Myrna Salazar (1947 - 2022)
Myrna Salazar was a Chicago theater legend, known for her fierce advocacy for equity and representation of Latino artists.
In 2016, Salazar co-founded and became the executive director of the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA) with the aim to boost the city’s local Latino theater community by giving local groups organizational and financial support.
In a statement, Heidi Thompson Saunders, the board chair for the League of Chicago Theatres said: “Myrna’s impact on Chicago theater cannot be overestimated. ... Myrna championed Latino theater companies and artists from across the city and brought theaters from all over the Spanish-speaking world to Chicago.”
Ms. Salazar was a staunch advocate for equity and representation of Latino artists on Chicago’s stages. She also was founder and president of Salazar & Navas Talent Agency Inc., which she helmed for nearly 25 years, representing hundreds of Latino actors on stage, in films and television.
It was “the only Latino talent agency in Chicago,” said Henry Godinez, the resident artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre and chair of Northwestern University’s theater department. “She was very devoted to advocating for and promoting Latinx artists, advocating film, TV, theater,” said Godinez, who was a Salazar client for Spanish-language gigs in film and TV. “She was really committed to promoting the culture.”
A native of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, she moved to Chicago at age 10 and graduated from Wells High School. In 1966, she was crowned queen of Chicago’s first Puerto Rican Day Parade, an event threaded into the 2017 Teatro Vista production of Delgado’s “La Havana Madrid” at the 1700 Theatre at Steppenwolf. The character “Myrna” was based on Ms. Salazar, who in real life spent many an evening at the long-forgotten Lake View Supper Club. She helped Delgado’s research with recollections about her crowning, the club and Chicago in that era.
For four years, beginning in 2007, Ms. Salazar also served as the director of development and marketing for the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, which each year produces the Chicago Latino Film Festival. Early in her career she worked as project director for the West Town Economic Development Corp. There she assisted small businesses in getting loans, which helped develop Paseo Boricua, the stretch of Division Street between California and Western avenues that is the center of the city’s Puerto Rican community.
In 1982, Mayor Jane M. Byrne nominated her to a post on the Chicago Board of Education. During five years with the schools, she pushed for bilingual education and lowering dropout rates among Hispanic students. Ms. Salazar also served on the board of Choose Chicago and the League of Chicago Theaters and was a member of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s cultural arts committee.
In 2016, she co-founded the non-profit CLATA, along with the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA), the International Latino Cultural Center (ILCC) and the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance (PRAA). CLATA’s signature program is the annual citywide Destinos International Latino Theater Festival, about which Salazar said in 2021: “These are our stories, our own narratives and our own experiences. They aren’t influenced by a white director who says you have to look a certain way or have an accent when you speak English. We want things that show the value of what it is to be Latino, whether it’s through our history or the flavors we bring to the country. And to put that on stage, it’s very important.”
Salazar got a bachelor’s degree from New York State University and also studied arts management at Columbia College Chicago and the Kennedy Center. Ms. Salazar is survived by her children Yvette Sharp, Iliana Romero, stepson Christopher Dovalina; four grandchildren; and her first husband, Florentino Mitchell. She was preceded in death by her second husband, Cesar Dovalina, former owner of the Spanish-language newspaper, La Raza, and La Margarita restaurants.