Global Freedom of Expression

Interview with Vivir Quintana

Key Details

  • Region
    Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Themes
    Gender Expression, Press Freedom, Violence Against Speakers / Impunity

Vivir Quintana, a Mexican singer, songwriter, and activist, is one of the most influential voices in Latin America today. Her songs demand freedom and justice for women and girls, for human rights defenders and journalists. When Vivir performed at our 2024 Prize Ceremony this past spring, the CGFoE team and guests gave her a standing ovation. 

Anderson Javiel Dirocie De León, Legal and Program Consultant at CGFoE, recently interviewed Vivir Quintana about her art, activism, and vision of freedom of expression. Below is a translation from Spanish by CGFoE’s Program Coordinator Estefanía Mullally. You can find the interview in the original here

Vivir Quintana performs at the 2024 CGFoE Prize Ceremony.
Photo credit: Juan Manuel Ospina Sánchez/CGFoE

“Mexican singer and songwriter, feminist activist, author of the feminist anthem ‘Canción sin miedo’” are perhaps some of the first pieces of information we would have when asking who Vivir Quintana is. How would you define yourself, your art, and your activism?

I define myself as a Mexican woman, norteña [from the north of Mexico], normalista [teacher trained in a normal school], and composer who has tried to comprehend empathy towards other people. My activism is through music and my lyrics. I try to leave messages of love, resistance, and peace in each of them.

From a very young age, you showed an interest in music: At 12, you were playing the guitar, and at 17, you started formal music studies. In this process, how did Vivir, an artist from a very young age, also become an activist who uses her artistic talent to advocate for issues of great social impact?

I realized that music is a tool that can be used to share messages, so I wanted to use my voice, my guitar, and my creativity as a service to give volume to the petitions and cries for justice to people who do not have the visibility or the opportunity to show their voices. I feel that I am a microphone that amplifies the messages of those who suffer from various forms of violence.

At the celebration of our 10th Anniversary, you performed “¿Quién cuida al pueblo?”/“Who takes care of the people?” What motivated you to write this song?

I was motivated by the realization that being a journalist in Mexico is one of the most dangerous jobs to work in. One of the cases that most caught my attention was the one concerning environmental activists like Samir Flores.

Besides lending your voice to fight against femicide and its impunity, you completed the project Rosita Alvírez, maté a Hipólito”/“Rosita Alvírez, I killed Hipólito,” a series of short stories told in first person about cases of women deprived of liberty for having killed their aggressors in self-defense. Can you share some reflections on the stories and how this issue became part of your activism?

I play this song because, in my country, there are women deprived of their physical freedom because they “over-defended” themselves. How prudent is it to defend one’s life? Many of them do not have the opportunity to tell their stories. I want to do this because music is a service that can be given to others. I want to tell these stories so that these scenes do not keep happening.

A lesser-known fact about you is that you have a degree in Spanish from the Escuela Normal Superior Del Estado de Coahuila. What impact did it have for you to be back in a teaching space like Columbia to perform your songs during our 10th Anniversary? How does being a teacher influence your artistic career?

Being a “Normalista” for me is an honor because I learned that a teacher shows her/himself and a professor professes, so through music, I show my most intimate and painful spaces, but I also want to profess that message of peace, love, and resistance. Singing at Columbia meant being close to that essence where the word and the teaching are the axis of transformation, not only personal but collective.

Your song El corrido de Milo Vera is a tribute to the memory of the murdered journalist Miguel Ángel López Velasco and the impunity of this crime. You explain in the song that journalism in Mexico is a risky activity and that investigative journalism and the search for the truth put journalists in Mexico in serious danger. Could you tell us how the murder of Milo Vera has affected you and your community and why you chose his case as an example to honor investigative journalism?

I chose his case because it also involves part of his family as victims of this atrocious murder. How is it possible that the consequence of telling the truth can be the death of you and those you love? The death of journalists affects me for the simple fact of being an inhabitant and citizen of this country, for not wanting blood to become a natural part of my landscape.

We heard your incredible voice in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever with the song Árboles bajo el mar”/“Trees beneath the sea.” Can you tell us a little bit about the message behind this song and its connection to the Indigenous peoples of Mexico?

Wakanda gave me the opportunity to be connected with Indigenous roots very closely, to understand the importance of their contribution to the world, and thus be able to tell the children of my country: Anyone can be in projects like this as a protagonist.

Finally, not only have you exercised freedom of expression in different roles and on issues as sensitive as they are important, but you have used your art to advocate for the defense of freedom of expression of those who are silenced for defending various causes. In that context, what message do you have for the CGFoE audience about the importance of strengthening freedom of expression from your experience as an artist and activist?

My message is that we continue striving for a world where we do not have to go out and demand to be heard, but that it is a strong, certain right. We need a kinder and more empathetic world. I hope we can live in a world where freedom is a reality for everyone, where children do not grow up knowing that they have to learn to fear and defend themselves. To each person who reads or listens to me: Until dignity becomes customary! For a world where love is the axis.


Anderson Javiel Dirocie De León

Legal and Program Consultant

Estefanía Mullally

Program Coordinator