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Jesse Tafalla Jr., North Texas leader, remembered as tireless advocate and humorous friend

Fabián Aguirre
Courtesy of David Lozano, Cara Mía Theatre
Jesse Tafalla Jr. advocated for the arts and served on the board of Cara Mía Theatre. He died June 6 at the age of 60.

Jesse Tafalla Jr. wasn’t required to attend every performance of Cara Mía Theatre.

But Tafalla, a board member of the Dallas theater, was there regularly, showing guests to their seats or introducing them to members of the theater company.

“He would come to shows and greet audience members and greet them with so much enthusiasm and care and tell them stories, jokes...” said Executive Artistic Director David Lozano. “He was just that kind of person that made you feel at home.”

Tafalla died this week at the age of 60. Lozano and others said his death is a huge loss for the North Texas community, where he was a fierce advocate for the arts, LGBTQ rights and Latino issues.

A candlelight vigil is scheduled for tonight, June 8, at Havana Bar & Grill in Dallas beginning at 7 p.m.

Lozano, who worked with Tafalla for 20 years, said he admired his ability to connect with a diverse group of people.

“He was everywhere all the time, constantly volunteering, constantly supporting causes and bringing people together for the greater good,” Lozano said.

Tafalla’s love for theater and political activism wasn’t surprising. His father, who died in 2012, was president of Teatro Dallas and helped found the Latino Cultural Center and the Dallas Mexican American Historical League. Tafalla often told people he wanted to continue his father’s legacy.

“What really made him special for us was that Latino theater was a foundation for him,” Lozano said. “Latino theater is an opportunity for us to understand who we are and to begin to form our identity as participants in this greater society. And he and Jesse Jr. mobilized that opportunity.”

Reynato de los Santos had also known Tafalla for two decades. Together they worked on various causes in the Latino community. He said his friend had a “superpower.”

“I say superpower because Jesse was someone that could work with disparate parts of community who maybe sometimes were feuding or upset with each other,” de los Santos said. “He could bring them together to see the bigger picture and get peoples that maybe wouldn’t work together otherwise to do just that for the benefit of the greater community.”

Tafalla’s accomplishments included serving as president of the Dallas LULAC Rainbow Council, LULAC’s first LGBTQ chapter. De los Santos said one of his last conversations with Tafalla was about recent anti-trans legislation, an example of how Tafalla was always thinking of others.

“Everything we saw here in Austin [during the legislative session] with the attack on our trans sisters and brothers, that really hurt him,” de los Santos said. “He reminded me that we have to make sure that we do not allow these new laws to be signed into law and put into effect for long. That we have to rescind them. We have to fight back.”

Despite all of his connections and accomplishments, friends said Tafalla remained humble and never stopped making people laugh, cracking jokes in the middle of a tense board meeting or in the middle of a march.

Anyone who met him or interacted with him on social media would often be greeted with Tafalla's famous line: "Hey, don't I owe you a drink?"

Indeed, several people who've paid tribute to Tafalla on his Facebook page have mentioned that, adding they owe him one.

The visitation and rosary service will take place June 15 at González Funeral Home and Crematory in Dallas. Public viewing will be from 4 to 8 p.m. and the rosary at 6:30 p.m. A funeral service will be held June 16 at 10 a.m. at Calvary Hill Cemetery.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.