On weekday evenings, carpenters and longshoremen, working mothers and young professionals hailing from Latin America and living in Los Angeles and throughout the U.S. tune their radios to Oswaldo Diaz’s show and get a peek into the love lives of immigrants.
“The moment has arrived,” the 33-year-old Diaz announces in a deep, authoritative voice in Spanish. “To do away with doubt. To test your partner’s fidelity.”
Changing the tone of his voice into the high-pitched, plain speaking character of “La Chokolata,” Diaz fields calls from lovesick listeners wondering if wives left behind in Mexico, deported husbands and love interests sparked on Facebook remain faithful despite months and sometimes years apart. Then he calls their unsuspecting partners pretending to be from a new company offering to send a free heart-shaped box of chocolates to “someone special” on their behalf.
Do they send it to their significant other or someone else?
“I want to see whether she still loves me,” said one caller, identified only as Felipe, who had not seen his wife in five years. “To see if she still thinks of me.”
Diaz’s show is broadcast by Entravision and reaches over 2 million people nationwide. “El Show de Erazno y la Chokolata” features many of the staples of a “Sabado Gigante” type variety show: A recent episode featured funny headlines from Mexico (“Goat Attacks Doña Maura; Today They’ll Barbecue Him”); an interview with “Madonna Boy,” a man who has undergone more than a dozen surgeries to look like the pop star; and advice from resident sexologist Elvia Contreras.
But it is Diaz’s segment on love called “El Chokolatazo” or “The Big Chocolate” that strikes the strongest chord: In more than 10 years of doing the show, Diaz has witnessed marriage proposals, heartwarming reconciliations and a fair share of scornful breakups.
“Sometimes I feel bad,” Diaz said. “I don’t have the power to make people say things that are not really what they mean.”
They are stories Diaz knows well.
Growing up in the western Mexico state of Michoacan, Diaz watched his own father leave each year to spend long months working in the U.S. Diaz immigrated to California as a teen and held jobs planting broccoli and landscaping before his knack for imitating voices landed him a job on the radio.
“People say they haven’t seen their husband or wife for two or three years and you start to think,” Diaz said. “The work week feels normal because everyone is busy. But then the weekend comes and you realize there are women with their husbands. And my mom was alone.”
Diaz got the idea for the “Chokolatazo” after hearing Ryan Seacrest stage something similar on his radio show involving sending a bouquet of roses. Diaz thought the concept would work well with the real-life dramas of the immigrants listening to his show.
The vast majority of callers into the show are men with a significant other in Mexico — a reflection of long-standing patterns of staggered migration in which the family breadwinner immigrates first. Increasingly though, Diaz notes, he receives calls from men who are meeting girlfriends from their hometowns online. When there is a spike in deportations from one month to the next, he’ll get more calls from women inquiring about their husbands.
Joanna Dreby, a sociology professor at the University of Albany, said increased border enforcement has had two notable ripple effects on relationships: Those in the U.S. are less likely to risk traveling back to visit a spouse in Mexico, and when deported, a husband or wife left behind in the United States must decide whether to stay without them or return — an arduous decision to make, especially when a couple has children born and raised in the U.S.
“Deportation is really dividing spouses in ways we haven’t seen in the past,” Dreby said. “And making it extremely difficult for people to maintain relationships without that hope of reunification unless big sacrifices are made.”
Whether a show broadcast to millions is the best way or even an ethical one to resolve any doubts remains an open question.
“I wonder, do producers have the right to prey on and/or expose the unresolved personal histories and emotional vulnerabilities of people who participate in these exchanges?” wrote University of Texas at Austin professor Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez in an email to The Associated Press after listening to the show.
Felipe hadn’t doubted his wife Silvia’s fidelity, despite a half-decade without seeing each other, he told Diaz when he called into the show. But his brother joined him in the U.S. three years ago and recently remarked he’d once seen Silvia out with another man.
“I don’t believe it,” Felipe said, his voice insistent but perturbed. “I know she loves me. I don’t think she’s capable of that.”
Diaz dialed Silvia’s number. After one long and fuzzy sounding ringtone, Silvia picked up. Feigning the voice of a chocolate company saleswoman, Diaz told her about the promotion. Silvia said she didn’t have anyone special to send the chocolates to.
“No one,” Diaz said skeptically. “And who is Felipe?”
Felipe then came on the line.
“You say you love me,” he said in a hurt, mocking tone.
“I don’t deny you,” Silvia said. “When someone asks, I tell them he’s obviously my partner, but he’s in the States.”
Diaz cued a romantic ballad in the background.
“I love you!” Silvia cried.
“Ok, I love you, too,” Felipe conceded after several minutes of back-and-forth wrangling. “But let’s not let this happen again, ok?”
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“This was el Chokolatazo!” Diaz said, returning to his deeper voice. “And you? Are you going to stay in doubt?”
Follow Christine Armario on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cearmario