VIVA Is Founded to Promote Latina and Latino Artists Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Latino lesbian and gay artists in Los Angeles countered a lack of representation in the Los Angeles arts community by founding the organization VIVA, Lesbian and Gay Latino Artists.

Summary of Event

VIVA, Lesbian and Gay Latino Artists, was founded in 1987 as a nonprofit arts organization. Based in Los Angeles, the idea for the organization was conceived by activist Roland (Rolando) Palencia. Palencia had said about the group’s formation that he “had been going to a lot of museums. When I went to the Latino community, not much was gay; when I went to the gay and lesbian exhibits, not much was Latino. I thought: Wouldn’t it be incredible if we had all those creative minds breaking down all those barriers?” Joining Palencia were like-minded individuals, including Mike Moreno (a visual artist), writer Aleida Rodríguez, and performance artists Marcus Kuiland-Nazario and Luis Alfaro. Alfaro would later receive a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the so-called “genius award.” [kw]VIVA Is Founded to Promote Latina and Latino Artists (1987) [kw]Latina and Latino Artists, VIVA Is Founded to Promote (1987) [kw]Latino Artists, VIVA Is Founded to Promote Latina and (1987) [kw]Artists, VIVA Is Founded to Promote Latina and Latino (1987) Latinas/Latinos[Latinas Latinos];art and artists [c]Organizations and institutions;1987: VIVA Is Founded to Promote Latina and Latino Artists[1740] [c]Arts;1987: VIVA Is Founded to Promote Latina and Latino Artists[1740] [c]Race and ethnicity;1987: VIVA Is Founded to Promote Latina and Latino Artists[1740] Palencia, Roland Alfaro, Luis Moreno, Mike Rodríguez, Aleida Kuiland-Nazario, Marcus

VIVA, working at the intersection of nationality, sexuality, Sexuality;and Latino art[Latino art] and art, focused on bringing together and empowering lesbian, gay, and Latino/a artists who had been forgotten by or dismissed from the Los Angeles art community. To increase visibility within the wider LGBT community, the organization also worked with individuals such as gay activist Morris Kight and with organizations such as the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. VIVA also made use of the widely distributed Spanish language newspaper, La Opinión, to address issues of homophobia within the Latino community.

VIVA had the structural and administrative support of Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos (GLLU), the major Latino/a activist group in Los Angeles at the time. By 1990, VIVA was one of the largest gay and lesbian Latino/a groups in Los Angeles, second only to GLLU, with a budget of $120,000 and three employees paid through grant money from the city of Los Angeles, the United States Conference of Mayors, Apple Computers, and gay and lesbian organizations.

Within the first six months of its creation, VIVA’s membership grew from five to fifty artists. The group saw a growing number of nationally recognized, self-identified gay and lesbian Latino/a artists join them, including comedian Monica Palacios, visual artists Miguel Angeles Reyes and Teddy Sandoval, writer Terri de la Peña, and photographers Laura Aguilar and Becky Villaseñor. In addition, VIVA highlighted the work of artists such as Beto Araiza, Paul Bonin-Rodríguez, Cherríe Moraga, Ric Oquita, Gloria Anzaldúa, Nao Bustamante, Al Luján, David Acosta-Posada, David Zamora Casa, and Michael Martínez by hosting performances, readings, and exhibitions. In December, 1988, VIVA featured its first artist by presenting Roberto Ochoa Schutz’s bilingual play Santo Union, which examined issues of coming out and interracial relationships. The following year, VIVA inaugurated an annual awards event.

VIVA hosted a variety of events, including an artists reception series, which held solo events for featured artists, and also an artists roundtable series, which has invited well-known artists to discuss their work and lead workshops for other artists. VIVA also organized a Queer Latino film festival Queer Latino film festival and panel in coordination with OutFest, the annual Los Angeles gay and lesbian film festival. In 1993, the vibrant organization held twenty-one events, and between 1994 and 1995, VIVA also held a residency at Beyond Baroque Literary Center in the Venice district of Los Angeles.

VIVA also produced a literary journal (VIVA Arts Quarterly), VIVA Arts Quarterly which featured Latino artists, poetry, fiction, excerpts of performances, and news about the organization. While largely produced by and featuring VIVA members, the VIVA Arts Quarterly also provided a forum for unaffiliated artists and writers, including Jeanne Córdova and tatiana de la tierra. Journal issue themes included “Food and Fetish,” “Sexy and Spiritual,” “Passion and Protest,” and “Natural/Unnatural.”

