When Jaime Carrera passed away this week, the Twin Cities lost a passionate, boisterous, hilarious, and creative force. The cat-loving, loin-cloth-wearing, drag-performing, punk-dancing body-paint enthusiast was a welcome addition to any Twin Cities stage, gallery, or DIY venue, as he boasted many talents in performance, dance, photography, and music.
He died because his heart was too big, which makes complete sense if you had ever spent time with him. You can’t get more poetic than that.
Carrera was the truest kind of artist. He was always pushing himself in new directions, always questioning, always calling out bullshit, and always ready with an off-color joke or a kind word.
I first saw Carrera onstage at the former Bedlam space on the West Bank. He was in drag, performing this mesmerizing dance as a Mexican sex worker. He didn’t judge or comment on the character, but rather created a loving tribute. As a performer, I was astounded by his energy and poise onstage. Not only was he a great dancer, but he had this confidence and charisma, this fearlessness around his own body and sexuality that drew me in completely.
Since then, I have seen him perform many times, at the Walker Art Center’s Choreographers' Evening, at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, and in found spaces like the basement of a Mexican store on Blaisdell Avenue or the former SOOLocal on Nicollet, where he castrated his fellow performer Jason Wade (who was dressed as Jesus), nailed his phallus to the cross, and proceeded to squirt mustard and ketchup at both Wade and the audience.
This spring, Carrera was set to perform in the Red Eye Theater’s Isolated Acts series, part of the the New Works, 4 Weeks Festival. The artists were in the initial stages, but he had jumped into the process despite the fact that he had never shown in-progress work to peers before. “The word 'fearless' comes to mind,” says Miriam Must, managing director of Red Eye of Carrera’s work.
Born in 1973 in Mexico, Carrera immigrated to the United States when he was 17. His family moved to Garden City, Kansas, where Carrera already had a couple of brothers working in the meat packing industry. After graduating from college, he lived in Chicago for a while before making his way to Minneapolis in the early 2000s.
Nick Wirtz met Carrera at the Eagle, a gay bar in downtown Minneapolis, at last call. After a year-and-a-half engagement, they finally got married this past January.
“Our wedding was a sweet, really simple declaration for our love for each other,” Wirtz says. “It was such a distilled moment of how much we love each other. I’m very blessed it happened before he passed.”
Besides his zeal for art and performance, there was another side of Carrera. “Jaime was one of the most affectionate people I’ve ever met,” says Wirtz.
Ben Heywood, former executive director of the Soap Factory, calls Carrera an extraordinary performer. “He was one of the most truly authentic artists and performers I had come across in the Twin Cities,” he says. “He was one of those people you never think is going away. He would always say exactly what he thought about anything.”
Heywood came across Carrera during the Artery 24 performance festival at the Soap Factory, which he participated in all three years of its existence. Later, Heywood would ask Carrera to perform for the organization’s annual gala.
While Heywood has moved on to the Pivot Art and Culture space in Seattle, Carrera had been on his list of top 10 artists that he needed to bring out. “I don’t think anyone knows exactly what we’ve lost with Jaime,” he says. “He was such an important figure for people’s artistic lives.”
Carrera died from an undiagnosed heart disease, which worsened because of a severe respiratory flu. His heart was enlarged, and he had clogged arteries, which might have easily have been fixed had he had gotten proper care.
“He was not a doctor-going man,” Wirtz says. “He hated going to the doctor.” Carrera didn’t have health insurance, in part because, as an undocumented immigrant, he feared any situation that would ask for his social security number. Since their marriage in January, Wirtz and Carrera were in the process of getting Carrera citizenship, but not in time to stop this tragedy.
“It raises a lot of questions about where we stand in this country, not only about health care, but also about the trials and tribulations of living under the radar,” says his friend and fellow artist Tim Carroll. “He would probably be alive if he had access to health care.”
Carroll is organizing a memorial for Carrera along with Zoe Sommers Haas, who was Carrera’s dear friend and former roommate. It will be held on Saturday at the Soap Factory.
“He was just so brilliant, and created things so easily and beautifully,” she says. As she has planned the memorial with Carroll, they discussed the irony that the best person to plan the event would have been Carrera himself.
“Jaime was just so good at living his life and being himself,” Sommers Haas says. “And I don’t think he was taking risks; it was just who he was. He couldn’t live any other way. He couldn’t sacrifice who he was.”