Austin remembers Tejano music legend Emilio Navaira

Tejano star Emilio Navaira has died in New Braunfels, Texas. He was 53. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, file)
Tejano star Emilio Navaira has died in New Braunfels, Texas. He was 53. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, file)

Tejano music legend Emilio Navaira, who rose to stardom in the 1980s and 1990s, died Monday in New Braunfels. He was 53.

The San Antonio native helped boost Tejano music’s popularity during the genre’s peak along with artists such as Selena. Later Navaira successfully crossed over to perform country music as well. Last fall, he headlined Austin’s Día de Los Muertos Festival.

“The Tejano industry has lost a major force,” said Baldomero Cuellar, founder and co-host of Rancho Alegre Radio on KOOP 91.7 FM. “Emilio was a major part of the 90s Tejano explosion, and he will be deeply missed.”

New Braunfels police and fire crews were sent to Navaira’s home at about 8:20 p.m. Monday after family members found Navaira unconscious and not breathing, according to a police report. First responders began life-saving measures before transporting Navaira to Resolute Health Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Although an autopsy is pending, the singer is believed to have died of natural causes, according to the report.

“There’s no replacing a legend,” said Ross Gomez, vice president of the Austin Tejano Music Coalition. Gomez remembers Navaira’s enthusiasm and support for the organization when Gomez had to the opportunity to briefly meet and tell him about the coalition’s work. Gomez says there are few artists who can go by just a first name, “but when someone (in the Tejano world) said ‘Emilio’ you knew exactly who that was.”

The Grammy award winner was the lead singer for David Lee Garza y los Musicales before forming his own band. In 2008, the singer almost died after a tour bus accident in Houston. Navaira suffered serious head injuries after being thrown through the windshield of the bus and pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge. Navaira managed to recover and made a career comeback.

“A sudden loss like this is especially tough for Tejano because this genre is like a small town,” said Piper LeMoine, Rancho Alegre Radio co-host. “The fans often get to know the musicians, even the superstars like Emilio, personally. We hire them to celebrate life events like weddings and quinceañeras. They’re at community events and church jamaicas…”

Gomez said you could always count on Navaira to give a great performance and was friendly to his fans while exuding a natural pizazz. “His music will live on forever because legends never die,” he said.

Funeral arrangements are pending.





Cine Las Americas Film Festival boosts attendance, awards top films

American Indian filmmaker Sterlin Harjo presented his latest film "Mekko" at Cine Las Americas.
Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo presented his latest film “Mekko” at Cine Las Americas.

The Cine Las Americas International Film Festival wrapped up this weekend after five days and nearly 100 movies, many  which won’t otherwise get screened in Austin. The festival, which celebrated its 19th edition this year, saw a 33 percent boost in attendance, according to festival board director president Hector Silva.

Film themes included everything from the consequences of deportation to the complexities of young love. At its closing ceremony on May 8, the festival announced its jury and audience awards. Some of the top honors from the jury included:

Best Narrative Feature: Rosa Chumbe, Dir. Jonatan Relayze Chiang, Peru

Best Documentary Feature: Juanicas, Dir. Karina García Casanova, Canada/Mexico

Best Narrative Short: Os Meninos do Rio (Children of the River), Dir. Javier Macipe, Portugal/Spain

Best Documentary Short: Libertad, Dir. Brenda Avila-Hanna, USA

Some audience awards at the festival included:

Best Narrative Feature: H.O.M.E., Dir. Daniel Maldonado, USA

Best Documentary Feature: Juanicas, Dir. Karina García Casanova, Canada/Mexico

A complete list of awards will be online at

In an effort to diversify its offerings this year, festival director Jean Lauer told Austin 360 that the fest will begin incorporating more types of audio visual art including music videos. A selection of cinematic music videos were featured in two popular showcases at the North Door. Local music video directors included AJ Vallejo and Patricia Vonne. Among my favorites included “Cycles of Existential Rhyme,” which was directed by Giovanni Solis and featured a song by the Los Angeles-based outfit Chicano Batman.

The festival continued its powerful selection of indigenous films with its partner the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. A standout film included Sterlin Harjo’s “Mekko,” which beautifully humanized the story of a homeless American Indian man.

Senorita Cinema of Houston presented short films at Cine Las Americas Film Festival 2016.

