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Revealing the face behind the clown make-up
02 Jan 2009
Stephen Coan

One of the most poignant stories I was involved with this year was one I facilitated rather than wrote. It was about Chuchin the Clown who died in a fall from the highwire during a performance at the Royal Show in 1984.

The Witness report of Chuchin’s memorial service noted that Chuchin left a widow and a 12-year-old son in Mexico. Twenty-four years later that son, Mizrraim Medrano, who lives in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, in the U.S., contacted The Witness in a bid to find out more about his father and the circumstances of his death. Medrano is also a clown and uses the clown name of Chuchin in homage to his father.

Medrano had spent years trying to piece together the story of his father’s life but there remained a gap concerning his time in South Africa. After deciding to run an article and asking readers for more information I looked at the 1984 Witness reports of the incident and spoke to a few people who were there at the time. But simply recycling the story wasn’t enough; it begged the questions: how did Chuchin come from Mexico to Pietermaritzburg and what was the real face behind the clown make-up? I put some questions to Medrano via e-mail and his answers added up to an extraordinary story that began with a five-year-old boy running off to the circus to escape a background of poverty and violence. The story was run in an edited version (a longer version was run on our website) and an appeal for further information appended. Several people responded and were put in touch with Medrano.

According to Medrano, the information he received “shed so much light” on his father’s time in this country and also served to dispel some of the myths that had grown up around his last days, including one that Chuchin survived his fall and was living somewhere in South Africa.

Some weeks after the story had been run Medrano sent me an e-mail. It provided the perfect ending to the story: “I’ve been thinking so much about my father lately; last night I dreamt that he was falling and I was directly underneath him. Suddenly I caught him, he hugged me, kissed me and as if not wanting to leave me he walked away waving goodbye.”

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