Record sourcing, collecting and spinning are considered a man’s terrain, marginalizing women vinyl-lovers and perpetuating false myths that mamis lack the interest, knowledge and talent to join the all-boys crew. Here to kill that noise: The Chulita Vinyl Club, a multi-regional group of fiercely talented record-spinning Latinas creating an intentional space of their own rather than asking permission for entry from the music scene’s fragile male gatekeepers.
The collective, born in Austin, Texas with chapters now in San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley as well as Los Angeles, Santa Ana and the San Francisco Bay, is the brainchild of Claudia “Tear Drop” Saenz, a mexicana from San Jose, Calif.
“I created Chulita Vinyl Club in 2013 out of love for music, the lack of women invited to be involved in the conversation of music and for the purpose of empowerment and collectiveness for vinyl-loving girls,” Saenz, 27, told us, adding that unabashed female support is critical in a setting saturated in sexism.
Since then, the collective has grown to include 49 Chulitas, Spanish for “a beautiful girl” but tinged with the sort of unapologetic “I’m feelin’ myself” that any chingona can relate to.
While most of the members identify as Latina, the club is open to all women of color, regardless of culture, race or even skillset. The crew is made up of people like Phanie Diaz, a 36-year-old Chicana drummer from San Antonio who, before joining, was interested in spinning but hadn’t done so previously, as well as 33-year-old peruana Lisbeth Ortega, a long-time DJ known in club scenes throughout San Francisco.
Chulita Vinyl Club Bay Area (Photo Credit: Raul Barrera)
“It's a judgment-free zone, where you can ask questions, touch all the switches and buttons, share your favorite tricks with each other and, best of all, make mistakes,” said Ortega. “This is the only way to get better, so you can show up and be taken seriously.”
Xochi Solis, 35, knows this firsthand. The Austin-based tejana joined her local CVC chapter with a killer collection but limited spinning experience.
“Saenz welcomed me with open arms and eased my anxiety. Right before my first set for a Cine Las Americas film party, she taught me the basics. From there, I have taught other women how to use the tables and mixer and have really delved into the DJ culture,” she said.
As a space for seasoned, up-and-coming and newly interested DJs as well as aficionados who love to collect, listen and talk about their favorite records, CVC was created to empower. It’s a collective where friendships bloom, talent is sharpened and connections are made.
Melanie "Miklas" Ortigosa, a Xicana from San Antonio, had several friends who owned bars and DJ’d in her area, but they never attempted to book her for events. “Now that I'm in CVC, I've had a few of the guys ask if I would be interested in doing a few things here and there,” the 24-year-old said.
Chulita Vinyl Club Austin/ San Antonio (Photo Credit: Arlene Mejorado)
As much as CVC is a platform for networking, empowerment, inspiration and assistance, it’s also a sisterhood, one that involves women who aren’t even a part of the collective.
“Creating a space that's safe and free of aggression doesn't just open up freedom of creativity and expression for the female DJs and vinyl collectors themselves, but also for those who come to our events,” Ortega said. “You can feel it in the air, the feeling that you can be free to be who you are, that whatever it is you have to offer is beautiful and appreciated.”
That liberation, for many of the women, is revolutionary. Not only are they thriving in an industry intent on excluding them because of their gender and race/ethnicity, but they are doing so by playing music that, like them, has been deemed inferior because of its proximity to femininity, from cumbias and boleros to freestyle and punk. They are bringing their whole selves to the scene, without apologies.
“Women always had to fight to be heard and represented. What better way to crush the patriarchy than with sweet, sweet music,” said 32-year-old Chicana Mayra "Breezy" Ramirez of Oakland, Calif. “… We are doing something right and filling that femme void the scene was missing. We are holding space and making our brown faces seen and showing the world that girls can get down on the one's and two's just as well.”
The Chulitas view their existence as resistance, making the club, according to them, a form of activism. But recognizing the ways in which music has historically inspired social movements and has been used by marginalized communities to fight white supremacy, colonialism and xenophobia, some of the women deliberately spin to push forward la lucha. For instance, the mujeres of CVC’s Los Angeles chapter – Xicanas Karina Ramirez and Maryann Aguirre as well as salvadorena Linda Tovar – are conscious of the spaces and events they agree to play at, refusing to contribute to any forms of gentrification and displacement as well as racism, sexism or transphobia.
As Ortigosa says, the Chulitas are taking down the patriarchy with every record they spin, and that’s música we can all dance to.