Q&A: Ricardo Pereira

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Ricardo Pereira talks to Arthur Tam about leaving his iconic post at Propaganda

The most widely known and recognised figure in Hong Kong’s gay community isn’t a celebrity, a politician or a pop star, but a humble doorman who’s worked at Propaganda, the gay nightclub, for the past 21 years. Practically every gay man in Hong Kong has stepped through the doors of Propaganda, where they’d see stern-faced Ricardo Pereira sitting behind a counter, collecting money in exchange for a drink ticket and entrance. To those who don’t know Pereira, he might come off as cold and threatening (a good deterrent for underage clubbers), which has made him something of an icon and a mystery within gay circles. After a few chats however, you’ll find a man who’s warm, friendly, likes reading old-school crime thrillers and loves animals – he has 13 cats and three dogs at his residence in Sai Kung and is also part of programme that rescues stray cats.

For the most part, Pereira lives a simple and uninterrupted life – until recently, when he was unceremoniously let go from his long-standing job at Propaganda. Just like that, a fixture in Hong Kong’s gay community is gone. Time Out sits with the 68-year-old to talk about his future plans as well as his personal life.

We’re sorry to hear that you lost your job, Ricardo. So, what exactly happened?

The bosses said that they felt it was time for change. I’m not sure what the changes entailed, but one of the changes was asking me to leave.

Are you sad to leave Propaganda after so many years?
Yes, after 21 years I’ve met a lot of people and made a number of friends. I had no time to say goodbye and bid farewell to any of them. That’s regrettable. I just wanted to let people know that I’m leaving.

What are you going to do now?

I’m not retired and I don’t want people to think that’s why they don’t see me at Propaganda. I’m still looking for work, but I don’t know what yet.

Are you scared about moving on to this new phase of your life?

Not really. I can’t see anything drastic changing. Work is work and I’ll eventually find something to do, it’s just the matter of what, which will be a surprise. I can always go back to tutoring as a backup.

Tutoring? Is that what you were doing before Propaganda? Tell us a bit about your background. Everyone has seen your face, but hardly anyone knows you.
My heritage has been somewhat of a topic of intrigue and confusion. Everyone thinks that I’m Portuguese, but I’m actually a mix of Scottish, Chinese and Spanish. My father is Scottish and came to HK during the war, where he met my Nicaraguan mother of half Chinese and half Spanish descent. My parents separated early on and when I was four I was adopted by a Portuguese family, which led people to believe I’m Portuguese.

I wasn’t really into my studies when I was growing up. I finished Form 5 and started working when I was 17 years old at a bank. I did that for two to three years and then I became a hairdresser’s apprentice while tutoring students in English. Then one day my friend, who was at that time the doorman at Propaganda, needed to take off for three months and asked me to substitute for him. When he came back he decided he didn’t want the job, so I ended up staying for 21 years.

Why did you end up staying so long?

It was just easy work quite honestly, and I was happy enough. I’m a creature of familiarity and I never thought of looking for something different.

Do you think of yourself as a gay icon in the city?
I wouldn’t say an icon, more like a familiar face. People who’ve left Hong Kong and come back usually say, ‘Oh, you’re still here!’ It was hard to get rid of me, I suppose.

You seem like a rather private person.
I’m quite introverted, but that doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly, it just takes some time for me. A lot of people think I’m unfriendly because I don’t look friendly. I don’t smile a lot.

Will you go back to Propaganda to visit?
Eventually I’ll go back, but not right now. I’d rather go to the clubs I never had time to visit before. But if I had a friend that wants us to go there, I wouldn’t be against it.

Tell us something that people don’t really know about you.

When I see plants that people throw away, I take them back home and plant them again. I try to be eco-friendly.

Have you noticed anything about the evolution of gay partygoers?

The guys back then used to dress up more because they wanted to look nice. Now I find that they are way too casual. They come in in shorts and flip-flops and they look like they are going to the corner store to buy cigarettes. People used to look nice, now not so much. But the younger guys seem more aware of gay issues, which is good.

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