Story and photos by Jason Keil

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has not sat down as the quarantine continues to drag on.

"It's been nothing but work 24/7," says the 2020 James Beard Award finalist. "When you're on the rollercoaster, there's no time to sit idle. You're just holding on for dear life doing whatever it tells you to do."

And like almost everyone else, the last several months for Esparza have been filled with difficulty, loss, and renewal. Earlier this year, when her restaurant Barrio Café, located on the southwest corner of 16th Street and Thomas Road, was forced to temporarily shut its doors due to health concerns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. As she waited for the curve to flatten, she gathered a group of volunteers and prepared free meals for the community.

But in April, COVID-19 claimed Barrio Café Gran Reserva, the intimate restaurant housed inside the Bragg’s Pie Factory building along Grand Avenue. Filled with stunning work from local artists such as Lalo Cota and Angel Diaz, among others, the loss of her beloved establishment was especially hard on Esparza.

"It meant something to me," she explains. "It was personal."

But this historic moment has allowed the chef to make improvements to her original space. Dubbing it “Barrio Café 2.0,” visitors can expect more than a new menu and a fresh coat of paint. And like she did with Gran Reserva, she continues to make room for local creatives with the petite new art space named WG WALKby Gallery, which also shares its initials with Esparza's business partner Wendy Gruber. As its name suggests, those who want to view the art inside can see the entire space outside when they stroll or drive by, making it accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"It brings some vibrancy to the block," says Esparza. "I was surprised that there really is nothing like it anywhere in the country. We should all have window space to encourage people to walk and encourage art to continue."

Making art available to the public has always been a priority for Esparza. When she was growing up in the early '70s, she remembers how the murals in the village where she grew up in Mexico or saw when driving through downtown Los Angeles influenced her.

And the raising of strong and creative voices continues to have an impact on her life. Ten years ago, she transformed her love of culture and community into space known as Calle 16, a gallery of murals painted in response to the controversial immigration law SB 1070.

"I don't do it to be cool," she says. "Everything I do is to be genuine. It's all about the art and retaining that culture and pride."

The gallery's first exhibit is named Chingona, a collection of portraits of Esparza from her private collection from artists whose work she has loved and supported over the last 18 years, including Abe Zucca, Pablo Luna, and Debra Jones.

"At first I was like, 'This is weird. What am I supposed to do with this [portrait]? Put it up in my dining room,'" says Esparza. "I wanted to show this collection because [these portraits] are done by so many different artists over so many different periods of my life. And you can also see the early work of some of the artists. A few have done two different portraits of me, and you can see the difference in me and the difference in their hand. It's an immense honor."

While the work from Chingona is not for sale, sales of work from future showings will go entirely to the artist, continuing Esparza's commitment to elevating the culture of the neighborhood.

But the renewal of Barrio Café may be short-lived. Esparza says that the restaurant is "on a respirator right now," and it would devastate her to lose all the magnificent artwork inside and outside Calle 16.

"If I lose the building or rent it to somebody else, chances are the art isn't going to stay," she says. "There's a lot of love, heart, and spirit that went into it."


Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

The beginning of the year always seems to bring up sentiments of retrospection and resolution. These types of feelings can range anywhere from accomplishment and pride to regret or remorse. In either case, the feelings we choose to attach to as we review our past 12 months can impact how we will approach the New Year ahead of us.Similarly, once a book has been read, you know it’s time to close the cover and move onto the next story. You’ll forever have the images, emotions and knowledge that you absorbed with you, but until you know it’s time to place that book back on the shelf and move on to the next, you’ll never be able to experience continued growth and expansion of mind, body and spirit as they relate to the characters and topics within those pages.

As you move into your New Year, and look back over the past, you may find yourself in places of judgment, frustration and disappointment along with joy, laughter and a sense of accomplishment.

The important thing is that you allow all those experiences, which have become a part of you, to help you see the upcoming adventure as a positive and exciting opportunity.

This next era of your life has as much promise for discovery, fulfillment and excitement as the opening of a new book as you read it for the very first time. Imagine the possibilities, especially if you have no idea what the New Year is going to mean to you.

