Bambola arriving at a party in Torre del Lago, 2005
BAMBOLA STAR KAXINAWÁ
Tarauacá, AC, 1970
Bambola Star was born in the Kaxinawá's village in Acre, near the border with Peru. After fleeing Tarauacá and living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, she moved to Rome. A few years later, she entered the world of show business, building a hugely successful career. Her fame and legendary birthdays grew over time and today she participates in competitions, parties and events, either as godmother or special guest, always accompanied by her dog Wendy Star.
interview by Igor Furtado, published on 25/02/2021
Images of Igarapé do Caucho sent by one of Bambola's brothers, with the red bag on the right
Can you tell us about your childhood in Brazil and how is your relationship with your family?
I was born at the crossroads of Muru and Tarauacá rivers, in Igarapé do Caucho, village of the Kaxinawá tribe. A region of the Amazon rainforest near the border between Acre and Peru. I remember growing up eating flour, bananas, açaí and rotten fish on the leaf and spending a good part of my time at Bacurana beach and at the public market. Unfortunately, I didn't have the privilege of having pictures from my childhood. In reality, I didn't have a childhood in Brazil. Mom and dad died when I was a kid. I ran away at the age of 11, without speaking Portuguese, only spoke Huni-Kuí. It was a painful decision, but I felt that I needed to travel this road, I couldn't express myself there. Fortunately, today I was able to reconnect with my family in Tarauacá, where three of my brothers still live. I am very grateful to my great friend, Pamela, who also lives there and made this possible. For 20 years I had no contact with Brazil and didn't even knew if my relatives were alive. In the past, everything was based on nature, today it's much more modernized. We always exchange videos, but I hope I can get back soon. I have great love for the people of Acre and pride of my land and indigenous blood.
How was the process of going to Rio de Janeiro and then to Italy?
I managed to get to Rio de Janeiro catching rides. I spent years sleeping on the streets, along with other children. I also lived in Cinelândia and close to the Sambódromo. It was at this time that I met a trans woman who worked in a nightclub and took me under her wing, helping me to have a better life. Some time later, she told me that I could work as a maid in Italy. I moved when I was 16 and at the time there were very strict laws and a big taboo regarding people like us in the country. I always tried to face those issues with a lot of courage and strength. I believe that our destiny has already been traced since we were born. Mine was to go through these difficult times and end up in another country. It was the greatest learning I could have, it gave me a supernatural strength. After I managed to pay my travel debts, my life was transformed. It was here that I was able to start making money from my own sweat, as a film artist and public figure.
How was it to start over your life in Italy? What changed when you became famous?
The beginning of my life here was very difficult, since I didn't speak Italian. However, when we are determined to achieve something, everything becomes possible. In order to defend myself from offenses and obtain what I always dreamed of, my own home, my body, I had to learn by force. The luck is that they have always welcomed me here. Italians are patient and will teach you if you can't speak. I loved going out on the streets, trying to talk to people of all ages who marveled at my story. It was already common for me to be stopped, I think because of the way I look, and be asked to take pictures with. When my life in the entertainment world and fame were just beginning, I was already very popular on the streets. Suddenly, with the help of advisors, my professional and financial life rapidly changed. I started wearing expensive jewelry and clothes, riding in luxurious cars and going to the most exclusive clubs in Italy, frequented by the upper bourgeoisie. Soon later there was a period that I had to deprive myself of certain freedoms, because of my security and those around me. My contracts deprived me of many things, of that simple life that I always liked to live. I suffered a lot at that time, but I believe it was necessary to give up those moments, to get where I got.
When did your interest in fashion start?
Every human being is born with a unique creativity. I believe that I'm just one of those people, totally unique. I tought I didn't knew anything about fashion, but I became very interested after the years living here. I started to understand that fashion is art, culture and a way to bring new dimensions to my life and work. I never wanted to imitate famous and expensive houses or designers, but to create my way of dressing, drawing inspiration from my own trajectory. I've worn thousands of wigs, clothes and jewelry and in the vast majority, all the looks I have created myself. I usually draw all the costumes, go to the seamstress and have them done. In Italy, fashion is very diverse, so when I want to buy something, I look for clothes that have to do with me. I love Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and Valentino, but I don't copy. I create my own fashion.
