Performer recalls mother as close friend who shared his interests

From the day he was born, performer David de Alba has considered his mother, Tila Garcia, to be his biggest fan. Though she died in 2008 at age 92, she lives on through de Alba’s tribute shows and in his heart.

“She was a pillar in my life,” said de Alba, whose real name is Heri Garcia Jr. “I felt like the umbilical cord never (detached). When she died, it was like a car without brakes or a little boy trying to hold onto a kite.”

Garcia and de Alba held a close mother-and-son relationship. She taught de Alba about music and playing the piano, and in turn, de Alba served as his mother’s hairstylist and makeup artist for more than 40 years.

“Out of 10 things, we got along with eight,” de Alba said. “We had a love for animals and used to rescue dogs and birds nobody wanted. We loved real estate and would buy houses in California, fix them up and sell them. She liked romantic things and walking in the neighborhood. In a lot of things, we blended.”

Garcia and de Alba differed somewhat in personality, he said. While de Alba was – and still is – comfortable performing for audiences as a Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli impersonator, Garcia was more quiet and reserved. She had a love for helping others learn, spending her early teaching years at a private school in Cuba for the mornings and a public school in the afternoons. She eventually moved to Illinois, where she taught Spanish at Mundelein College in Chicago and Niles West High School in Skokie and earned her U.S. citizenship along the way.

After de Alba graduated from American Beauty College in Chicago, he moved to San Francisco to open the Heri the Hairstylist salon. Garcia and her husband, Heri Garcia Sr., moved to the Bay Area to be closer to de Alba. When she retired from teaching, Garcia became the salon receptionist.

Being geographically closer to his mother, de Alba said, strengthened their bond. She was able to watch him perform at the Finocchio Club and became his biggest supporter and critic. It was through her suggestions and feedback that he learned not only how to improve his performances but how to improve in other aspects.

“She was always helping and always contributing to my shows,” de Alba said. “She taught me (to have) respect to other people. That’s something she instilled in me from the beginning. She taught me to be kind and it would come back to me.”

Garcia moved into de Alba and his partner, Paul Ryner’s, house in 2005 when her husband died. The two men did everything they could to make Garcia’s downstairs bedroom comfortable and feel like her previous home.

“When we purchased our home in 2004 here in Las Vegas, we selected it partly because it had a large separate suite downstairs,” Ryner said. “We wanted her to be comfortable and to never feel she was imposing on our space.”

De Alba said Ryner was like another son to Garcia. The three of them often went to dinner and events together on a weekly basis. It was de Alba, though, who spent more time with his mother than anybody up until her death. Since then, coping with her passing has been a daily struggle.

“The absence has been the hardest thing for me,” de Alba said. “I miss having the person who is so compatible with me. Walking around here outside, I miss that part. I miss when she would say, ‘Let’s go out to eat.’ If we were not as close, it would have been easier.”

Garcia’s death has made an impact on de Alba’s performing. He dedicates each show to her, including a full tribute to her and the Finocchio Club slated for 3 p.m. June 17 at the Onyx Theatre, 953 E. Sahara Ave., Suite 16. He does what is necessary to keep her memory alive through performing.

“I try to look as nice as I can because I have her blood and my father’s blood running through me,” de Alba said. “Now, when I sing, I do it better because I know what a broken heart feels like compared to when I had a pillar (like) my mother.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at or 383-4686.

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