Here are some areas of your life that you may want to consider closing the book on in 2016:

  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Unfulfilling lifestyle
  • Only working biceps and chest
  • Sugar and fruit juice
  • Leggings
  • Giving too many f*cks
  • Fear
  • Not being involved with a helping community organization
  • Knowing when it’s time to leave the party

How do you close the book? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I read this book before?
  • Is this story keeping me from reading a new book?
  • Would I be a different character in another story?
  • Am I finished with this story?

If you can answer in the affirmative for all or most of these queries, then it’s time to close the book. “But, how do I …” CLOSE IT! “But, what if …” JUST CLOSE IT!

Don’t forget, not all things that need to be released in order to move forward are bad. Not bad at all! Sometimes a good thing has just run its course and it’s time to appreciate that time and move forward to the next good thing!

The past four years, being a part of the Echo family has provided me with experiences and opportunities I didn’t expect to receive. I have met some of the most inspiring people in our community (whose names may not even be recognized by the majority), I’ve received several illicit phone calls and voice messages from slightly frightening “fans” and I’ve been challenged to continuously educate and re-educate myself in the fields of physical fitness and life coaching. And, much like the ending of another year or the conclusion of a rewarding book, it’s time for me to close this chapter and move forward to the exciting adventures ahead of me.

As I continue with my life coaching practice, and personal training, I have had to learn to take my own advice and make the challenging decisions – and sometimes scary choices – that come with knowing when a book is finished, even when I’m not sure I want the story to end.

So I end this year and move into the next, with so much love and gratitude toward Echo Magazine, its publisher and editor as well as the powerfully supportive LGBTQ community of Arizona. Thank you for allowing me to use my personality and style to speak to for so long, on so many topics. We’ll see each other around town, and you’ll hear from me still …whether you like it or not!

Make 2022, your best year EVER!

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As each state has achieved marriage equality, there’s a wave same-sex couples rushing to legalize and formalize their relationships that follows.

And, if you are one of these blissful Arizona couples, you will need someone to officiate your ceremony. Here are 10 do’s and don’ts to follow as you look for a minister or officiant for your big day:

DO NOT expect that every ordained minister who is gay wants to marry you for free just because you’re gay, too. Although those who are ordained are happy to help you on your special day, it doesn’t mean you should be expected to take away time from their busy lives for free. Gay ordained ministers are professional too, and their time is valuable.

DO expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150 for a ceremony. Some ministers charge by the hour and others by the service, so be sure to ask questions and find out up front what is customary for your minister.

DO NOT ask your minister to provide witnesses. When signing your marriage license, you will need an officiant and two witnesses to sign the document. If you do not have at least two friends who are willing to stand up with you and witness, you might reconsider getting married.

DO make friends with someone besides your Chihuahuas, your cats and your partner.

DO NOT feel insulted if the minister requires at least one pre-marital counseling session. The minister has a responsibility to the sanctity of marriage, their ordaining organization and the state to sign the certificate in good conscious that this union is viable and sustainable. It’s nothing personal.

DO get at least one session of pre-marital counseling. This small investment of time can save you large amounts of heartache, stress and money in the future. Counselors charge less per hour than divorce attorneys.

DO NOT expect your minister to plan and organize your ceremony. It’s YOUR ceremony; the minister is only there to provide a service of ceremony and documentation. Every couple is different in their ideas of what a ceremony should be. So if you don’t know what you want, don’t expect the minister to know for you.

DO get a wedding coordinator!

DO NOT ask an ordained minister to “just sign the marriage license”. They are not Notaries Public who just stamp and sign your much-anticipated piece of paper.

DO one stop shop at the Justice of the Peace if it’s just a legal document for you.

Last, but not least, DO your homework before jumping on the marriage equality bandwagon and DO respect everyone you’re involving in your marriage experience.

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Chad Cochran

Whether it is her songwriting, her performances or her activism in the LGBTQ+ community, Sarah Shook is unwavering when it comes to taking chances, being honest, open and even vulnerable.

Now, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers have released a new song and video of “It Doesn’t Change Anything” in advance of their forthcoming album Nightroamer, out on February 18 via Thirty Tigers.

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