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Sticking it to the ‘two-legged rats’

Times Staff Writer

Paquita la del Barrio makes an unlikely feminist rabble-rouser. Stout, middle-aged and mild-mannered to a fault, the Mexican torch-song singer barely spoke a word during an hourlong show Sunday at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim.

She let her lyrics -- often sarcastic, vengeful and contemptuous -- stir up the seething resentments of female fans who are eager, but perhaps powerless, to throw off the shackles of all those inconsiderate, two-timing macho men with whom they’re stuck . The women rushed to the edge of the stands to touch, kiss or take a picture with a patient Paquita, who appears regularly at her own cabaret in Mexico City’s working-class Guerrero district.

To greet as many admirers as possible, the slow-moving singer deliberately made her way around the length of the oval arena-turned-rodeo, her full-length, sequined green gown sparkling in the spotlights, her see-through heels digging into the dirt trucked in for an earlier Mexican-style horse show.

Surprisingly, many men were just as excited to see the star, who’s been quietly building a following and social movement for more than 30 years. Men may be the targets of her rage and ridicule in songs such as “Rata de Dos Patas” (Two-Legged Rat) and “Esa es la Puerta” (There’s the Door). But they seem to relish the role reversal, gleefully taking the singer’s abuse as they lunge to embrace her, turning to smile for snapshots taken by their wives and girlfriends. One young man, after jumping the rail to reach the chanteuse, did a victory dance for the audience, arms high as if he had just scored a touchdown.

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Halfway through her trip around the arena, Paquita got howls with “Hombres Malvados” (Wicked Men), which threatens castration for louts who don’t shape up. That put a little bite into the singer’s signature slogan, which she adds between verses: "¿Me estas oyendo, Inutil?” (Are you listening to me, Good-for-Nothing?).

Although she’s made a career of such skewerings, her talent goes far beyond novelty or satire. Paquita, born Francisca Viveros Barradas, is one of Latin America’s best interpreters of boleros, lyrical love songs with roots in 19th century romanticism. Backed Sunday by a strong 12-piece mariachi, she brought her smooth and effortless vocals to the standard “Perdida” (Lost Woman), in which a compassionate man offers his love to a spurned prostitute.

In her contemporary love songs, many commissioned for her, Paquita reveals the flip side of her feminism, a woman free to give full rein to her desires. In the languid and lusty “Pierdeme el Respeto” (Lose Respect for Me), for example, she urges her man to drop any pretense of propriety and make his move.

For Paquita, the war between the sexes ends with a romantic truce.

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