VIVA also worked to address the culture and politics of art. It partnered with the AIDS Program Office of the County of Los Angeles to manage a large scale AIDS project that disseminated information about HIV-AIDS HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];Latinos and in the gay, lesbian, and bisexual Latino/a community, primarily through a guerrilla theater project called Teatro VIVA—Early Intervention Program. Teatro VIVA—Early Intervention Program[Teatro VIVA Early] Teatro VIVA used comedic and frank skits to encourage individuals to get tested for HIV. The theater group gave performances at, among other sites, Cal-Arts (an advanced art school) in Valencia, California; East Los Angeles College; the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center; and San Diego City College. The group included actors Frank Castorena, Refugio Guevara, and Ron Sandoval, and the project directors were Monica Palacios and Luis Alfaro, performing the work of Los Angeles writers Guillermo Reyes, Albert Antonio Araiza, Nancy de Los Santos, Rosanna Staffa, Rufugio Guevara, and many others.

To bring visibility to Latina lesbian concerns, VIVA also produced the multimedia event Chicks and Salsa, Chicks and Salsa (multimedia) created by visual artist and poet Dyan Garza and writer and performer Monica Palacios in 1992, and featured performers such as Gina Acuña, Christina Pascal Fernández, and Aida Pineda. Chicks and Salsa, VIVA’s only women-focused production, was the organization’s most successful event. It was often performed in West Hollywood in collaboration with Lesbian Visibility Week.

VIVA remained involved with several LGBT organizations throughout Los Angeles, including Lesbianas Unidas, Lesbianas Unidas, Los Angeles and the National LGBT Latino organization, LLEGO. VIVA also worked in collaboration with Los Angeles city agencies such as the Cultural Affairs Department. VIVA was the organizational chair of the board of the Gay Men of Color Consortium, which included the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, Minority AIDS Project, Asian Pacific Lesbian and Gays, and Bienestar Latino AIDS Center. The Gay Men of Color Consortium produced artwork and literature about health and HIV awareness for people of color.

In 1990, VIVA received the president’s award from Christopher Street West, organizers of the annual LGBT pride event in Los Angeles, and the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Award from GLUU. VIVA received the Artes de México Festival Committee Award in 1991 for the exhibit VIVA’s México: Too Many Centuries of Denial, Invisibility and Silence, and the Community Service Award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a media watchdog group, in 1993.

In the early twenty-first century, VIVA approached the women of Tongues Tongues magazine to resume the VIVA legacy. Tongues, a grassroots cultural organization, addresses the social, cultural, and political issues that especially concern queers and people of color. In 2000, Tongues premiered the electronic magazine Tongues and, in 2001, the print version. Tongues highlights queer women of color writers, artists, activists, and academics, and participates in a number of social justice projects.


From the 1980’s through to the early twenty-first century, VIVA had been deeply involved in the Los Angeles art scene as well as in the gay and lesbian community. When VIVA became one of the largest Latino/a gay and lesbian organizations in Los Angeles, it fulfilled its mission to bring visibility to Latino/a artists who had until then been ignored by the general arts community. Many of the Latino/a artists highlighted by VIVA went on to gain national recognition. VIVA’s successful history demonstrates the need for gays and lesbians of color to form separate groups in which they can address specific issues with the goal of raising awareness in all communities. Latinas/Latinos[Latinas Latinos];art and artists

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Costa, María Dolores, ed. Latina Lesbian Writers and Artists. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Darder, Antonia, and Rodolfo D. Torres, eds. The Latino Studies Reader: Culture, Economy, and Society. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Natural/Unnatural.” VIVA Arts Quarterly (Winter/Spring/Summer, 1995).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Sexy and Spiritual.” VIVA Arts Quarterly (Fall, 1993/Winter, 1994).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">VIVA Papers. University of California, Los Angeles, Chicano Studies Research Center Library. Finding aid available at http://www.oac
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolman, Karen Dale. “Gay y Latino en Los Angeles.” Frontiers, September 28, 1990, 25-31.

1975-1983: Gay Latino Alliance Is Formed

1987: Anzaldúa Publishes Borderlands/La Frontera

Categories: History