Although Julienne herself is not an immigrant, she had a keen sense for the idiosyncrasies that other cultures possess and was intent on shedding light on a period when La Gata’s life and performance was impacting the young Latin American community in Miami. This film, which was originally intended as a practice news reel, won Best USA Documentary Feature in the Women’s International Film Festival in 2008.
María Angelica Milán, Argentine tango performer who simply goes by La Gata (the cat) says her life personifies everything that is tango — “sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, but always passionate.” This woman, now 82, born in Buenos Aires and orphaned as an infant, never let the toils of life and those circumstances stop her from pursuing her dreams. Her experience is now a source of inspiration to the modern day immigrant; most of whom are a lot younger and often times confess not as gutsy as she, but are pursuing their dreams just the same.
La Gata’s early life wasn’t easy. She was left at a convent at birth and was there until she was released at age 22. She then began carving out a life for herself on her own with no family to turn to. Often times she was reduced to sleeping in trolleys and local theaters to keep warm but nevertheless trudged forward throughout the metropolis city employing her natural ability to seduce and entertain, in order to garner acting and modeling gigs.
It soon became apparent to club owners that she could be a commodity and they asked her to amuse their male clientele by having glasses of wine with them and although in such a patriarchal society where this behavior could be detrimental for any young lady’s character, La Gata flourished and was poised to make a name for herself against all the odds.
Then in 1957, she was discovered by two influential Tango singers of the time named Edmundo Rivero and Alberto Marino who subsequently influenced her to sing the Tango. Shortly after, she decided to set out for the grand world stage and visited several countries such as Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Spain, France and Mexico only returning to her homeland once for a 4 year period in 1973. She finally arrived in the US around 1986 where she performed in New Orleans and New York City before eventually making it to Miami, FL where promises of a good venture awaited but to her dismay deteriorated prior to her arrival.
At the time La Gata was 79 and began performing at a local Argentinean lounge where she unwittingly revived the Tango in the hearts of many young Argentinean’s who had never experienced it before. Through her, the younger generation was now sampling a taste of their parents past and felt fortunate to be experiencing their culture in the States.
La Gata, the eternal individualist, used her creativity and dramatic interpretations of the Tango to take her audiences on a deep journey of love and loss. At age 82 she admits her wrinkles may be more prevalent than she’d like but that doesn’t stop her. She is refined and well spoken and carries herself with class and elegance. Having more than outlived her 9 lives, La Gata “is that rare breed of cat who refuses to let her sensuality sag with the weight of her years.” says Gage.
So prevalent is the essence of the Tango intertwined with the threads of her life that this documentary comes through the screen and grabs you. Julienne also uses La Gata’s story to “explore societal concerns of beauty and aging, as well as immigration and cultural preservation.”
But this April, after a 30 year self imposed sabbatical from her birth country, La Gata faces her final curtain call. The country which she called home for 26 years no longer offers opportunities of which she is entitled and she must now make her pilgrimage back to the Argentina she left so long ago.
With no friends or family there, she wonders what she will do but is certain she does not intend on retiring. She also plans to have a Facebook page created to ensure that she remains in contact with all her friends around the world who are in essence the only family she’s ever known.
She believes that life is entirely what you make of it and if you want happiness than you just need to be happy. This is how she has lived her life and this is how she hopes her final performance at Devita’s Restaurant (formerly known as Che Soprano’s) will transpire. She will be performing her beloved Tango with happiness, exhibiting her artwork hoping to be surrounded with friends and loved ones when she takes her last bow, proving that it’s not over until this Gatica sings.
“From her streetwise but glamorous style to her moody, seductive performances, La Gata personifies the spirit of the Tango.” Julienne Gage