The Chulita Vinyl Club (CVC) is a three-year-old multi-city collective centering women of color—and celebrating their culture as an act of resistance. Their members are determined to carve out and keep space for women of color who seek to preserve their identities and cultures through vinyl collecting—an outlet that represents personal and cultural histories for club members.
The CVC is what happens when you smash together collectivism, activism and expression. Grown from cities experiencing massive urban upheaval, waves of gentrification or cataclysmic change in neighborhoods that are (or were) historically made up of people of color, CVC nowe has branches in Austin, San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Ms. sat down with Claudia Saenz, the Austin-based founder of CVC, and other members to learn more about their movement. (If you’re interested in joining any of the existing chapters in California and Texas, contact Chulitavinylclub@gmail.com or message the CVC on Facebook or Instagram @chulitavinylclub!)
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about yourselves—and why you were inspired to create or join a vinyl collective.
Claudia Saenz (Austin): My name is Claudia Saenz, aka DJ Tear Drop. I was born and raised in South Texas and I created Chulita Vinyl Club while living in Austin in 2013 out of love for music, the lack of women invited to be involved in conversations on music and for the purpose of empowerment and collectiveness for vinyl loving girls. Woman empowerment is important, and even on a small scale a vinyl club can help us as women move forward. CVC encourages women to be independent, to create and recognize it’s difficult being a woman. We need each other for support. After a year of Chulita Vinyl Club existing in Texas I decided to create chapters with Chulitas that showed support and interest in the Bay and later Santa Ana and LA. It was not hard to find Chulitas that would be interested as there was already a community of womyn vinyl collectors that were ready to organize and spin.
What is Chulita Vinyl Club?
Yoalli Rodriguez (Austin): The club is a form of activism because it gives visibility to other bodies and other voices: women of color in a field where usually you see white males. With our bodies spinning records in public spaces, we are destabilizing the typical narrative of who is a DJ. The difference is that we, as women, are trying to break the masculinized scene of records and DJs, so for us it is an experience of empowerment and emancipation. We are doing something collectively, in sorority, in spaces we agree with politically, sharing knowledges and passions.
Evelyn Gomez (Bay Area): CVC is a group of mujeres [women] of color focusing on woman empowerment. It’s a form of activism from creating safe spaces for brown people to keeping our culture alive. Men have always been recognized in the music scene. CVC is empowering mujeres to twist that around, that it’s not only for men, it’s for us women to spin as well. It’s also empowering to have safe spaces for brown people to just play some great tunes and get together. It’s empowering la raza to keep our culture alive through music.
What is CVC’s mission?
Saenz: Creating spaces for women of color is important and as I’ve learned, stereotype threat exists and when a space is dominated by men we think, “If girls like me aren’t represented in this scene then it must not be and I don’t belong here.” Chulita Vinyl Club hopes to continue creating a space for women that allows growth and encourages empowerment. As women in society we recognize that it is difficult being a woman and that society has a tendency of making it difficult for women to succeed in all industries. Being a mujer in the DJ scene can be tough. It’s almost our duty to deal with the defeatist nature that comes with it. CVC has brought the community of vinyl loving girls together and that’s been the best part.
Camila Torres-Castro (Austin): I have always thought of art as a form of peaceful resistance towards those in power, even within the art world itself. The notion of a female collective is subversive in itself: it’s a bunch of women getting together to do something we love in a society that tells us that we should be in constant competition with each other. We Chulitas, share and create and get happy when something good happens to one of us: that, in my opinion, makes us activists in a way. During my lifetime I have been repeatedly told that “I know a lot about music for a girl.” I guess every woman gets that, whether it’s about comic books, videogames, engineering, whatever. All of these fields have always belonged to the realm of men. I would say that vinyl and DJing in general are very close-knit circles, and being a woman that’s able to penetrate the barrier that surrounds them gives you a sense of empowerment that makes you do stuff with much more passion.
Monica Guadalupe Moreno (Bay Area): I honestly believe we are here to empower women. CVC is like a sisterhood almost. We might not hang out all together all the time but cuando se puede [when I can] I hang out with a chula. We share skills, we state our opinions, play some tunes, and the creativity flow in our group is so freaking amazing it streams from all of us. We are all open to each other’s ideas and everyone is so encouraging. Literally I get nervous before I go up to play and I have a homegirl stand there right next to me for support. It’s such a great feeling knowing someone has your back like that. It really is empowering.
How is spinning records empowering?
Ana C. Calle (Austin): The DJ scene is traditionally dominated by men. Women have to struggle to get in and to stay without being sexually objectified. We encourage women to stand in public spaces sharing an important part of themselves: music. We also participate at events organized by women, latinx associations and we stand in solidarity with communities around the country. It has to do with Austin and San Antonio having such a strong musical tradition, not only live music tradition but in recording and records. There is also a very strong soul and Chicano soul collective: people spinning Chicano soul from Texas, preserving a part of the tradition of this nation through public sound.
Rodriguez: Empowerment means to not be afraid to be in a place you never imagined before, such as a being a DJ. Empowerment means emancipating bodies, women of colors’ bodies in the public sphere, doing what they like. Empowerment means also, through collective work, feeling like part of a community versus an individualized system.
How has the collective connected women who collect records?
Calle: I believe in strong women in the public sphere. A girl with headphones on is a powerful girl. A girl that holds her records and goes to play them in front a crowd is quite a powerful girl. Girls who want to be DJs can see another girl is doing that and might feel encouraged and inspired if they get to see or hear another girl who has conquered such a beautiful and important space. So, I think we empower women who want to participate in the DJ scene creating a safe space where they can learn how to DJ and exchange knowledge and experiences with other women. This is the part I love the most: many of us have become friends through music! We also empower brown women to share their musical heritage and savoir faire.