By Donalevan Maines
His fans call him “America’s Boyfriend,” but this holiday season, Frank Gonzalez wants to play Santa Claus in Mexico. The former Mr. Texas Unlimited, who parlayed that title to organize a school-supplies drive for children living with HIV and/or affected by HIV, is collecting toys and clothes from Houstonians to take to a Mexican orphanage.
“This will happen on December 12, which is the Our Lady of Guadalupe [celebration in Mexico],” explains Gonzalez. “It is a very important pre-Christmas festival, and we will have clowns and music and a posada.”
He calls the program Buddies Without Borders. It will benefit children at the Casa Hogar Oasis de los Niños orphanage in Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon. “The orphanage receives zero help from the Mexican government,” explains Gonzalez. “Their monthly donations for the children from residents are $150, and that has to pay for food, school supplies, utility bills, and much more. It is so sad because they usually make themselves a toy that they all have to share, so it breaks within days.”
Gonzalez, who is 32 and single, was born in Monterrey, Mexico, before moving to Bellaire at age 7. As a child, he accompanied his father, a doctor of general medicine, on humanitarian aid trips to Venezuela. “We met people with little to no income, who were ill,” he says.
In addition, he often crossed paths with the reigning Miss Venezuela, who would be visiting volunteer clinics as part of her duties as a beauty queen and goodwill ambassador. “I was just amazed,” says Gonzalez, who now lives in Pearland. “[These pageant winners] were six-foot-tall, beautiful ‘Glamazons’ who would walk into a room, and suddenly it would feel like a palace. These were girls who might have come from the slums, but when they became Miss Venezuela, they were adorned with so much beauty. I was fascinated by how much power and influence they had, to bring smiles to the faces of the patients.”
Gonzalez hopes to make a merry Christmas for the 30 or so children at the Mexican orphanage. But his mission, crossing into Mexico loaded with presents, might not be as easy as it sounds.
In July, Gonzalez posted his plan on Facebook in a video appeal to launch the toy drive. Friends and fans immediately wanted to get involved, but Gonzalez knew there would be obstacles.
First, he knew he would have to personally deliver the toys to the orphanage so the government wouldn’t misdirect them. He managed to get an official letter from his cousin—the newly elected mayor of Sabinas Hidalgo—that should allow him to carry the toys across the border at Laredo. “The orphanage is a three-hour drive into Mexico, so I still have to arrange for some kind of security and figure out how we are going to transport the merchandise,” he explains.
In 1999, his mother, a nurse, collected more than 200 toys for children in her hometown of Sardina, Mexico, but when she arrived with them, along with a huge donation of sweet treats from a bakery, Gonzalez says, “she was greeted by DIF, the National System for Integral Family Development. Once the media arrived, El DIF took credit for all of the toy donations.” Gonzalez wants to make sure that kids at the orphanage know this year’s gifts come from Houstonians.
For several years, Gonzalez has worked as a community health worker for St. Hope Foundation, visiting homeless shelters, food pantries, drug recovery centers, and halfway houses to test people for sexually transmitted diseases. “We offer free HIV and syphilis testing,” he says. “Persons who test positive are then referred for treatment at our clinic, or any other clinic in the community.”
Gonzalez enjoys his work in the medical field, but longs to return to a dream job in the media. “I am fascinated by cameras and lights,” he says.
Once, while volunteering at an ABC Channel 13 telethon for the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the late newscaster Alan Hemberger asked Gonzalez if he would translate into Spanish what Hemberger was going to say to viewers after the break. “Sure, I would love to be on TV,” Gonzalez recalls saying to Hemberger.
Gonzalez was so good that Hemberger said, “Wow! We are going to have to do this again!”
“We kept doing it throughout the telethon, and I was invited back two more years after that,” says Gonzalez.
While Hemberger also appeared as “Alan Arthur” on Entertainment Tonight, Gonzalez says he recently declined an offer to work as a reporter on a TMZ-style program on Spanish-language television, called The Office Chisme. (“Chisme” is a Spanish word for “gossip.”) “That is not my cup of tea,” he explains.
However, two media gigs he did enjoy were reporting fashion and entertainment news on Dia Delivery, a magazine-style show, and hosting the program Love with Pasión (or “passion”).
Giving relationship advice to callers, Gonzalez says, “is where I obtained the nickname of ‘America’s Boyfriend.’ The network is called Mi Casa Broadcasting Network, but when the station moved to Los Angeles, I stayed here in Houston. I am still waiting for another TV offer that is just right.”
To contact Gonzalez about contributing to the clothes and toy drive, email [email protected] The orphanage, Casa Hogar Oasis de los Niños, also has a Facebook page.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Theater LaB Houston in this issue of OutSmart.