This Texan born queen presents a rich tapestry of heritage, talent and fierce fashions whether she’s hosting a show onstage or reading to the children. Behold the sweetness of Cholula Lemon!
Thotyssey: Hello Cholula, thanks for talking with us today! How is April treating you so far?
Cholula Lemon: Thanks for reaching out. So far, this week is off to a good start. I have a few days off from work, so I’m reorganizing my drag closet and preparing looks for this week’s gigs.
That must be an amazing closet! Do you have a favorite item in it?
One of my favorite items is this gorgeous traditional Mexican folklórico dress from Chiapas, MX; I bought it in San Antonio last summer when I was visiting my family. It has hand embroidered flowers in bright jewel tones set against black fabric, so the colors really pop. The top has a ruffle that comes off the shoulders for when I’m living my Señorita fantasy. I just love the way it moves. There’s a scene in Don Juan DeMarco where Selena makes a cameo wearing the same style of dress; it’s a classic look.
Gorgeous! I see a lot more beautifully classic and traditional takes on historical Latina fashion in drag today… do you think something specific has inspired this moment?
I think more people have become interested in learning about their cultural heritage and exploring that creatively. I think cultural identity will always be a point of inspiration for many drag artists, and I love seeing how each performer interprets what that means to them. I especially love a modern twist on a traditional silhouette or motif. Personally, it’s a way for me to reconnect with my Indigenous Mexican / Chicano roots, and to pay homage to the generations of strong women who have come before me.
Tell us a bit of your origin story, if you will! Where are you from, and were you always an artist or performer of some sort?
I was born in Texas, but raised mostly in Oklahoma. Growing up in the country and suburbs, I was always looking for ways to entertain myself. I would create characters in the mirror and perform them for my family and friends. I’ve been a clown since day one. But aside from a few plays and marching band, I didn’t really start performing until college when I joined a sketch comedy group. That’s where I gained a sense of confidence on stage, and decided to take performing more seriously.
After graduation, I moved to New York and began taking improv classes at UCB and performing regularly around town with various sketch and improv groups. I was also auditioning, bartending and working as a stylist assistant at the time. Eventually, I took a break to focus on my styling career. And it wasn’t until I started drag that I was able to rekindle my passion for performing and making people laugh.
How did drag start for you?
Technically, my first time in drag was in high school, but that doesn’t count–I dressed up as a “country bumpkin” for a class fundraiser. This was Oklahoma, so who knows. I wasn’t out then. Peppermint (née Gummybear) was my introduction to live drag in NYC. She used to host a weekly underwear party and hot body contest at an East Village bar called Opaline; it’s closed now, but that’s also where I saw Amanda Lepore for the first time and was immediately mesmerized. True glamour!
Years later, I was moved by the Gay Spirit to consider drag as a performance outlet. But like so many of us in the queer community, I internalized so much shame and self-loathing surrounding my femininity and gender expression. It’s a continuous process to let go of that fear, but I finally reached a level of self-acceptance and liberation that allowed me to see drag in a different way. It all made sense.
I asked a friend who had been doing makeup for other queens to walk me through the transformation process. One afternoon, he came over and beat my face. I remember feeling overwhelmed with joy seeing myself in this new way. I had nowhere to go and didn’t own a wig, so I threw on a bustier and a head scarf and took some photos. Cholula Lemon was officially born.
Months later, a fellow queen needed a last minute replacement for a drag bingo show and I said yes. I shaved my entire legs, only to cover them with three pairs of tights and a full length dress. I was feeling it.
Nowadays, how do you approach your drag as far as what you do on stage and in your looks?
I’m constantly looking for ways to incorporate my cultural identity into my drag. But I’m also more than that. I try and allow each facet of who I am to shine through–like with any other art practice, drag is a process. And I have to remind myself to stay open minded, to try new things and most importantly, to have fun. Drag is about liberation.
Those spots are two of the best bars in NYC! [The bars’ co-owner] Eric is such a sweetheart, and I’m so grateful for the space and community he and Mike have created. The vibe is always right. In 2019, I was looking for a venue to host a comedy variety show called “She’s a Lady” with my friend Natasha Vaynblat. I reached out to Eric, and he kindly gave us a shot. I had also pitched a few other ideas, including a “Lotería Night,” in early 2020. We were about to kick things off when everything shut down that year. Thankfully, both bars made it through! I hosted my first Lotería on Cinco de Mayo at Good Judy last year. But as the show has grown, I now host it at C’mon Everybody the first Tuesday of every month.
Which means it’s returning this week!
Yes! Are you coming? Lotería is a traditional Mexican board game similar to bingo, but instead of numbers, has illustrations of Mexican iconography. For the show, I use a queer version designed by Mexico City artist Felix D’eon. It’s always a party. We have great prizes, special guests and even a piñata!
You also participate in Drag Queen Story Hour, where drag queens read stories to children (usually in public libraries). It’s a great way to introduce youth to different gender presentations… and generally speaking, drag really appeals to kids! But right wingers unsurprisingly love to target DQSH, especially in these “Don’t Say Gay” times.
I’m so proud of the work we’re doing in NYC, and on the national front–like you said, especially in times like these. We’ve continued to broaden our curriculum to become more inclusive: working with librarians and training our storytellers to be able to offer programs in other languages, accessibility for neurodiverse children, book clubs for teens and even seniors. We’re also changing the name to Drag Story Hour to include every type of drag, not just femme-presenting. We have chapters all over the world now, so it’s exciting to see the impact and power that drag can have in the world of education.
I have a virtual reading coming up on April 16 for the New York Public Library, and another later in the month. We offer a variety of virtual and in-person programming throughout the city, and all events can be found on our site.
Looking forward to all of it! Let’s close with: Drag Race! After thousands of weeks, we finally have a Top Five. Who are you rooting for to win?