents did not raise no fool!”)
With her 21st benefit tour around the corner, Misty’s busy season is almost here. The diva offers to help any club that will let her perform and is interested in raising money for charity. And Misty bestows this piece of guidance to anyone interested in performing for the first time or helping in other ways. No matter how intimidated or scared you may be, the best way to proceed is “to remember the people that motivated you to think about performing in the first place.” Remember the Tina in your own life.
“The people I have met over the years and the many people I have been able to honor by doing these shows, makes it all worth it,” says Suniga, reflecting on the years in the role of Misty Valdez. “Be yourself and take the criticism that comes with it. When they stop criticizing, then you should worry.”
Natasha Avey profiled Sandy Clough and Stephanie McClain, who were honored with the 2007 Humanitarian Award at the Houston Black Tie Dinner last month, in OutSmart ‘s November issue.