CHICAGO — Chicago theater legend Myrna Salazar, known for her fierce advocacy for equity and representation of Latino artists, died last week at age 75.
Friends and colleagues of Salazar, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Chicago, described her as a trailblazer and “a force to be reckoned with.” In 2016, Salazar co-founded and became the executive director of the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance with the aim to boost the city’s local Latino theater community by giving local groups organizational and financial support.
Salazar was also the director of development and marketing at the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, which produces the annual Chicago Latino Film Festival, from 2007 to 2011.
People close to her said uplifting Latino artists through her talent agency and theater work was her passion.
Marty Castro, board chair of Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, said it was an honor to work so closely with Salazar over the past several years, watching her make positive changes in the community.
“She had her own very successful talent agency at a time when Latino talent was not even an afterthought — it was not even considered,” said Castro, who is also CEO of Casa Central and CEO and president of Castro Synergies, LLC. “That was something that really was a hallmark of her entire career.”
Chicago Latino Theater Alliance’s signature program “Destinos: The Chicago International Latino Theater Festival,” an annual citywide festival showcasing Chicago’s Latino theater artists and companies alongside top Latino artists, was Salazar’s “baby,” Castro said.
The festival is meant to bring people together and say, “Hey, we are one giant, Latino theater community that spans all of North America, South America and Central America — let us all come together and celebrate that richness,” Castro said.
The fifth annual festival will be held Sept. 14-Oct. 16. It will be dedicated to Salazar.
In addition to her work with the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, Salazar had a decades-long career in marketing and advertising.
Salazar began her career as an economic development specialist at the West Town Economic Development Corporation and later served on the Chicago Board of Education for five years after being appointed by then-Mayor Jane Byrne. She was also the founder and president of Salazar & Navas Talent Agency Inc, where she helped more than 300 actors, models and spokespersons get contracts.
Miranda González, the producing artistic director at UrbanTheater Company in Humboldt Park, said Salazar had been her agent since she was 13. Salazar was always fighting for González to get a fair contract and feedback on her auditions.
“She fought during a time when intersectionality was not a thing among talent breakdowns,” said González, who is also a producer and a playwright. “You know, if they asked for a Latina, I was too dark. If they asked for an African American, I wasn’t African American enough. She fought. She knew I was a talented person, and she never gave up, even when I gave up.”
González said Salazar was always thinking about other people and how she could support them.
“She was the type of person who knew what it took for her to be heard as a woman in the industry at a time when it was male dominated,” González said. “She knew what that took, and she didn’t want anyone else to go through what she went through. She wanted it to be easier for us.”
“She had grit,” she said. “The amount of grit that woman had — Oh my gosh, I just don’t know where that came from. I really think she was motivated by vision. And she was such a visionary.”
Even when González began to focus on directing and writing, she said Salazar still supported her — although she was disappointed González stopped acting.
“She would show up, and she would tell me what she thought and she would hug me and she would tell me how proud she was of me,” González said. “That’s the person I’m going to miss.”
One of Salazar’s biggest goals with the theater alliance was to build a new theater as a dedicated space that would allow Latino companies and artists to perform, Castro said.
“We are pausing and we’re going to mourn her and celebrate her, but it would be a disservice to her memory if we don’t redouble our efforts to continue to work towards equity because we’re not there yet for Latino theater and ultimately build that house for Latino theater,” Castro said.
Salazar got her bachelor’s degree from the Regent External Program from New York State University and an associate degree from Columbia College Chicago in Broadcast Communications and Arts Management. She also served on the board of Choose Chicago and the League of Chicago Theaters and was a member of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Cultural Advisory Council.
Details about Salazar’s funeral are pending.
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