We’ve Been Here Before: Julieta Venegas & Rafa Esparza Talk Failure and Survival in the Trump Era

Since its inception, Crossfade Lab (an event series produced by CALA, or Celebración Artística de las Américas) has pushed the boundaries of intersectionality in the arts. CALA is an Arizona-based non-profit that seeks to develop cross-cultural understanding, and the series hosts conversations and art experiences with internationally known Latinx and Latin American creators from Arizona, the United States, and the Americas. The artists who participate in Crossfade Lab work at the confluence of multiple identities, cultures, politics, languages, and media.

Beloved Mexican singer Julieta Venegas and multi-disciplinary artist Rafa Esparza joined Crossfade for its third installment, which took place on Monday, January 30. Esparza’s work encompasses several art forms, including sculpture, painting, and live performance. His creations often involve physically exhausting presentations and installations centered on the making of adobe bricks, produced in collaboration with the artist’s father and others in northeast Los Angeles.

During the event, which was moderated by 2016 MacArthur Fellow Josh Kun, the unlikely duo raised urgent political and social debates through both conversation and performance. In an intimate moment, Esparza tied himself to an agave plant and slowly stepped away from it, as if to remind us that no matter where we are, we are always tied to our roots. As the audience looked on with curiosity, he strategically placed the strings and cords, quite literally transforming his body into an instrument for Venegas to play. She walked up and started playing the makeshift instrument, singing softly and plucking the strings delicately. Her familiar lyrics filled the space, and Rafa’s stunning performance forced us to ask ourselves, “What are we tied to?” and most importantly, “How do we live collectively?”

Their poignant performances and raw dialogue exposed the fear that many might be suffering in silence, consequently creating a space to accept failure. “Experiencing failure communally does something,” said Esparza. In this historical and political moment, we are experiencing collective failure as a society. That sense of defeat, which Rafa and Julieta both shared, transcended this performance and reminded us that as people of color, as queers, as Latinxs – we’ve been here before.

When asked about the current political climate both here in the U.S and in Mexico, Venegas explained that the issue is not Trump, but what he represents. She expressed her admiration for U.S. resistance efforts and what she perceives as a collective willingness to organize. According to her, that sentiment is sometimes hard to find in Mexico, where corruption is rampant, spreading cynicism in civil society. Beyond politics, she shared, our culture and our roots are what unifies us; we are more than hatred and prejudice.

The dialogue also comes at a momentous time for Venegas, who will celebrate the 20th anniversary of her debut album Aquí this year. But true to form, the singer has her eye on the future and the evolution of her career. “I don’t keep count, of anything,” she revealed in an interview. “I’m starting all over again; I’m learning how to write again and enjoying the music and trying to live in the music. What’s done has been done, and now I’m thinking about my new projects, like the music for an upcoming play in Mexico City called Privacy.” Venegas will also embark on an upcoming European tour called Parte Mia, which will feature only a trio. “It’s only the three of us. It’s much more focused on the songs than a genre this time,” she added.

As the dialogue came to a close, moderator Josh Kun quoted the poet Yehuda Amichai. “I believe with perfect faith at this very moment millions of human beings are standing at crossroads and intersections, in jungles and deserts, showing each other where to turn.” As millions of Americans are waking up to the cruel reality that people of color, queer communities, and undocumented folks have experienced for years, Amichai’s quote could not have been more incisive or timely. We have painfully learned to overcome our failures in the movement, and we can do so once more. We can embrace new faces willing join us in conversation or marches and challenge ourselves to keep resisting, with people of color leading the way.