Entertainment

Mexican-American Conductor Jessica Bejarano Is Showing The Power Of Representation In Classical Music

When you think of a conductor for a symphony orchestra, the image of a male suited up with tails and wielding a baton is usually what comes to mind. Mexican-American conductor Jessica Bejarano, who sports multiple tattoos on her arms, is working to change that image to be more inclusive for the multiple communities she is a part of.

Growing up in Bell Gardens in southeast Los Angeles County, Bejarano lived with her single mother and two other siblings. She grew up hearing the sounds of loud gang members and gunshots before she ever heard the notes of classical music.

Jessica Bejarano is taking up space as a Latina woman in the orchestral conductor community.

The 38-year-old told PBS she credits classical music with saving her life.

“Unfortunately kids get arrested, kids are murdered, kids are imprisoned, kids get pregnant. I defied all those odds, I didn’t become any of those statistics because music was always there to keep me on a straight path,” she told PBS’ Chasing the Dream.

Bejarano started playing the trumpet in elementary school through college. However, it wasn’t until she was in an orchestral class at Pasadena City College that she became interested in classical music.

She can even pinpoint the specific piece of music that made her fall in love with classical music.

She told KCRW one rehearsal in college sparked an intense love for classical music when she heard the orchestra play Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

“What is this music, and why is this the first time I’m ever listening to it? It was like an instant spark in my being, in my energy, in my body. I will never forget that evening,” she told KCRW’s Press Play. “I knew at that point, I needed to know more about classical music, and I needed to immerse myself as much as possible.”

She knew that he needed to chase the education that would help her open doors.

From that moment, Bejarano went full force into attaining the education she needed to become a conductor. She went to the University of Wyoming to attain her Bachelor of Music in Music Education and she pursued a Master of Arts in Conducting from the University of California, Davis.

However, her background was questioned by music instructors in her program. It was as if they questioned why someone who looked like her wanted to or thought they could be a conductor.

In an interview with XQsi magazine in 2010, Bejarano shared the shocking statement an instructor made to her.

After sharing her dream to be a conductor, she said the instructor told her, “Are you serious, you really want to become an orchestral conductor? Why don’t you try going down to Mexico, you might have better luck down there,” Bejarano told the magazine. She continued, “It was definitely a hard pill to swallow but the more people told me I couldn’t do it, the more I wanted it. I used that negativity as fuel to push me to where I want to go.”

She did use that negativity to push through and apply to programs for her Ph.D. in conducting and job opportunities to become an assistant conductor.

That was when an opportunity popped up in the city she had always wanted to live in—San Francisco.

Bejarano was offered the job of an assistant conductor for $2,000 a year. After discussing the matter with mentors and friends, she decided to take the job despite the dismal pay and juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“This is my life. This is my career, my passion. No one’s going to take away my right to have the life that I want,” Bejarano told Natalie Morales from ‘The Today Show.’

Bejarano is definitely living the music life she wants.

Aside from being the current music director and conductor for the San Francisco Civic Symphony, she has also been invited to be a guest conductor at concert halls across the country.

She also continues to inspire the LGBTQ+ community in the arts. Although Bejarano told XQsi she had a tough coming out experience of her own, she wants to be a safe haven for others to be included in all areas of music. She has practiced that by being the music Director of VOICES Lesbian Choral Ensemble in Oakland and a guest conductor for the Bay Area RAINBOW Symphony, whose mission is to promote and support LGBTQ+ musicians and composers.

What’s up next for this conductor?

Bejarano wants to crack the glass ceiling of maestros being only men for the largest symphonies in the country. As of now, there is only one female maestra for the top 20 largest symphonies in the U.S.

By continuing to compose a symphony of inclusivity, resilience, and representation in music, we believe she can get there.

READ: Meet The 28-Year-Old Mexican Woman Who Has Just Been Named Best Chef In The World

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The Cast of ‘Glee’ Along With Demi Lovato Paid Tribute to Naya Rivera At the GLAAD Awards

Entertainment

The Cast of ‘Glee’ Along With Demi Lovato Paid Tribute to Naya Rivera At the GLAAD Awards

Photo via Getty

On Thursday, the cast of “Glee” paid tribute to Naya Rivera at the GLAAD Media Awards. Rivera was a once-in-a-lifetime talent the touched so many lives personally and through the screen while she was alive. But perhaps none of Naya’s roles were as impactful as Santana Lopez was.

This year, GLAAD decided to take time to honor the impact Naya Rivera had on LGBTQ representation onscreen.

