By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Despite his rural homebase, the Stirling-based artist Francis “Kiko” Yutrago is making moves in the drag scene as his drag persona, Francheska Dynamites.
Neither an epicentre of a boundary-pushing arts scene, nor a headquarters for queer-coded spaces, the tiny village, located 30 km south of the City of Lethbridge is better know as a quiet farm town in the “Bible Belt” of southern Alberta. Amidst the oceans of canola and barley and seemingly endless kilometres of nothingness lies Stirling, and within its borders, Francis “Kiko” Yutrago: an artist and performer, an activist and actor, and a first generation Canadian, hailing from the Philippines, who has found his voice and passion through performing in drag.
Filmed right here in southern Alberta, the multi-award-winning TELUS originals film Francheska: Prairie Queen, directed by filmmaker Laura O’Grady, tells the story of Yutrago’s resilience as he navigates life as an advocate, performer, and first generation Canadian, and depicts the many ways his drag persona Francheska Dynamites honours joy, fierce resilience, and his Filipino cultural identity. The film was released in 2022, but is gaining attention once again as June is both Filipino Heritage Month, and Pride Month.
Yutrago describes his drag persona, Francheska Dynamites as, “a combination of pageants and drag,” embodying the glamour of pageantry with the high energy performance element of dance.
In contrast to drag artists from larger cities where there is more opportunity, Yutrago said Stirling, with a population of just over 1,100 people is, “not the best place for any local artist to pursue dreams in the entertainment industry. You don’t get a lot of gigs here. You need to have a day job in order to survive,” and said the drag scene even in a larger centre such as Lethbridge doesn’t allow for a reliable income stream, and he has frequently worked multiple jobs at once to support himself and his family back home.
In the film Francheska: Prairie Queen, Yutrago who is also an advocate for mental health and mentor to other new Filipino immigrants, speaks out on issues impacting his communities and uses his platform as an artist and creator to push back against discrimination, highlight the contributions of foreign workers, and dispel misconceptions about drag as an art form.
At the intersections of ethnic and cultural identity and queerness, Yutrago said Francheska is in many ways a conduit for advocacy.
“I always get an inspiration from my cultural aspect when (I) am in drag,” and said his drag persona was “born” at the very first Taber Pride event in 2017. Yutrago recently faced criticism and protests for attending a drag queen story hour at library events in Taber and Lethbridge, but said the growing mainstream popularity of drag in North America has offered new opportunities as an artist and performer.
“My background is dancing. I just had some workshops back in the Philippines but i was like a street dancer. I just want to be on the stage and performing. It just makes me happy. I saw the opportunity because here, (in Canada) drag is very popular, and I couldn’t find a platform in southern Alberta where I get to perform, except for in drag, so I switched to that and I embraced it. I think for any performer, being on stage makes us happy. My element is performing and dancing. I love to be fierce and (Francheska) makes me a different person mentally. It just makes me happy to have a stage.”
Despite the support and success so far, Yutrago said, “I would say (LGBT people) are tolerated in my (Filipino-Canadian) community, but as LGBT, we are not completely accepted; there are still boundaries and conditions.”
“When I did my drag reading on June 3 at Taber Pride, there was a protest outside. I was the one who was doing that reading. I don’t engage (with) them. I just go through the back; you do not have to deal with it. However I have also found there are instances you get some comments. Like social media can be the most horrible for this actually,” and said hateful and negative comments often, “have one thing in common.”
“Because of some people’s religious beliefs, you cannot control their minds, it is really up to you how you observe it.”
“The drag reading on June 3, (in Taber) there were a bunch of people saying ‘oh we shouldn’t have a gay drag artist in the library’,” but said he wants people to know, “drag is an art; I use it to express my creativity.”
Yutrago went on to explain that Francheska is merely one aspect of his creativity, and has done film, commercials, pagaents, and is working on a book.
“I use my platform to raise awareness about the equal rights, or awareness about the Filipino community, or I can even use my own story to educate people.” In an era of heightened vitriol towards the members of the LGBT community, Yutrago dispells the notion that drag is a monolith.
“Drag is very diverse. I am a well-rounded queen. I’m a total performer, but I am actually venturing into other things like commercials, movies, and right now I am writing a pitch and a story for TELUS Originals.”
“Drag is still there but there’s a lot of things that I can do, aside from performing in the bar.”
Visit https://watch.telusoriginals.com/play?assetID=francheska-prairie-queen to watch Francheska: Prairie Queen.