Bambola arriving at her birthday party, 2008
How did you come up with the idea of celebrating your birthday with big parties, which ended up making August 2nd so important in the region?
Today I see that many make fun on the internet, decreasing simply as travestis parties. They believe that all of us are prostitutes. My birthdays are not a normal party or celebration, they are a cry of victory and war, a cry of law. I want people to no longer see us as objects, but as human beings. Each event I did was open to all those who were once like me, abandoned children, expelled from home for being who they are, who have no family and cannot celebrate, as there are still many in Brazil. The parties have also brought visibility and a message to many trans people living in Italy, when we hardly had opportunities to go out to a disco, when there were no events organized by a Brazilian travesti. When I wanted to hire someone for the events and they realized that the person responsible was trans, I felt discrimination but I didn't lower my head, because I knew I was legal in the country. I was and am very important to these people who live here. And being legendary for me is being able to leave behind something that someone younger will be able to take for themselves, my strength, my sword of war. It was a very long and difficult journey to reach a woman's value and sensitivity. So I always try to remember that they fight for their dreams and their futures, just as I fought and managed to achieve. What is ours, sooner or later we conquer.
You participate in several beauty contests, as godmother and judge. How did you approach this world?
The most important contest here, Miss Trans Italia, has been going on for over 20 years and is organized by a great friend, Regina Satariano. She was one of the people who trusted my potential and transformed my life. Her work in Tuscany is very important, both in competitions and in activism, helping several LGBT+ people with their basic needs, such as documentation, housing, health and food. As I was already well known, she hired me to be the spokesperson for the event's visibility. The contest was also already known, but I brightened it even more, bringing several talents. Until then, Italian travestis had a certain prejudice against Brazilian travestis, they believed that we had no culture. I showed just the opposite, launching several girls in the lipsync scenario, many who are still successful today. It was at that time that I met several people from television, models, entrepreneurs and actors. I also started to participate in several other contests as a godmother and judge. Years later, Regina decided to transform the contest and become a representative of the new version. Miss Trans Italia Sudamerica has been taking place since 2010 and present the work of many creative people from South America who live here in Italy, as make-up artists, stylists and performers.
Your wedding was also a milestone. Can you tell us a little about this experience?
I met my husband in Ferrara, one of the nights I was a VIP guest at an event. He is Italian and from the beginning a pure feeling of love, respect and loyalty was born between us, so after eight months we decided to get married. The ceremony was celebrated in the Emilia-Romagna region. During my life I had thousands of boyfriends, but I had never married this way, in civil union, having everything ensured by law. It was a big victory because it brings the prospect of a safer future. I have always been a great advocate for the right to equal marriage and today I have been married for almost three years. The whole trip to the church, there was a film in my head of when I left Brazil. When I took the flight, I had a feeling I wouldn't know when I would be back. Along the way, it was the same thing, imagining a totally new place, knowing that my life would be different from then on.
How do you feel about the constant exposure on the internet and having this influence on social media?
This is a great pleasure for me, to see that everything I did here in Italy in some way had an impact in Brazil. To think that an illiterate and indigenous travesti can get to where I have, it has got to be a reason for happiness. People on the internet know only a small part of my life. I'm a great character, so at least two books would be needed to tell my whole story. I always thank everyone who accompanies and supports me in some way. One of the best things is to receive love, right, even if virtually. You cannot imagine the power, strength and immense energy that these people transmit to me every day. At the same time, I think that more time should be used to make our images and speeches visible in order to think and discuss more about the right of trans people to enter the labor market, for example. Because in the end, not all of them got where I got to. It is very difficult for us to conquer this place, even here. I think a lot of people forget that.
Wendy Star, Bambola's Message, "Bambola means doll in Italian" // "Bambola Super Star!" by Maura Migliorini