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Beloved Texas ventriloquist Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Estrada dies at 77

A black and white photo shows a smiling man flanked by two puppets, one puppet has a more human appearance while the other is furrier. The man is Ignacio Nacho Estrada.
Daniel W Torres Photography
Courtesy photo
Ignacio "Nacho" Estrada was beloved for his messaged of positivity he spread while entertaining children in schools across Texas and Mexico.

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.

A man poses, holding up the arm of a puppet. This is Nacho Garcia with his puppet, Maclovio.
Courtesy photo
Nacho Garcia with his puppet, Maclovio.

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.”

Nacho’s message of kindness and positivity to go with the laughs struck a chord with his audience. While the 80s and 90s had the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, known as D.A.R.E. in schools, many – but especially South Texas schools – also had Nacho Estrada.

“Youngsters, especially those in the barrios, could relate to Nacho and his puppet, Maclovio, who make them laugh while delivering a strong message to stay in school and say ‘no’ to drugs,” said Elizabeth Ruiz, who was a friend of Nacho’s.

“And really, there’s no way to measure the impact he made in our community or how many youngsters stayed off drugs and continued their education because of Nacho.”

The joy and silly mischievousness poured out of Nacho effortlessly. He loved one-liners and what we now call “dad jokes.” But as his friend and fellow ventriloquist Donald Woodford explains, the positive messaging was strengthened by his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness.

“He had a love for his God Jehovah, also,” Woodford said. “You know, as much as this was his doing. But being a Jehovah’s Witness and worshiping God was also very important. I will say also it was the most important and the ventriloquism took second place, but it was not far behind it.”

Friends and fans across the U.S. have taken to social media to express their memories and condolences, sharing videos and stories of when Nacho made them laugh.

Joey Doctor, a friend and representative for the family, said it brings them joy to see all the lives Nacho has touched.

“We want to thank the community for their love and support of the family,” he said. “And also allowing their children at school to be entertained by his positive message. So just the outpouring from the community, their love and support… I know the family would want to thank the community for that.”

Though the details of the memorial service are still being worked out, there are plans to live stream it so folks can pay their respects from wherever they are. After all, like Nacho’s voice, the laughs he gave to audiences stretched far and wide.

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Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her: