May 4th, 2004.

Mannequin on 34th street.
An unfinished 'Meanwhile.'

The following article was left unfinished and unedited and should be read as such. Notes can be found below the article.

Traveling in New York City will invariably entail a trip below ground into the city’s famous subway system. Like many such subways around the world, you’ll encounter life compressed with all of its drama, excitement, intrigue, and art. From one station to the next you’ll see and hear performers playing for change from massed crowds, and many playing seemingly unnoticed, such is life as a subway performer.

At 34th Street–Herald Square, I hear salsa music as I ascend from the track level to the mezzanine. I walk toward the music to see a dark-haired man dancing with an impossibly slim woman who is moving in perfect time with her partner, her long flowing hair swirling as she moves. But pretty quickly I realize the woman is a mannequin, her feet attached to his shiny dress shoes so she never misses a step.

While others walk past on their way to office jobs and flickering screens, this is where Julio Cesar "El Charro" Díaz, earns a living. He spends his days dancing Tango, Salsa, and Mambo with Lupita, his mannequin dance partner, and on a good day he can earn around $300.

Originally from Columbia, Señor Díaz moved to New York in January 1995. He had mortgaged his house and applied for a visa to work on a ship so he could make enough money to better the lives of his children and extended family back home. His passion for dancing saw him make a doll to dance with at a park for fun. While doing that he made $70 in donations from passersby who enjoyed his performance, so that day so he got to work making a mannequin to dance with regularly.

Díaz is well known among the performers in the city’s famous subway system, though one could argue that it's actually Lupita that has lead to him being so memorable. She is one of many mannequins he’s danced with over the years, all called Lupita, and all made and repaired on an ancient Singer sewing machine in his small basement room in Queens.

He knows that many people don't quite know what to make of a grown man dancing with a mannequin. They make jokes about his private life with Lupita, but he shrugs them off. Dancing with a mannequin is a step up from his youth in Bogotá where he might have to dance with a broom when there weren't enough partners at dances.

He came up with the idea of dancing with Mannequins after a friend of his back in Columbia, asked him to make a mannequin for him that resembled his wife who had left him for another man. The friend wanted to dress the mannequin in the clothes of his former wife and burn her effigy, but before he burnt it he had one last dance with her, a dance that drew wild applause from the watching crowd on the street.

It was then that Mr. Díaz decided to make another mannequin that he danced with for crowds in towns around Columbia before deciding to move to America. He works hard and takes few days off. Just imagine dancing for hours every day. In a 1997 New York Times article about excessive fines being issued to street performers he said "I've never held out the hat. I owe everything to this doll. - My rent, food for the children, and everything."

--- Article Notes ---

Time of death : Unspecified
This article was never published because I never personally spoke to Señor Díaz. I wanted to, but he was at work and I didn't want to disturb him for my idle curiosity. However, I was interested in the man with the mannequin so I searched the web later to see if there was any information about him. That's where all of the information above came from. In the end, I wasn't happy to publish this article when so little of the information was simply regurgitated.

After redesigning 'Meanwhile' in 2020 I was curious to know if Señor Díaz was still dancing in New York with Lupita. I eventually found a Reuters news article from 2008 and learned that he returned to Columbia at the end of 2007 after providing his family with economic well-being for nearly 13 years.

"I went to see if I could conquer the American dream and because everything I fought in Colombia was very hard, the doors were closed to me," he told Reuters.

But that dream came at significant personal cost to Díaz. He deprived himself of watching his children grow up and sharing any time with them, getting to know them, and guide them in life. Upon returning to Bogotá his sons hardly acknowledged him as a father and his two teenage daughters were pregnant and living with their boyfriends.

"I wanted the best for my daughters and they paid me badly, a big disappointment that I don't wish on anyone and I remind all those people who are immigrants, that please, it's better, I would think, if the world went backwards, I would rather choose to be in Colombia," he told Reuters.

"They don't want me for a father anymore, they only want me for money, because I need this and they are absolutely right. Maybe it's not all about money in life. Thank God I came at an opportune time for this child who is 15 years old and I can get him back on track."