Yolanda Lopez will long be remembered for her bold, important and pioneering work as a Chicana artist. Scholars and Art Historians can and will discuss the relevance and merits of Yolanda’s work and its importance to feminism and Chicana/o representation. For my part I’d like to share a few personal thoughts on my good friend Yolanda Lopez.
I met Yolanda more than forty years ago. Over the years we had a good many conversations and got to know each other fairly well. But it was in these last three years that our friendship grew more in depth.
In 2019 I was in the Bay Area for an extended period and was able to meet with Yolanda several times. What surprised me the most about our getting together was how genuinely happy this made her. In recent years her health had not been good and she needed a cane or walker to get around. Without help, the simple act of walking less than a block to a local Chinese restaurant was extremely difficult for her. Yolanda enjoyed our shared meals and conversations. This personal interaction brought her a certain amount of joy. Because of health issues she was mostly confined to staying at home in her apartment. Her loving son Rio was as attentive as he could possibly be, as were her core group of friends, but I came to understand that many of her days were spent by herself in her apartment. In a way her health had imposed a certain amount of solitude into her life.
That summer I began calling her about once a month. We would talk about any number of things but mostly we just exchanged life stories. Looking ahead, she had a couple of photography and art projects in mind but understood that her delicate health made these projects difficult if not impossible to pursue.
There was one project she was very excited about and felt could be within reach. She hoped to organize a series of dinner parties. Her intent was to invite several women to each gathering. “Sorry Juanito, I’m only going to invite women”. She wanted to bring together women that intrigued her and/or that she perhaps wanted to know better. Artists, writers, community organizers and activists. Individuals that could benefit from getting to know each other. Yolanda would prepare the dinner herself and have the invited guests come to her apartment in the Mission. Each meal would be a springboard for an evening of thought provoking, in depth conversation. The gatherings would be about sharing, networking and mentoring. Yolanda looked forward to having challenging conversations that she would be able to mediate. I believe she intended to conceptually curate the evenings by carefully selecting the mix of guests for each particular dinner. This would insure that a good balance of interests and perspectives would be “brought to the table” in both a symbolic and literal sense. Anyone who knows her body of work understands that Yolanda was never one to shy away from issues of religion, politics, cultural and sexual identity. These dinners would clearly address all these things and much more. She was gleeful just imagining how these evenings would come together.
During one of our calls that summer she told me she had been diagnosed with lung and liver cancer. Her doctor’s said there was treatment available for her condition but no cure. The chemo treatments and cancers began to further ware down her already fragile body. She remained lucid and insightful throughout her treatment but as time went on her mobility became even more limited. She made the most of her home bound situation but the arrival of the co-vid year added to her sense of isolation. The dinner parties along with all the other projects went on permanent hold.
My wife and I were able to visit with Yolanda one last time in June. She fully understood her situation and was accepting of it as much as anyone can be. And being the self-less mom that she was, Yolanda was much more concerned with Rio’s health and well-being than her own.
We took her out to North Beach for lunch, drove around the city a while and later went to see the mural that had been done of her. Her energy was good that day, she was happy. It was a wonderful visit. Before saying good bye, I promised her that I would be supportive of Rio in whatever way I could be and yes we would be there for the big party that would happen in her honor after she was gone.
As we all know, the cancer won out and she is with us now only in spirit and through her art. I like many of her other friends will miss her immensely. Once we live in safer non-covid times I will plan my own version of the Yolanda Lopez Dinner Party. We will bring together friends who will both support and challenge us. We will share a meal, good conversation and each other’s friendship. And we will be sure to leave a place at the table for Yolanda.
Copyright by Juan Garza. Photo of Juan Garza and Yolanda Lopez courtesy of the author.