Rio was born 34 years ago in San Francisco General Hospital and has been involved with the 24th Street corridor of the Mission ever since. His parents have been artists and activists in the neighborhood for over five decades. He currently works at Somarts, a non-profit arts and cultural center, as a manager and curator. Rio is also a photographer and graphic artist, most recently known for his Ghetto Frida Project and as a founding member of The Great Tortilla Conspiracy.
Rio’s mom Yolanda Lopez is a legendary Mission artist and social justice activist. She is a third generation Chicana born in San Diego in 1942. Yolanda awoke to social justice work as a student at San Francisco State University:
“I did not become aware of our own history until 1968 when there was a call for a strike at San Francisco State, a strike for ethnic studies. I heard the men and women that led that Third World Strike speak and I understood at that point what my position was being part of this long legacy of being part of the oppressed people, just like Black people. In 1969, there was an incident in the Mission District where seven young men were accused of killing an undercover policeman. And I had joined a Chicano group after the San Francisco State strike and we became Los Siete De La Raza (The Seven of the People) after that incident. I was interested in learning how to draw, so when to Los Siete (The Seven) to be a part of them, all of a sudden there was a need for the tools that I had, my ability to draw.” (Latinopia.com)
Yolanda’s work is extensive and various biographies can be found about her, including a recent book by Karen Mary Davalos, “Yolanda M. Lopez”, UCLA, (2008).
Yolanda’s latest work is an installation Home Studio: Eviction Scene Investigation, 27th Annual Sólo Mujeres Exhibit: HOME/Inside Out, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (March 12-April 18, 2014); a collaboration with Adriana Camarena (Unsettlers), involving enlarged copies of her Ellis Act eviction papers and a “murder board” used to riddle out the parties responsible for her egregious eviction. This installation was followed by Eviction Garage Sale, La Galeria de la Raza, (May 3-4, 2014); a collaboration with her son Rio, in which they put their home belongings up for sale. The space became a market in which Buyers and Sellers participated in the eviction process of a legendary Mission artist. In a third installment, Yolanda will try to find a home.
About the family’s eviction, Rio explained to Mission Local (10/2/2013):
“Rent control is what afforded my parents with the opportunity to live in this city and make art. Being an artist means they have no savings, no retirement, no health care. They live check to check. For their dedication to art, that’s where they are. With elderly people like them, with limited income, this essentially makes them homeless.”
The eviction comes at a particularly difficult time because both [Rene] Yañez, who is 71, and his partner, Cynthia Wallis, have terminal cancer.”
Rio’s dad Rene Yañez is a living Mission legend with worldwide acknowledgement for his artistic contributions to Chicano art, as an artist, curator, and supporter of grassroots organizing. Rene significantly influenced the sense of place of the Mission District by participating in the founding of essential cultural institutions and traditions, as well as by influencing cityscapes such as the redesign of the 16th Street BART plaza. Various biographies can be found about Rene Yañez, all of them highlighting his contributions to developing the arts in the City:
“René Yañez galvanized a large community of Latino and Chicano artists and their allies from all communities. The list of artists he supported at early stages of their careers reads like a who’s who of internationally-recognized Latino artists, including Rupert García, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Ester Hernández, Yolanda López, Carmen Lomas-Garza, Enrique Chagoya, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Gronk, and ASCO. Active as both a visual and performance arts curator and artist, Yáñez co-founded the successful Chicano performance trio Culture Clash. In 1998, he received the “Special Trustees Award in Cultural Leadership” from the San Francisco Foundation for his long-standing contribution to the cultural life of the Bay Area.” (Artist profile, La Galeria de la Raza website.)
Rene’s most recent work is his first zine Zine a la Mode: Over a Pot of Coffee (2014), limited edition work available at Alley Cat Bookstores on 24th Street in the Mission. Zine a la Mode provides a topsy turvy visual and lyrical narrative of street and art culture in Mission, with references to its erosion by gentrification.
Rene Yañez lives with lifelong partner, Cynthia “Kiki” Wallis. Kiki was born and raised as a fifth generation San Franciscan. She is a successful photographer and mixed media print artist. Previously, Cynthia worked for 20 years as a director and producer, and original founding member of the Asian American Theatre Company (1974-1994). Kiki is also known for her documentation of visual and performative artists and art works in the Mission and City art scene. During her recovery from cancer, Kiki has been working on a children’s book titled “Rum Tum Tum” based on “Picture Book Parade”, a song composed by her grandfather Joe McKierman (a songwriter in the 1920s).