Welcome to KQED Arts’ Women to Watch, a series celebrating 20 local women artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries in 2016. Driven by passion for their own disciplines, from photography to comedy and every other medium in between, these women are true vanguards paving the way in their respective communities.
Music has been a lifelong presence in singer-songwriter Diana Gameros’ life, from a childhood start in her hometown of Ciudad Juárez to a career opening for Latin superstars such as Ximena Sariñana and the La Santa Cecilia band. Despite the struggles she’s encountered along the way — Gameros has spent 13 years struggling for legal immigration status — music continues to be a personal outlet, one that has brought comfort both to herself and to the Bay Area community she calls her home.
Where do you live?
Describe yourself in one word?
What did you do last night?
I read Papeles Falsos by Valeria Luiselli.
What can’t you live without?
A pen and a little notebook.
If you could travel any where in the world, where would it be?
Ciudad Juárez, my hometown, so I can visit my family’s home, where I grew up.
Who is your personal hero? Why?
My mother. She is a warrior, and one of the most integral and congruent people I know.
How did you find your creative voice?
I played music since I was a little girl. Expressing myself through music always felt good in my body and in my heart, so I continued doing it. I majored in piano performance in college, and when I moved to the Bay Area I transitioned into writing my own songs and playing them on guitar. Singing my stories has become a natural way to connect with myself and with others.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
Most people don’t know that I played basketball for almost eight years as a teenager. My piano teacher lived in constant fear for my fingers! And I’m still a pretty good three-point shooter.
What do you do when you feel uninspired?
Depending on the severity of the block, I can go from just drinking a cup of coffee, to taking a deep breath and start with one word and one chord, to having to meditate or go out to nature. If I can’t go out to nature, sometimes just spacing out by looking at the trees in my backyard or watching the birds from my block fly and go about their little simple and free lives brings me back to my own truth of simplicity, lightness and freedom. Then I can connect to what’s really important and get to the creative work.
What’s been your biggest ‘learning moment,’ and what did you you take from that experience?
My biggest learning moments have all dealt with committing to things too soon, speaking too much, anticipating outcomes, disconnecting from my present and my center, and therefore ending up doing things out of fear, not out of love. Through those experiences I have been learning to take my time, to quiet my mind so I can really listen to my wise inner voice.
What’s your greatest achievement and how has it shaped you?
An achievement I hold close to my heart is wanting to be able to make music for life. I graduated from a music college with a 3.9 GPA — despite being “in the shadows” as an undocumented student and having to work 50 hours a week to be able to pay for tuition — and am now making a living as a musician. This achievement allowed me to recognize that we humans have the power to do anything we dream of, if the reasons behind wanting to achieve this dream come from a place of love.
Coffee or tea? What kind?
Coffee — I try different kinds each time, we’re in coffee land! I have a bag of Peruvian organic beans roasted in San Francisco by Jeremiah’s Pick in my pantry right now.
What does a perfect day look like for you?
Any day that I can be “in the zone” or “plugged in” turns out to be perfect. It doesn’t really matter what I do or what happens, everything looks and feels right. Another close-to-perfect day, less subjective and less “new age” (see what living in Berkeley does to people?!): doing my daily rituals (breathing exercises, yoga, read, music practice, catch up with computer work), with time left to go for a walk in the woods, make a good meal at home, eat it with my lover and play with my cat.
Who are your local inspirations?
Ah, so many! The birds from my neighborhood that visit my garden; the trees at Redwood Regional Park; Juanita Hernandez, a friend and cook who worked at Roosevelt Tamale Parlor; Sarah Farzam, from Bilingual Birdies; photographer Hanna Quevedo; Karl Kramer, from SF Living Wage Coalition; author Anne Lamott; Jeremy Rourke and his stop-motion animated films; and visual artist Favianna Rodríguez.
Kimchi soup a la Mexicaine (Mexican touch: extra chile guajillo, potatoes, carrots, avocado squares, lime, with tortillas).
What upcoming show are you excited about?
On July 23 at SFJAZZ’s Joe Henderson Lab as part of the Mex-I am Festival, I’ll be performing two shows with my trio — Patrick Wolff on clarinet and sax and Thomas Edler on upright bass. We don’t get to play together very often so I’m excited to be making music with them soon. And Dec. 1 at YBCA!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Traveling extensively through Mexico and South America, performing, making new friendships and writing new music.
If you could live in a book, TV show, movie, play or painting, what would it be?
I’d live in Eugene Landesio’s painting The Valley of Mexico from the Hill in Tenayo, or in the book Demian by Hermann Hesse.
Where and when can people see you or your art in action?
In places that go from small cafes and wine bars to art houses and big auditoriums. Dates are on my website at dianagameros.com.
Check out KQED Arts’ profile on Diana Gameros and her work below:
Curious about who else made the list? Check out the Women to Watch series page, including photo galleries, interviews, and videos.