Gustavo Aguilar is a silent preacher. After work and on weekends, he dons a robe, grabs a large cross, and parades through the streets dressed as Jesus. Aguilar doesn't proselytize unless he's approached. This is partly out of respect for others--he realizes that not everyone he encounters will be in the mood for a sermon--and partly because he thinks a bullhorn is unnecessary. In his view, a Jesus costume--like the golden arches--is enough to lure people in. "They don't come out of McDonald's and say, 'Hey, do you want to buy a Big Mac?'" says Aguilar. His analogy between religion and fast food ends there.
Now 36, Aguilar moved to Chicago from Mexico at 17 with the express purpose of increasing the chance he'd someday see a Rolling Stones concert. He was sorely disappointed to learn that the aunt and uncle who'd taken him in listened only to ranchero music and--perhaps worse--that they had never even heard of his favorite band. Though Aguilar never did see the Stones, he found friends with similar musical tastes and became a regular concertgoer. In the mid-80s, he got turned on to Metallica and other heavy metal bands.
Seven years ago, while smoking pot and listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Aguilar had a vision of death. "I saw Satan come for me," he says. "He was supposed to take me to hell. But I called upon Jesus. I saw the light." Aguilar says he traveled to Mexico City to see a priest, underwent an exorcism, and returned to Chicago a changed man.
He's been spending his free time in Jesus drag ever since. When he's not working his maintenance job at Northwestern University, he roams Michigan Avenue, the Clark and Belmont area, street festivals--wherever there tend to be crowds. The people he crosses paths with do not always greet him warmly. He says he often gets heckled, sometimes even pushed. On particularly rough days, he flees to Skokie to be among the Jews. He says he feels welcome there, wondering if it's because Jesus was a Jew.
Aguilar took a hammer to his music collection many years ago, smashing about 5,000 CDs, records, and tapes he'd begun to consider "satanic." He now listens primarily to Christian bands. But every so often he gears up in his Jesus suit and heads out to a secular rock or heavy metal show--not for the music, which he insists he hears differently now, but to silently remind those in the crowd that Jesus is with them.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Robert A. Davis.