During a time when LGBTQ represenation onscreen was rare, Santana Lopez was groundbreaking for being both queer and Latina. Santana went from a shut-off closeted cheerleader to an out-and-proud lesbian woman. This was a story arc many queer kids had never seen before.

Demi Lovato introduced the cast of “Glee” with a touching speech. She described how honored she was (and still is) to have played Santana’s girlfriend, Dani, on the show.

“I don’t have to tell you that this year was a tough, tough year,” Lovato said. “A particular moment of heartbreak stands out for me: losing my friend Naya Rivera. I will always cherish the chance I got to play Naya’s girlfriend, Dani, on ‘Glee.’”

“The character Naya played, Santana Lopez, was groundbreaking for closeted queer girls — like I was at the time,” she went on. “And her ambition and accomplishments inspired Latina women all over the world.”

Then, dozens of former “Glee” cast members gathered via Zoom to pay tribute to Naya Rivera.

The tribute featured former “Glee” actors like Darren Criss, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, Amber Riley, Heather Morris, Harry Shum Jr., Jenna Ushkowitz, Chris Colfer, and Kevin McHale. There were also many others.

“Naya would be honored to receive this recognition,” read the statement. “When Naya was told that Santana would be a lesbian she called me to let me know and I asked her how did she feel about that and she said ‘I feel great about it!'”

“This year marks the tenth anniversary that Naya’s character, Santana Lopez, came out on ‘Glee’,” said Dot-Marie Jones, who played Coach Beast on the Fox series.

“Santana basically got disowned by her family. And as alot of us know, that’s a feeling too many LGBTQ kids know too well,” continued Chris Colfer, who played Kurt Hummel.

The loving tribute then ended with a written statement from Naya Rivera’s mother Yolanda Previtire, who couldn’t make it to the call.

“Little did we know that she would impact so many people in the LGBTQ community. Her desire was to always be an advocate to those who did not have a voice.

“She continued: “I don’t believe that she realized how important she was to this world. I am grateful that my eldest daughter helped to change the landscape of how we view and see each other.”

“Her desire was to always be an advocate to those who did not have a voice,” the message read, in part. “I don’t believe that she realized how important she was to this world. I am grateful that my eldest daughter helped to change the landscape of how we view and see each other.”

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Selena Gomez Tells Senate to Pass Equality Act, Credits Gay Community with Launching Her Music Career

Entertainment

Selena Gomez Tells Senate to Pass Equality Act, Credits Gay Community with Launching Her Music Career

After the Equality Act was recently passed in the House, Selena Gomez is now telling the Senate to pass the bill that would give added federal protections to the LGBTQ+ community. The Mexican-American pop star also talked about her history with the gay community and how they helped support her music career.

The Equality Act would extend protections from the Civil Rights Act to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Equality Act was first introduced in 2015. The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to extend protections against discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity when it came to employment, housing, education, and other public and federal accommodations. In 2019, the Senate under President Donald Trump refused to vote on the bill.

The Equality Act recently passed through the House and now Gomez wants the Senate to pass it as well.

In February, the Equality Act was reintroduced to the House of Representatives. The bill passed through the House for a second time on Feb. 25. In a recent interview with the Recording Academy, the institution that hosts the Grammy Awards, Gomez is telling the Senate to vote on the bill this time and pass it through.

“We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years, but we have so much further to go,” Gomez said about the progress of LGBTQ+ rights in the country. “The Senate must pass the Equality Act. It’s absurd that this is even being debated in 2021.”

Gomez says the gay community helped support her 2009 breakthrough hit “Naturally.”

While Gomez was promoting her Latin music EP Revelación, she also revisited a few of her past hits. In 2009, she launched her music career with her band The Scene. Later that year, Gomez got her first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her breakthrough smash “Naturally.” While talking about her relationship with the gay community, she says they were the first ones to show that song love.

“Earlier you mentioned my song ‘Naturally’ and I remember when it was released, it truly started getting played in the gay bars before anywhere else,” she said. “I would hear from older friends that they heard when they went out. I was so jealous that I was too young to be out and dancing to it with everyone. The LGBTQ+ community has been there for me and I don’t take them for granted.”

The Equality Act is waiting to be debated by the Senate. This is Gomez’s first time speaking in support of the bill. Last year, she launched the Black Equality Fund to support groups like the Movement for Black Lives.  In March, she also asked for the Senate to pass the People Act.

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Read: Selena Gomez and Myke Towers’ “Dámelo To’” is Everything: Listen to the ‘Revelación’ Standout

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