On May 29, René Yañez, a man instrumental in shaping and cultivating the Chicano art scene in the Bay Area, died from prostate and bone cancer at age 75. Yañez, an artist, curator and social justice activist was the co-founder of Galería De La Raza and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Yañez has been curating the beloved SOMArts’ annual Dia de Los Muertos group art show in the Mission District for years. However, he was one of the first curators that presented arts shows centered around Day of the Dead in the U.S. back in the early ’70s. Yañez was also Director of Special Projects and Building Manager at SOMArts.
Rio Yañez, René’s son, posted the news of his death on Facebook and wrote that he had been preparing for this exact moment for the past four years.
Hi Everyone, my Dad passed away this morning about an hour ago. He was surrounded by people who loved him and having…
“Rene is my Father, my creative partner, and my best friend,” Rio writes. “I miss him so much already. These last two weeks have been the hardest of my life but I’ve had a partner and extended family that have taken such great care me. I may be grieving but please know I that feel incredibly loved and supported right now.”
René had been working until the very end. In March, he presented his retrospective exhibition titled “Into The Fade.”
René put on his retrospective all the while receiving weekly infusions of chemotherapy or blood, according to Mission Local.
“The artist, who has lived in the Mission District for most of his adult life, said that when he told his doctor earlier this year that he was thinking of doing a show in the fall, ‘the doctor told me, ‘You’d better do it sooner.’ So I’m doing it sooner.’ He laughed at the thought that he might beat his prognosis. ‘I’m playing this out.'”
His last show included one of his most known works titled “The Great Tortilla Conspiracy” which featured the face of Emma Gonzalez.
The concept behind “The Great Tortilla Conspiracy” is that it brings “the gospel of tortilla art” to the masses.
People took to social media to remember René and all that he contributed to the art scene, social justice movements and to their lives.
Rest In Power. #ReneYanez taught us how to use our art to organize, how to hold space for Chicanos in the art world, how to fight and how to mourn beautifully. Im so grateful for his life. May the ancestors greet him with open arms. #VivaLaMission 🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹 pic.twitter.com/jIc77VZkB8
— nancypili (@nancypili) May 29, 2018
According to an interview in Mission Local, René was born in Tijuana and migrated with his family to San Diego.
René’s family has requested that SOMArts establish a memorial fund in his honor. All proceeds from this fund will be dedicated entirely to continuing René’s legacy of hospitality, beauty and creativity in SOMArts’ garden. Help us honor René by contributing to the memorial fund. We were truly blessed to work with such an incredible mentor, artist and friend for so many years. SOMArts will host a community memorial for René in the coming weeks.
Rene’s coworker at the Somarts Cultural Center said: “You bless all you know and meet by sharing your talents and humor.”
I had the privilege of working with Rene Yanez for over 16 years at SomArts Cultural Center. I miss sharing an office…
Rene was also a military veteran having served in a medical unit during the Vietnam War.
René is remembered as “El Padrino de la Mison.”
Rest In Peace to El Pardrino de La Mision #ReneYanez. I wish I hadn't be so shy and would've spoken to you more when I had the chance. There's SO many of us that wouldn't be here doing what we're doing if you hadn't laid down the groundwork and broken down the doors…
— wonway posibul (@wonway) May 30, 2018
Grammy nominated emcee, DJ, actor, Wonway said that Rene inspired him.
“Que viva René Yáñez!”
Mi hermano, I’am blessed and honored to have had you in my life. I’m going to miss our smoke sessions, chatting about art/politics, and helping you with whatever task at hand. Things won’t be the same, but I will make sure to carry on tradition. You are “El Padrino de la Mission”… Que viva René Yañez!!!
A post shared by dION dECIBELS (@diondecibels) on
Alicia Cruz, has worked with Rene for several years for the Day of the Dead exhibition and said that he took a chance on her and her altar vision.
“He nurtured my evolution as an artist.”
“He was a gentle soul, very personable, lots of humor, he was a guide,” Cruz described Rene.
She says he also inspired her activism.
“He was my social media,” Cruz said. “He would tell me when there would be a march and say ‘you should join us.'”
Adding that “He’s the glue, he’s the heart of the SOMarts.”
An altar has been placed in front of the SOMArts Cultural Center in his honor.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Alicia Cruz
René was once asked what advice he would give to young artist, which he responded with: “Do what you like and be passionate about it, because you can’t be mediocre and be successful at it. Try to be as diverse in your skills, from computers, theater, performance, set design — all different aspects — because if you can’t get one thing, something else will come out.”