Some years ago, Ignacio “Nacho” Estrada stood in front a red curtain in a San Antonio theater, telling the audience a story of the first time he threw his voice. It’s a technique which makes the voice sound far away, like it’s coming from somewhere else.
He was a senior in high school, stocking the shelves at an HEB, when he played a prank on his coworker, Mr. Morgan, he tells the audience.
“[Mr. Morgan] started walking by and I tried [throwing my voice]. I said ‘Hey Morgan!,’” Estrada said, making his voice sound like it is coming from off stage.
Mr. Morgan kept looking for the voice, assuming it was their boss. Estrada, still making his voice sound far away, and tricking Morgan in his story, says, “I’m in the restroom, I need toilet paper.”
The theater fills with laughter. He often started shows like this – an introduction to ventriloquism and himself.
So many who grew up laughing to his act were saddened when they learned Estrada died Sunday, Jan. 28, at the age of 77, his family confirmed in a statement.
Estrada was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. He moved to Eagle Pass and worked as a teacher in special education. He eventually settled down in San Antonio to raise his family.
Though, as his friends see it (and his teachers, by his own admission), telling Nacho to “settle down” was like telling Texas’ summers to cool down – it’s not going to happen. Making people smile and laugh was just part of who he was.
So much so he applied and was accepted to be a clown – but not just any clown. Estrada trained to be one of the most famous clowns in pop culture, Ronald McDonald. He is said to be the first Latino Ronald McDonald in the state of Texas.
But this is no surprise to the people who knew him, like former San Antonio radio DJ Sonny Melendrez.
“The thing about Nacho is that he was always doing these wonderful little pranks, but having fun,” Melendrez said.
Melendrez and Nacho would often join up on shows and events, traveling the country together. He remembers once being in the security line with Estrada at the airport.
“There’s a gentleman ahead of us going through the metal detector and all of a sudden you hear it go off – BEEP BEEP BEEP. So he has to go back and take his belt off. And then I realized it was Nacho making the sound effects. I said ‘Nacho stop it. Just stop it right now,’” Melendrez laughs.
For decades Estrada traveled throughout Texas, across the U.S. and Mexico. He played shows at schools and festivals – entertaining adults and children alike.
Kiko Martinez was one of those kids. As an elementary student in the Southside Independence School district in San Antonio, Martinez remembers the ventriloquist’s performances fondly.
“Nacho would come in about once a year for us and every year it was an event, you know, exciting,” Martinez said. “I remember the puppets he would use, Malclovio and the Tortilla Monster. I remember all the laughter and thinking how talented this man must be to make all his puppets talk without moving his mouth.”