In the recent MaKaPinoy Fashion Show and Kultura Edmonton Filipino Festival, I met the twin personas of Francheska Dynamites and Francis (Kiko) Yutrago. I was fascinated by the boldness and gaiety of Francheska and the humility and contemplativeness of Kiko. This dichotomy is the subject of a documentary by director Laura O’Grady, entitled Francheska: Prairie Queen, an official selection in the recent Calgary International Film Festival, and the LGBTQ+ Toronto Film Festival 2022.
Kiko is from Dinagat Island in the Philippines, living the simple barrio life - fetching water, cooking rice on an open fire, walking to school, feeding the chickens. He went to the University of East Caloocan at age 14 and finished at the age of 19, one of the youngest to do so. Then he took a Caregiver course, worked at SM, at a call centre and as a caregiver, until he left for Edmonton in 2010.
After a few months of his arrival in Edmonton, he found himself jobless. Shortly after, he was fortunate to work with a family who treated him as a family member and retained him, including bringing him along to Lethbridge, until he received his permanent residency. However, also in his first year in Canada, his father suffered a stroke. As the breadwinner of the family, shouldering household expenses and his siblings’ education, he worked 3-5 jobs, even to this day.
In Lethbridge, he was performing as a backup dancer to drag queens. Even as a young boy, he was fond of dancing and performing. Then in 2017, Taber held its first Gay Pride where a club owner encouraged him to try drag. He did his first drag performance with the help of friends for his hair, make-up and wardrobe styling. This was a euphoric and liberating experience for him. From then on, he assumed the stage name Francheska Dynamites, using the name which he was called when he was bullied for his effeminate ways - Francheska, turning what was once an oppressive term, to a vehicle for liberation. Shortly thereafter, Francheska went into pageantry, competing with transgenders and more often than not, would be the only drag queen in the pageant.
In the 2018 Pride Event in Lethbridge where Francheska was one of the performers, award-winning director and producer Laura O’Grady was working on a documentary on drag queens. A few months after that, Francheska received a proposal on a documentary, which would follow her life
as a drag queen in rural Alberta. The documentary tracked Francheska for the past couple of years covering the many facets of her life: as a healthcare worker; a Filipino migrant who works 3-5 jobs to provide for her family in the Philippines; gender identity; drag as a form of expression; and cultural minority representation. It is an inspiring movie that unravels the many layers of the Kiko/Francheska personas. Kiko/Francheska is definitely the star with her honesty and spontaneity, and whose story is handled with sensitivity and grace by Laura. It is obvious that there is great trust and connection between director and subject.
Francheska feels honoured to be the subject of a documentary, but at the same time feels vulnerable and anxious with opening up her life. She recognizes that she has inadvertently been thrust into a bigger platform and will use this in pushing for representation of Filipino-Canadians and the LGBTQ+ community.
Kiko’s life trajectory has gone beyond his wildest dreams. He attributes it to his belief in the law of attraction, in being optimistic and focusing on the positive side of things. “I always acknowledge pain and struggle, but I do not let it go to my head, or rule my life. I believe in myself, and in the Creator, the God of the Universe,” Kiko elaborates. He shares moments of serendipity that never fails to give him goosebumps. Firstly, the person he took care of had the same name as his father. The house number where he lived in Canada, was the same number as their house in the Philippines. The date September 23, marks three monumental events of his life - the date of his arrival in Edmonton, the anniversary date with his fiance, and the world premiere of the documentary Francheska: Prairie Queen. All these show him that something big is happening and someone greater than him is in-charge.
And that something big is not far-fetched. To date, Francheska: Prairie Queen has won the Audience Award in the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) and Toronto Film Festival. The CIFF is the largest film festival in Alberta, an Oscar-qualifying festival for short films, and a Canadian Screen Award Qualifying festival. It is also one of 17 films shortlisted by The Directors Guild of Canada for the 2022 Jean-Marc Vallée Discovery Award.
Beyond the documentary, Kiko has many projects he would like to finish and pursue: finish the building of the family’s house in the Philippines; bring siblings to Canada; get into Drag Race Canada - not necessarily to win but just to participate and represent as Ms. Philippines Canada; write books based on his experiences that drag queens can read to children - not necessarily about being a drag queen but about persistence, love of family, perseverance, self awareness, respect and acceptance of people. With the looks of it, Francis (Kiko) Yutrago, aka as Francheska Dynamites, is indeed not only a Prairie Queen, but the master of his own destiny.
Watch out for further screenings of the documentary Francheska: Prairie Queen. This is something you would not want to miss.
Photo credits: ℅ Francheska Dynamites. Uncommon Originals Photography.
* This article was published in the October 2022 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.
** Do you know of a Filipino, or Filipino-descent, artist/creative or an art and culture event that should be featured? Send a message to PhilippineArtsCouncil@gmail.com.