Just over a year ago, in the throes of fighting to regularize her own parents’ immigration status, concert promoter, artist manager, and founder of mija mgmt Doris Muñoz organized a concert to help raise funds for her parents’ legal fees.
The only natural-born U.S. citizen in her family of five, Muñoz was raised in San Bernardino County. She has already experienced the heartbreak of family separation first-hand: one of her two older brothers, who came to the U.S. as a toddler, had his DACA status revoked and was deported summarily in 2015. He was put in handcuffs on a bus to Tijuana without being able to say goodbye to anyone, including his own wife and two children. She feared her parents could be next.
For that first concert, she quickly organized a show at Los Angeles’ Hi Hat club in March of 2017, featuring some of the artists she manages, like soulful singer August Eve and Chicano indie favorite Cuco. That first event sold out at its 300-seat capacity and was covered by Vice. Delighted with the night’s success, Muñoz decided to turn the benefit show, dubbed Solidarity for Sanctuary, into a recurring series.
“We’re about raising funds, but more raising awareness and creating safe spaces for people.”
The second edition started to gain traction from media outlets (like Remezcla), and by the third show, which included artists performing covers dedicated to the late Tejano superstar Selena, it was definitely on their radar — Estrella, Univision, and Telemundo all showed up to cover the concert.
A little over a year later, the eighth edition of the series traveled outside of Los Angeles for the first time, taking over New York City’s Lincoln Center on July 26 as part of its Lincoln Center Out of Doors concert series.
As a massive crowd of mostly Latinx kids under 25 gathered in line at Lincoln Center, and as the frontlines of the audience stormed the amphitheater — even breaking through the yellow tape to rush the gates — Doris Muñoz shared her perspective on the wildly successful series. She reminisced about the first moment she realized it was rapidly gaining momentum. About four editions ago, a five-act lineup she put together in collaboration with Rene Contreras of Viva! Pomona sold out in two hours. Muñoz exclaimed, “That was the one I was like, ‘Oh crap, this is crazy!’”
Every event has sold out and continued to support immigration activism. In September 2017, another collaboration with Viva! Pomona came about as a call to action in the aftermath of DACA’s rescission, in order to assist recipients who needed to raise the $500 fee for their renewals. That was followed by a quinceañera-themed event in January of this year in support of CARECEN, a Central American resource center and non-profit organization that provides free legal services for undocumented Los Angeles residents.
To date, the series has raised over $10,000 for legal services, but Muñoz clarifies that her vision is about much more than money. “We’re about raising funds, but more raising awareness and creating safe spaces for people. The takeaway is the energy that people experience when they enter these events and these spaces; they just share it with their best friends, with their tías, with their primos, with their neighbors — the buzz is awesome within our community.”
The choice to curate the event as a Selena tribute was also an inspired decision. For many, as a Grammy-winning icon, Selena represents the cultural force of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. music landscape — a successful crossover in every possible way.
In the future, the young entrepreneur hopes to expand the series to encompass all forms of art, including a traveling gallery that will highlight visual artwork from second-generation creators. The goal is not only to support different undocumented immigrant communities, but also different forms of art. As second-generation Latinxs with the benefits of U.S. citizenship, Muñoz declares, “We can leverage our privilege and platform — that we have been so blessed with — to help our community.”
While there was no direct fundraising at the Lincoln Center edition of Selena for Sanctuary, Voto Latino, Amnesty International, and Make the Road New York were present to show support for immigrant rights and undocumented communities. The star-studded lineup included Cuco and August Eve, as well as reggaeton jefa Riobamba, singer-songwriter Omar Apollo, Chilean pop diva Mon Laferte, former Girl in a Coma vocalist Nina Diaz, and Guatemala’s velvety-voiced Gaby Moreno, as well as Selena’s widower and special guest guitarist Chris Perez. The 2,600-seat open-air amphitheater was packed, while hundreds more enjoyed the concert from outside the gates. A line of superfans that went around the block and down the street stayed to listen to the concert from afar, as Selena’s cumbia classics bounced through the New York City summer breeze.
As the crowd swelled, cheers roared through the air as Mexican flags were raised high. Muñoz voiced her hopes for the future. “I’m part of this millennial generation, not Mexican, but not accepted by Americans fully — at least the American prototype or whatever this administration is saying — but there’s something about our community that is so special and I want people to find value in that. Our journey is so unique to us, and so, to hold that with pride, and near and dear to their hearts instead of something that they don’t feel necessarily too proud of. I want them to feel good too. Whatever the administration says about our community, it’s wrong. We are special, we are important, we work extremely hard, and our values are unmatched.”
Cuco echoed Muñoz’s sentiments at Lincoln Center shortly before taking the stage. “We protest by being the people we are, by being Latinos. This is a form of activism within itself because in music, the industry doesn’t want us being up there – being active with what we think and what our opinions are.”
The audience at Lincoln Center swayed, raised their lighters, cheered “¡Viva México!” and happily sang along to practically every song at the top of their lungs. They seemed to be echoing Muñoz’s opening remarks. “Simply by attending an event, people are showing the love and support that our community so desperately needs.”
Critics often denounce social justice activists who excessively “stay within their bubbles,” or only associate with like-minded individuals. However, events like the Solidarity for Sanctuary concerts evidence the power of a community’s voice in the celebration of its beauty and cultural strength. And these moments allow us to recuperate and rebuild in order to better face the difficult times still to come. As Lincoln Center Out of Doors curator and Director of Public Programming Jill Sternheimer put it when she commented on the evening’s energy, “Joy is a form of resistance.”