New to the festival this year was the empowering showcase of short films presented by the Houston-based festival Señorita Cinema, which is the state’s first all-Latina film festival. Notable shorts included “Mis quince,” an autobiographical documentary directed by Brenda Cruz-Wolf. Although, many young girls look forward to their quinceañeras, Cruz-Wolf didn’t and shares a different take into her extravagant celebration.

Closing the film festival this year was Costa Rica’s “Viaje,” a sweet tale of young love reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before series. Its playful nature, memorable dialogue, and undeniable character chemistry set against the backdrop of a gorgeous Costa Rican national park makes it a must-see dramedy.

Next year, Cine Las Americas celebrates 20 years in Austin.



Last chance to catch “Stories of Us” play on Afro-Latinidad

Contributed by Errich Petersen
Contributed by Errich Petersen

Playwright and teaching artist Jelisa Jay Robinson, who is African-American, grew curious about speaking Spanish ever since her father began teaching her a few words when she was in the fifth grade. But when she starting learning the language, she received pushback from some of her classmates.

“Why are you trying to be Mexican?” they asked.

As a young girl, she began exploring cultural identity and remembers searching the phrase “black people who speak Spanish” online. In an Austin360 interview last spring, Robinson said that after discovering Latino reggaeton artists who looked like her but were singing in Spanish she saw that “there isn’t just one way to be black.”

Robinson’s first full-length play, “Stories of Us,” takes an in-depth look at black and Latino relations. Last spring the play was among those chosen for the Austin Latino New Play Festival, which helps emerging playwrights workshop their scripts. After readings of her play resonated with the crowd during that festival, Teatro Vivo is now presenting the full production of the play at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. “Stories of Us,” which is directed by local actress and Salvage Vanguard Theater Managing Director Florinda Bryant, runs through May 8. Thursday-Saturday shows start at 8 p.m. while Sunday matinee shows are at 2 p.m.

“This is our first production that looks at Afro-Latinidad,” Teatro Vivo co-founder Rupert Reyes said in a statement. While they’ve presented other plays over the years that have addressed racism within the Latino community, he said “Stories of Us” has much more depth and insight into the Afro-Latino experience.

Tickets, which range from $12-$20, are available online at

Cine Las Americas International Film Festival kicks off May 4

Peruvian thriller  Magallanes,  which was nominated for Best Latin American Film at Spain s most prestigious film awards, will open the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival.
Peruvian thriller “Magallanes,” which was nominated for Best Latin American Film at Spain’s most prestigious film awards, will open the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival.

For nearly 20 years, the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival has been bringing movies to Austin that you can’t find in most U.S. theaters as well as films featuring important points of views that are regularly missing from the big screen.

Don’t miss the chance to catch nearly 100 films representing 24 countries May 4-8. All films, which will screen at various locations including The Marchesa Hall & Theatre and the Salvage Vanguard Theater, are in English or with subtitles. Find free screenings at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

Cine Las Americas opens on May 4 with a 6 p.m. reception for members and badgeholders at the Marchesa Hall & Theater followed by the Peruvian thriller “Magallanes,” which was nominated for Best Latin American Film at Spain’s most prestigious film awards. The movie tells the story of a taxi driver (Damián Alcázar) and former soldier who serves as a chauffeur for a retired colonel who was his commander. A secret begins to emerge when Celina (Magaly Solier) takes a ride in Magallanes’ cab.

Costa Rican dramedy “Viaje” closes the festival at 7 p.m. May 8 at the Marchesa Hall & Theater. It explores how two millennials who meet at a costume party and spark up a spontaneous rendezvous look at commitment and attraction.

As Cine Las Americas evolves, the fest will make an effort to include other types of audio visual art, said festival director Jean Lauer. Last year, aside from the feature films, documentaries and shorts that are typically screened, they also presented music videos for the first time. This spring, the festival will feature two music video showcases in partnership with the Austin Music Video Festival at The North Door. Local performers Patricia Vonne and AJ Vallejo are among the music video directors featured. Lauer said she hopes Cine Las Americas will eventually also showcase works such as video installations as part of the festival.

For now, new festival partnerships are bringing more diversity to the film selections. Cine Las Americas teamed up with Señorita Cinema, the only Latina film festival in Texas, to present a special selection of 10 Latina-directed short films curated by the Houston-based festival. The roadshow selection will highlight Señorita Cinema’s best films from the past five editions.

Check out the full film festival lineup and ticket information online at