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Aperture Remembers the Life of Hector Xtravaganza (1965–2018)

The grandfather of the legendary House of Xtravaganza was known as an artist, activist, and family man.

By Chris Boot

Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza, July 2018
Photograph by Stefan Ruiz for Aperture

We were shocked and saddened by the news that Hector Xtravaganza, grandfather of the legendary House of Xtravaganza, passed away on December 30, 2018, after a battle with cancer. A few short weeks beforehand, he led a crew of Xtravaganzas to perform with Kathy Sledge to “We Are Family” at Aperture’s Family gala, while simultaneously working long shifts preparing holiday window displays for Bloomingdale’s, following a season of vogue workshops across Europe and America. He was a whirlwind of energy and purpose, and he got a whole lot done, even in the last few weeks of his life.

Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza performing at the Aperture Gala, New York, October 2018
Photograph by Sean Zanni/PMC

Aperture approached Grandfather Hector as we built the “Family” theme for our gala and the fall issue of Aperture magazine. Thinking about photography’s role in the evolving depiction of the family, we proposed an Xtravaganza portrait photo shoot at Aperture’s gallery, with photographer Stefan Ruiz. What Hector wanted out of it was a great family portrait, with as many members of the family present as possible. He pulled out all the stops, cajoling and threatening all the Xtravaganzas to participate. On July 29, 2018, more members of the House gathered at Aperture’s gallery than ever before to help realize Hector’s vision—and for a joyous and exhausting ten-hour shoot. After the family picture was done, Hector gathered the family in Aperture’s boardroom. For forty-five minutes there was silence, and the rest of us wondered what was going on. Hector told us later that they were able to solve a decade-long dispute that afternoon, and thanked Aperture profusely for creating the atmosphere that made it possible. His work with us moved our story forward, too—and led to a picture that justifies inclusion in future surveys of the family and photography from here on.

Left to right: Jaclyn Perez, Marisol Xtravaganza, Chelsea Maria Xtravaganza, Angelia Xtravaganza, Alexia Xtravaganza, and Nomi Xtravaganza, July 2018
Photograph by Stefan Ruiz for Aperture

Grandfather Hector combined the roles of artist, activist, and family man. As Stefan photographed the House’s newest recruits—six awe-inspiring young transgender women who looked like the future leaders of America—Hector mused about how far we’ve come, what world might be open to them today that just a few years ago was entirely closed. When Hector cofounded the House of Xtravaganza in 1982, rescuing kids from the streets, young brown transgender runaways had little hope of a livelihood outside the sex industry. There may be a long way to go before we see true equality, but few have advanced that dream more than Hector. Thank you, sir. “I’m a hugger,” as we learned, were among the first words he introduced himself with. A huge collective hug from all of us here whose lives you touched.

The House of Xtravaganza, 2018
Photograph by Stefan Ruiz for Aperture

Chris Boot is executive director of Aperture Foundation.

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