As a kid, Peruvian Luis Salazar’s dream was to became a photographer, like his father was for the Peruvian newspaper El Tiempo. But instead, for the last 20 years he’s make a living as the well-know clown “Payasito Chiquitin” in Queens. Excerpts from the article in DNAinfo are below.
On the weekend, Payasito Chiquitín — “payasito” meaning “clown” and “chiquitín” meaning “little guy” — hops on a motorcycle with the license plate CLOWN1 and travels from his home in Astoria to Jackson Heights and Corona, looking for business.
He dresses up in a blue and white sailor’s outfit, made up with blue lipstick and blue freckles, a long, blue rubber nose and giant, floppy shoes with fake toes popping out the front.
He works parties, putting together a set with magic, music and dancing. After two decades, he knows how to gauge children’s reactions — who’s afraid and who isn’t — and he’s developed his own methods to interact with parents and get everyone involved.
In fact, he’s gotten so good that he has completely stopped taking photographs for money.
“It’s not easy working as a photographer in New York,” Salazar said. “There’s no more good business.”
Without much previous training, Salazar started taking pictures when he was 19. He worked as a freelance photographer, covering weddings and parties. In 1980, he joined his boss on a business trip to the U.S. than turned out to be longer than expected after his boss had a heart attack. While here he saw the potential to become a famous photographer: “I said, ‘Forget it, the U.S.A. is different,’” Salazar said. “You can come here and make your dream come true.”
Salazar quit his job and moved in with family in Astoria, taking odd jobs through the years as a truck driver and restaurant worker in order to support [a] career as an event photographer.
One day, while shooting a party in which a clown was supposed to perform, the clown called to say he wouldn’t show up. Salazar argued, but the man refused.
So he decided to don the clown costume himself and simultaneously shoot photos and perform. It was the birth of Chiquitín.
In early 90s, Salazar used to wear costumes to get attention for his photography business. But technology made taking photos much easier and he decided to start a new career as a clown. Now he likes to be a clown and loves to see people relax and enjoy themselves because of him.
However, he has faced some difficulties recently. A few weeks ago, Salazar got hit by a car while riding his motorcycle and has only been able to do two shows a month, instead of two a week. And there is an influx of clowns making the business more competitive. Some clowns have even copied Salazar’s act and perform it on the street, he said.
“One clown sees another clown. He wants to do what you’re doing,” Salazar said. “That’s not a clown, that’s a pirate.”
Still, Salazar said that clowning around is his new dream.
If asked to choose between being a successful clown or a successful photographer, he said he would still be “a clown, for sure.” And he’s recently begun trying to sell his old camera equipment.
“Any picture I take, I take for Chiquitín,” Salazar said.