In a collaboration between Las Ofrendas and Frida Friday ATX, Viva la Vida was a celebration of love, life and freedom.

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By Cy White, Photos by Cy White

On Friday, July 23, in collaboration with Frida Friday ATX, Las Ofrendas founder TK Tunchez and her incredible staff gave Austinites an unbelievable experience. It was a night of celebration for iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. From the art gallery on the back patio of Lustre Pearl South to the revolving DJs, Viva la Vida Fest was most certainly a sight to behold.

A word on the venue. Lustre Pearl South boasts an expansive bar and impressive dancefloor in front of a small stage. The intimacy of the space lends itself to an overwhelming feeling of warmth. This was like being invited to a neighborhood cookout and everyone you meet heaps more food onto your plate. Walking outside into the sights, smells and sounds of the balmy evening, one almost instantly forgets the 100-degree weather. Heat that’s nearly stifling before walking in transforms into a comfortable warmth. A feeling of peace that starts on the skin, in the hands and arms, then moves inward. It’s warmth that fills those in attendance with unparalleled comfort.

Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights

Once past the entrance, a panel of four remarkable women greets attendees. The discussion: the future of abortion rights and woman’s health in the wake of Roe. Austin Justice Coalition Deputy Director Rockie Gonzalez acts as MC and provides solid, earnest commentary throughout. The panel consists of Travis County Judge-elect and July cover woman Denise Hernández; Lucie Arvallo, policy assistant at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice; and Avow Texas ED Aimee Arrambide.

Each of these women is a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to safe reproductive health. They’re adamant about advocating and fighting for women who choose to get an abortion. Arrambide, in particular, drives home the point that we must be intentional about the language we use. This is, of course, a battle for reproductive justice. We must be as comfortable saying the word “abortion” out loud. At least as comfortable as those who are dedicated to ripping women’s right to abortion away. She cites a study that noted those opposing a woman’s right to abortion access say the word at least 40 times more than those in support of it.

Hernández implored the audience to support nonprofit organizations working tirelessly in this fight. We are in this together and have an obligation to protect, support and fight for the basic human right of choice. Autonomy of body and mind. Freedom to be and do with our bodies as we see fit. “Our liberation is intertwined.” These words Arvallo spoke left an immense impression. We are each others business, and we must honor ourselves and the women and womxn-identified bodies around us. Whether it directly affects us or not, in the end we are fighting for human rights. Liberation is always relevant, especially when there’s one side hell-bent on taking it away.

Frida for Freedom

Opening Viva La Vida Fest with this discussion is apt. The festival isn’t only a chance to honor a hero of art and culture. This is a chance to give reverence to a woman who needed reproductive rights to survive. To celebrate an out and proud Communist, disabled revolutionary who used her gift and her voice to fight for the voiceless.

Moving outside, one is assailed with the savory smells of several food trucks. The colors of the multitude of booths selling everything from art to poetry to clothing, promoting health services and advocacy for survivors and victims of abuses to their humanity. There’s a visceral energy in the space, the heat an afterthought. That feeling of home, of family, of freedom. It floods the senses once again.

¡Viva la Música!

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The music pulsates, crawling up the spine and forcing everyone to move. Everything from salsa to cumbia, reggaetón to merengue. This is a time to dance. And dance we did! I talk about “small stages,” but the size of the stage is irrelevant. When a community comes together in celebration, the body thrums with frenetic energy. The sounds of merengue overwhelm everyone, and soon couples alight the stage. Solo dancers feel the rhythms in their souls and congregate to join in the joy.

Soon, pockets of dance circles pepper the back patio. People form cyphers. Cheers resound. When the spirit moves them, folks jump in the middle for their 15 to 30 seconds of pure elation. All of this before the main performers hit the stage.

The scene that greets us: all-female mariachi band Mariachi Las Coronelas. Founder, lead singer and violinist Vanessa del Fierro is absolutely unreal. Her voice radiates far beyond the stage’s confines. Her presence and powerful voice stretch like arms open wide for an embrace. She has everyone mesmerized from the moment she steps to the front of the stage. Guitarist Stacey Mazuca Alcorta, trumpetist Stacy Sauceda and bassist Sofia Gonzalez join Fierro. Each sings with power, conviction and absolute fire.

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Mariachi Las Coronales lead singer and violinist Vanessa del Fierro
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Mariachi Las Coronales

As with the panel that opened the festival, each of these women is dynamic, powerful and has fire in their hearts. When they go into a sweeping rendition of Buika classic “Volver, Volver,” the audience is wrought with emotion. Each song, even a compelling version of “El Polo Loco” from Disney modern classic Coco, invigorates us. Each person throws themselves into the songs. Warmth, family. We are all one, bound by the power of music.

For Frida!

The event continued well into the early morning. The most prominent takeaway from the event is this. Viva La Vida fest is more than the celebration of an iconic artist. This is a time of fellowship. A moment where each of us, no matter our backgrounds, come together to commemorate life. Frida Kahlo was about life. Hers was wrought with tribulations, pain. But in the end, she beacon of light in the darkness. On this night, we embraced life. Became one soul, one heart, one voice raised in protest, in triumph, in joy. For life! For Frida!

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