31 year old Mexican, Jesus Manuel Aceves, nicknamed Chuy (pronounced: Chewy), has a condition known a hypertrichosis, sometimes called Wolfitis or Werewolf Syndrome.
Chuy grew up in the rural Mexican town of Loreto, one of the few places on earth where his condition has ever been seen. It began with Chuy’s uncle Manuel who was born in 1938. Chuy explains “He was the first member of the family with the condition that we inherited through him”. Manuel passed away three years ago, but there are eighteen other hairy relatives. Of these, Chuy’s sister, Lilia, is the hairiest female. His three male cousins; Larry, Danny and Elliot, are as hirsute as he.
Local prejudice forced the family to look elsewhere for work, so when a national circus promoter offered to train them as performers, they jumped at the chance. The Wolf People became one of the most popular acts in Mexico, but there were bigger things just over the border.
Diego ‘Vee Kay’ Barquinero, better known as Vee Kay the Clown, help introduce Chuy and his family to their new life in Los Angeles. He became Chuy’s mentor and life-long family friend. Chuy’s arrival in Los Angeles also gave science a chance to observe a condition that, is so rare, has never been studied in the United States before.
Dr. Phillip Zaret explains: “Hypertrichosis is a congenital condition and the incidence is one in ten billion. The body is covered with hair, mainly on the face and interior and posterior torso. Hypwertrichosis is a genetic mutation, and cells, that normally have a switch, that switch off hair growth in unusual areas, like the eyelids and forehead, are left switched on”.
Working in the Los Angeles circus is the only steady job Chuy has ever known. His work in the circus has helped support his extended family, back home in Mexico, but a regular income has come at a personal price. “I’ve had enough, because people only see me as a freak, and that gets me down. I’ve lasted 15 years working in the circus and that’s all I know. I would prefer a normal job”.
Chuy the Wolf Man
Chuy does not consider himself a freak. Instead he believes his condition is a “Gift from God”.
Disillusioned with circus life and feeling isolated, all Chuy wants is a one-way ticket home to Loreto. Howver, there are difficulties, there is still prejudice against his appearance. He could alter his appearance, to fit in, but that would close the door on his life and wage in the circus. Just leaving the circus is a huge gamble.
Chuy has his own family, his wife Vicki who doesn’t have hypertrichosis, and two daughters, one of whom, Karla, has inherited the condition. His sister Lilia quit the circus some years ago and has succeeded in integrating with the local society and currently works as a policewoman.
Upon his return to Loreto, Chuy meets up with the two people who will most understand his predicament. His cousins, Danny and Larry Gomez, have been working in the circus for as long as Chuy.
Chuy is particularly interested in talking to Larry, who is married and has tried life outside the circus to please his wife. He found work cleaning shopping centres at night, and as a gardener. The stigma, and the pressures they brought led to the break-up of his marriage and his, eventual, return to the circus.
Chuy has few friends in Loreto as he has spent so many years in the States. He needs to find a job, but it’s going to prove much tougher than even he could imagine.
The main local industry is agriculture and there is no shortage of potential workers. It’s impossible to find employment, and looking different doesn’t help. The money he managed to bring home from Los Angeles is dwindling. The Big Top is back in town, and things are getting so desperate that Chuy will try anything, even a return to the circus. The circus turn him down, he is local and people know him so won’t pay to see him. He decides to try the big city of Aguascalientes. Although it’s two and a half hours away, by bus, it’s nothing compared to living abroad.
He has no success in finding work, despite trying many construction sites and hotels. He returns to Loreto very dispirited. He thinks he has no choice but to return to L.A. where he still has contacts who may be able to help.
Chuy is turned back at L.A. airport dur to an irregularity with his visa. It may be years before he can apply for another. Things are deperate, the Aceves’ are broke!
Chuy is now facing the ultimate decision, he’s contemplating something that he’s been avoiding his entire adult life. “If I remove my hair, maybe it will be possible to find a normal job”.
This goes against years of trying to preserve his unique identity.
It seems to have been worth it, after another trip to Aquascalientes, he looks sure to secure a job at one of the big hotels.