One day in 2008, Rigo Maldonado went out to eat with his friend, L.A. nightlife promoter Ignacio “Nacho” Nava Jr., when the murder of Larry King came up.
King was the 15-year-old Oxnard student whom a classmate had just killed for being gay. The death had rattled Nava, who was slowly becoming famous for curating some of the best LGBTQ underground events in Southern California.
“Nacho said, ‘We need to do something about this kid,’ ” says Maldonado, a Santa Ana-based artist. So the two gathered a group of friends and headed to King’s funeral. They introduced themselves to the slain teen’s family, who expressed shock and gratitude that any strangers would even care.
“That’s how Nacho was,” Maldonado said. “He was always like, ‘Let me help you, let me know how to help you, or let me be there.’ ”
Nava, who went on to become an icon for LGBTQ people of color and performance artists in Southern California, died Jan. 19 after a short bout with pneumonia. He was 42.
The West Covina native was one of the founders of Mustache Mondays, an LGBTQ-centered club promotion that started in 2007 and sought to distinguish itself from the West Hollywood party scene by highlighting the intersectional, multicultural Los Angeles he and so many others lived in.
Mustache Mondays bounced around different locations in downtown Los Angeles before finding its groove at La Cita, a long-standing Latino bar next to the Grand Central Market that soon became internationally famous for its welcoming, trend-setting bohemia — fueled in large part by Nava’s vision.
Here, drag queens mixed with club kids, fashion designers collaborated with musicians, writers found characters for blogs and columns, and people of all ethnicities mingled on the ever-pulsing dance floor. Tracks dropped by electronic-dance marquee artists like Diplo and DJ Rashad fused seamlessly with the cumbias and R&B of Southern California street life.
He provided a home for all the weirdos.
The night was also an incubator for emerging artists whom Nava championed, like producer duo Nguzunguzu, singers Kelela and Maluca, and Total Freedom. The latter DJ once produced a mix called “Life Loves Nach” that ended with six minutes of voicemails from Nava’s friends expressing their love for him over a shimmering swirl of house music.
The beats served as the soundtrack for art installations, drag shows and vogue sessions. Celebrities such as Florence Welch of indie-rockers Florence and the Machine and Yoko Ono popped in on occasion.
And in the middle of it all was Nava.
“He provided a home for all the weirdos,” Maldonado said. “We got to meet each other, when we really didn’t have direction. This beautiful magic happened at Mustache [Mondays] that can’t be described. He curated a space for each to be their own person.”
Nava developed his love of art and events as a yearbook photographer at Bassett High School in La Puente, where he was tasked with covering school dances. His scholastic work earned Nava a scholarship to the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, but friends say he found his true calling in the lofts of downtown Los Angeles in the early 2000s, right when the scene was about to explode.
They remember someone who opened up his place to people kicked out of their houses for coming out, who’d help to pay for someone’s college tuition and donated to art programs for disadvantaged youth. “He was a darling that way,” said photographer Danny Gonzalez.
The two, along with other friends, began Mustache Monday. From the start, Nava emphasized that the event focus on people of color and the full spectrum of the LGBTQ experience — nonbinary, gender-fluid and more — at a time when mainstream club nights largely shunned those groups.
“Other clubs you have these white, shiny go-go boys, and these representations of gay culture that just aren’t what our world is about,” he told an online publication in 2017. “There’s so much incredible … out in the world to discover. It’s baffling why you wouldn’t want to support and feature that. The dumbing down of gay culture really disgusts me.”
“It wasn’t a stereotypical, L.A.-superficial place,” said longtime collaborator Anita Herrera, an event producer specializing in music, fashion and lifestyle. Together, the two held club nights that raised funds for victims of Hurricane Maria and earthquakes in Mexico. “He provided another lens to our experience. It was a place where a part of L.A. was being created and fostered.”
But nightlife was just part of Nava’s creative repertoire. Last spring, he was one of the curators for a monthlong series of LGBTQ films screened around Los Angeles. In the summer, he co-staged “Dolores: Our Lady of the 7 Sorrows,” a theater production in which performers who included musicologists, choreographers and vocalists interpreted the Seven Sorrows of Mary, a popular Catholic devotion.
And in October, Nava served on the host committee for a fundraiser benefiting the ONE Archives Foundation, a nonprofit that helps to document LGBTQ history.
Nava is survived by his father, Ignacio Sr., mother Diana Mayer, brothers Robert, Angel and Giovanni, and sister Vee Beltran.
Friends created a GoFundMe account to raise funds for nonprofits that address homelessness, LGBTQ issues and arts — three favorite Nava causes. A public celebration of his life will be held Sunday at Resident DTLA.
“He was a natural-born producer,” says Herrera. “A natural. It just came easy to him.”