Pansexual artists reveal murals in San Jose as a city ravaged by tragedy

San Jose’s Qmunity District unveiled its first mural on April 30th as members of the South Bay LGBTQ community continued to mourn a transgender woman and drag performer who was killed last week.

As the Bay Area reporter previously reported, Natalia Smut Lopez, 24, from San Jose was killed on April 23. The 22-year-old Elijah Cruz Segura, with whom she was romantically involved, according to prosecutors, was officially charged with murder on April 29, yet no plea. Lopez was featured in the mural, and her family was in attendance at the lunchtime press conference to unveil the 864-square-foot public art that sits on the side of the Splash Video Dance Bar on the corner of Lightston Alley and Post Street.

Post Street is the anchor of the Qmunity District, which, as the BAR previously reported, was officially designated in September 2020. At this point, plans for the mural were first announced.

Wall painter Houyee Chow. Photo: Screengrab

The two artists behind the mural – Nick Ybarra and Houyee Chow – are both pansexual young people.

“I want to say how grateful I am to be able to create art in this beautiful space,” said Ybarra. “I was in fifth grade when same-sex marriage was legalized and blinded to the history of the gay community and raised in our own backyard in San Jose.”

Chow said while the mural is supposedly about the strange history of South Bay, it wanted to blur the lines between past and present.

“I thought we were literally embodying and showing people who are still alive today. That’s why we openly called the queer people in Silicon Valley and depicted them in this mural,” said Chow.

Vanessa Singh, Lopez’s sister, spoke briefly to thank the LGBTQ community in South Bay for their support over the past week.

“Everyone made this time so much easier,” said Singh. “This has to stop. We are all one; we are all human and there is no reason why human beings should fear for their lives.”

Lopez is the 16th victim of transgender violence in the United States this year, according to Project MORE Foundation, a nonprofit service provider serving LGBTQs in South Bay.

“I know my sister will be a memory forever and I thank you for taking the time to see it,” added Singh.

Ybarra said he was “very happy that we were able to record [Lopez] and commemorate their beautiful heritage “in the mural.

Ken Yeager, executive director of the BAYMEC Community Foundation and the first openly gay elected official to serve in Santa Clara County, also offered condolences.

“I too would like to express my condolences to Natalia’s family and work in solidarity with all of you so that these types of horrific crimes no longer continue,” said Yeager, who previously served on the San Jose City Council and Santa Clara County Board of superiors.

Yeager said he hopes the mural will raise awareness of the history of the South Bay LGBTQ community, which he says young people sometimes assume has never had a great past.

“It’s not that it’s been forgotten, it’s that people aren’t aware of it,” Yeager said. “You’re talking to younger queer people today and they don’t know anything about what happened down here.”

Yeager is working to preserve South Bay’s LGBTQ history. He is also working to bring some of this content to an exhibition at History San Jose and “a documentary that we hope can be shown in schools.”

“There are so many stories that need to be told; we just haven’t told them,” said Yeager.

District 3, San Jose city councilor Raul Peralez, who announced its mayoral campaign earlier this week, said the mural unveiling was a celebration.

“Today we can celebrate how far Post Street Pride-ification has come,” said Peralez. “This beautiful, vibrant mural adds to the safe haven and inclusion of this community. I hope people continue to learn more about the history of the LGBTQ + movement.”

After a moment of silence in honor of Lopez, Sera Fernando, an odd trans woman who works as a senior management analyst in the Santa Clara District LGBTQ office, delivered an engaging speech that linked the mural to the current struggles.

“Just look at what’s behind me and the beauty of this mural – this symbolic representation of how diverse and beautiful our LGBTQ community is in San Jose, South Bay,” said Fernando. “I’m so proud that queer artists created this.

“There are a lot of things we need to do better to create more compassion and understanding for the LGBTQ community, for racial justice and for transgender women,” she continued. “I want to thank Natalia’s family for being here today.”

Qmunity District Creative Supervisor Vanny Pareno announced that the unveiling of the murals was just the start of a weekend of “art and community activism” in the district, including an art walk and mural party. Community members from all backgrounds are invited to paint part of a second mural to welcome the public to the district.

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