Blessings from the universe: Walter Mercado

By Cindy M. Muñoz
An elaborate outfit worn by Walter Mercado, with multiple layers of textured red fabric, gold highlights, large and pointed shoulders, and a cape.

As in many Latinx homes across the United States, when Walter Mercado (1932–2019) came on-screen, my mother would tell my sisters and me to stop what we were doing and quiet down as she turned up the volume on the television. Everyone knew to pay attention since the man was going to give us our horoscopes and provide positive affirmations to help us get through the day. Puerto Rican icon Mercado had an extensive career that spanned 50 years across radio, film, and television. Yet, for millions of Latinx people, he is most known for spreading positive affirmations as an astrologer and self-proclaimed seer.

Mercado was a favorite among multiple generations of Latinx families. His larger-than-life personality on Primer Impacto, Univision’s breaking news show, cemented his legacy as one of the most influential and loved icons among Latinx millennials and LGBTQ+ communities. Mercado defied machismo, patriarchy, and gender binaries, simply by being unapologetically himself. In 2021, Mercado’s family donated several objects to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History after his passing in 2019. Mercado’s objects provide an entry point for understanding his life and impact.

Wooden prayer beads set on a loop of string. A larger white stone and light brown wooden bead connect at a threaded knot.
Religious objects like prayer beads were instrumental to Mercado’s work. They were a representation of his deep connection to religion and his spirituality. (2021.0076.08)

Mercado’s popular and long-standing segment Walter y Las Estrellas (1969–2006), focused on horoscopes, combining religious and astrological elements to connect with millions of Latinxs and to spread positive messages. During those segments, prayer beads were one of many objects that helped Mercado convene with the universe and transcend any single religion. Beads are used for prayer and meditation in several world religions—Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam, among others. Mercado’s prayer beads are made of wood, some with texture or minor dents and divots. A larger white stone and light brown wooden bead connect at a threaded knot. The beads and knot provide a practical and symbolic purpose in many prayer bead traditions. Mercado’s prayer beads helped him connect with families like my own, who combined practicing Catholicism with a general interest in spirituality.

Signed portrait of Walter Mercado, who stands posed with his arms crossed across his chest and his open hands on either side of his face. He is smiling and wearing a large ring on each finger.
In this signed photograph from the 1970s, Mercado shows off his signature style, wearing a striped cape. If you look closely, on his left hand you can see rings in a similar style to the ring he donated to the museum. (2021.0076.17)
A large ring with a blue stone surrounded by tapered baguette diamonds.
To match his effervescent persona, Mercado wore extravagant accessories like this ring. He owned a large collection of rings and chose them according to the power and healing qualities of the various gemstones. (2021.0076.10)

Walter Mercado wasn’t simply an icon because people tuned in for his daily horoscopes. He was also famous for his unique and extravagant looks. Some might call him campy. Others call him elegant. Mercado’s inspiration for his style comes from his theater days in the Teatro La Perla located in his hometown Ponce, Puerto Rico. Mercado often accessorized his embroidered suits with rings, bejeweled brooches, boots, and capes—all of which helped him craft a persona of joyful exuberance. One of his rings, now part of the museum’s collection, has an ethereal blue stone surrounded by tapered baguette diamonds. The setting rises about an inch from the band, proclaiming grandness and opulence. The blue stone gestures to Mercado’s famous use of crystal balls as a totem of his trade as a seer. His joyous personality was on display from head to toe thanks to his red, heeled boots—made of Italian leather, size 8.5. Mercado’s ring, boots, and other clothing provide a small window into his big personality.

Crystal ball
Walter Mercado’s crystal ball (2021.0076.04)
An elaborate outfit worn by Walter Mercado, with multiple layers of textured red fabric, gold highlights, large and pointed shoulders, and a cape.
Mercado often wore lavish outfits on his show, Walter y Las Estrellas. (2021.0076.03.03)

Mercado came onto the Spanish-language television scene like a lightning bolt. Through his programs and his signature style, he disrupted gender norms and provided an alternative to other Spanish language programs of the time. His unique perspective—and his positive vibes—attracted a loyal audience, including my own family. Then and now, we knew our days would be better after hearing his signature sign-off: “Mucho, mucho amor.”

Visitors can view some of Walter Mercado’s objects and learn more about his life and legacy in the exhibition Entertainment Nation, currently on display at the National Museum of American History.

Entertainment Nation is made possible in part by the generous leadership support of the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family, Tom and Karen Rutledge, The History Channel, Dr. Stephanie Bennett-Smith, American Cruise Lines, an Anonymous Friend, Linda and Mike Curb, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and Barry and Wendy Meyer.

Cindy M. Muñoz is a former intern in the museum’s Home and Community Life department and a graduate of California State University Northridge with a degree in History.