Silenced DJ Set Speaks Volumes About Austin’s Relationship With Latinos

Aug 7, 2017

With about 10 minutes left in a DJ group's final set at a downtown bar, a manager told them to shut off the music.

"This hotel does not play Latin music," DJs from the Chulita Vinyl Club say they were told.

The story of what happened July 28 at the Caroline in the Aloft Hotel has garnered quite a bit of media attention. It has also brought up a complicated issue here in Austin: the city's relationship with the Latino community.

Chulita Vinyl Club describes itself as “all-girl all-vinyl club for self-identifying women of color.” There are several groups like it in California and Texas. The Austin chapter had accepted a Friday night gig at Caroline, opening and closing for the local band Superfónicos. Caroline had just opened the day before.

“We played for two hours. We did a whole medley of different sounds. It went from hip-hop to Motown, funk, disco,” Claudia Aparicio Gamundi says. “I mean, it started building up to Superfónicos. We really love them, so we curated the set very well as far as the transition.”

The band played for about an hour and a half and then it was back to Chulita Vinyl Club.

“After Superfónicos, everybody was ready to dance,” Gamundi says. “They started moving tables, dancing to our music, and that’s when we started playing salsa, cumbia; there was some Selena. … They weren't expecting it for some reason. We literally had either 10 minutes or close to 10 minutes to end.”

That’s when a manager came up, she says, and asked, "Who is in charge of the music?"

“I said, ‘We all are. What’s up?’” Gamundi says. “And then he just said, ‘This hotel does not play Latin music. You need to shut it off.’”

“It happened very fast. This interaction was just like this," DJ Jennifer Rother says, snapping her fingers. "I think we are all in shock that it happened. He says, 'We don’t play Latin music' and then he goes away. Then he’s back and is like, ‘We are just going to put the house music on.'”

The DJs say they had never experienced anything like this during a set before.

According to Alejandra Gonzalez, they were told the “vibe was too low.” She says she's not entirely sure what that meant.

In a written statement, Caroline’s general manager, David Meisner, says:

We specifically chose the Chulita Vinyl Club to play at Upstairs at Caroline as part of our music series because we like their work. We were honored to have them DJ Friday night, July 28. In preparing for the last couple hours of service at the restaurant, we wanted to switch the tempo of the music, so we asked them to end about 10 minutes early. The request was not about the genre of music, it was about tempo, but we did not communicate or handle the situation appropriately on our end. We apologize for offending Chulita Vinyl Club and we deeply regret the way the situation was handled. We have reached out to Chulita Vinyl Club to apologize in person and talk about future performances. We are also actively working with and re-training our team on creating an inclusive, respectful environment where everyone knows they are genuinely welcomed and valued.

Gonzalez says the group is not angry that the venue didn’t like their music or the music’s tempo.

“We're not mad because you won’t let us play the songs that we want to play,” she says. “We are mad because you said you don’t play Latin music here and you have a Latin funk band and Chulita Vinyl Club that you booked.”

Another Chulita DJ, Jessenia Giron, says management could have asked them to play other songs.

“If it was really about the vibe, if you wanted to switch the vibe, there were other ways that we could have been approached,” she says. “There are more respectful ways that we could have been approached.”

The DJs say they felt embarrassed, used and disrespected that night, but that the worst part is their culture was also disrespected. In a city like Austin – where Latino culture is big business – this happens too often, Giron says.

“That goes hand and hand: feeling like we are always being dismissed and our culture is always used, but we're not being accepted,” she says.

“It’s like you want your tacos and you want your expensive margaritas and mescal, but you don’t want the people that come with it,” Gamundi adds.

The women say this is a common sentiment among Latinos in Austin.

It’s especially true in the Mexican-American community, says Dr. Laura Hernández-Ehrisman, an assistant professor at St. Edward’s University.

“There is a very long history of this problem, the appropriation of particular components of particularly Mexican-American culture and sort of commodifying them and then disregarding the people themselves,” she says.

Hernández-Ehrisman says that as Austin’s star has continued to rise nationally, and even internationally, the Latino community hasn’t felt it as much.

“Even though there have been a number of successful Latinx-owned restaurants – you know, taco places and things in Austin – they get sort of overshadowed,” she says.

There are also a lot of outsiders moving in and opening businesses that are geared mostly to wealthier white communities, she says.

Couple this with gentrification, which is forcing out a lot of minorities, and she says it’s easy to see how something like what happened to the Chulita Vinyl Club hit a nerve.

Hernández-Ehrisman says leaders can help ease resentment and there are some who want to do something, but it won’t be easy.

“I think in some ways they are moving in a positive direction, but I also think that these are challenging forces to confront,” she says. “The level of city government, there are only so many tools that those leaders have.”

Hernández-Ehrisman says she’s impressed with the Chulita Vinyl Club and she’s happy what happened is getting so much attention. Even though this isn’t a new problem, she says, the fact that this group of women stood up and said something is progress.

Giron says she hopes it sends a message.

“And it also encourages people to speak out against things of that nature, because so many times we grow accustomed to it and we don’t say anything,” she says. "But I think we should say something."