4 Musicians on Their Hopes for the Future of Latinx Social Justice

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Activism in Latinx communities is more accessible and visible than ever, thanks to social media and the Internet. But critical reflection remains paramount; issues like anti-blackness and internalized racism continue to plague our communities. In times like these, art and music can be crucial vehicles for expression and education.

That’s why New York City’s Nosotros Fest is so important. The festival promises to unite Latinxs of all backgrounds to inspire action and create a platform for protest. In anticipation of the inaugural fest, we spoke to headliners Downtown Boys, Las Cafeteras, Making Movies, and Hurray for the Riff Raff about the importance of activism in music and about their hopes for Latinx communities in the future. Read their thoughts below, and check out Nosotros Fest this Friday at Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan.

Nosotros Fest takes place on Friday, November 4 at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom. For more info, click here.


Downtown Boys

What made you want to perform at Nosotros Fest this year?
We were really excited to be included on a bill like this. Often, I think we come off as “too punk,” “too harsh,” “too something,” to be considered for fests like this. I am glad that we are being included in something with this type of vision and meaning.

What does it mean to be a Latinx performer in today’s social and political climate?
The stakes are very high. We have to fight white supremacy, which means also fighting anti-blackness, and also fight for our identity in the context of people of diasporas and people of color.

What do you hope to see change for Latinx communities in the future?
I think that we really need to address respectability politics in the Latinx community that seeks for us to use white success as a baseline. It is very neoliberal and does not feel good. We are so much more than assimilation to neoliberal values for success. We need to work for Latinx pride and work for Latinx liberation, which means freedom of all people of color and power to the people.

What actions can we take to bring about those changes?
I think desiring context and putting our resistance and struggle in context of history, reality, and the future. I think that we cannot let people [make Latinx identity one dimensional]. Representation will never be enough, we need to take power as people of color needing to dismantle institutions that do not want us free, which are the same institutions that do not want any people of color or women of color free.  We don’t need to climb a ladder that leads to comfort and acceptance of the people or history that has oppressed us.


Las Cafeteras

What made you want to perform at Nosotros Fest this year?
We met Alynda [Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff] a few years ago and fell in love with her crew, her music, and her zen vibe. We played a show together in Kansas City organized by the homies Making Movies, and it was a magical convening for all of us. We were planning on coming to New York before the elections but when Alynda told us about her idea for Nosotros Fest, we were all in! The time is now for solidarity among raza, among queer raza, trans folx, BLM [Black Lives Matter], and to celebrate each other…’cause if we can’t dance together, how can we ever build together!

What does it mean to be a Latinx performer in today’s social and political climate?
To be a Latinx artist is different today because the times are different. We are storytellers, troubadours, messengers of the spirit. In the past we felt like artists would be afraid to speak up about important matters in communities of color out of fear, ignorance, or because they didn’t want to get labeled as political and it was safe for their career. Times are different today. We feel that if you don’t share, connect, or support issues (queer, trans rights, Black Lives Matter, migrant rights, the Dump Trump campaign, stopping the Dakota pipeline, for example) in this critical time of much-needed solidarity, it will reflect on your art. This is nothing new. Nina Simone said, “It is an artist’s duty to reflect the times.” And we should listen to our elders.

What do you hope to see change for Latinx communities in the future?
As Latinxs transition from a “minority” to a “majority” in this country, we hope that Latinx hystory will become synonymous with American hystory.  By 2050, most people in this country will trace their roots to América Latina, not Europe.

We reject the ways in which Latinx identities are packaged and simplified for American consumption. Terms and concepts like the “Latino vote,” “Hispanic Heritage Month,” and “Latino foods” create an illusion that all raza are the same, which could not be further from the truth. Latinx folx, hystories, experiences, food, and identities are as diverse as the DMV office on Monday morning in New York’s Jackson Heights.

What actions can we take to bring about those changes?
First thing that came to mind…replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.


Making Movies

What made you want to perform at Nosotros Fest this year?
Diego Chi: We have been friends with Alynda of Hurray for the Riff Raff for some time now, having met the band on tour and then inviting them to perform at our festival in Kansas City, the Making Movies Carnaval. When she came to us a while later, excited and full of ideas to do something similar in New York, we were down to join in any way we could.

Enrique Chi: The synergy between our band, Las Cafeteras, and Hurray for the Riff Raff was really tangible that night at our festival. We seemed to have a shared message, just different vehicles of delivering that message. That night felt like a gathering of like-minded people. It will be great to reunite again for the first time since Carnaval.

What does it mean to be a Latinx performer in today’s social and political climate?
Diego: I don’t believe every Latinx performer has to be an activist, but we need Latinx activists in the U.S., now more than ever, to stand up and join the conversation. Activism is in our blood — our abuela was a poet and activist in Panama and rallied our birth town of Santiago to declare war on the United States in response to the U.S. military massacre of Panamanian youths. There must always be those willing to speak out, especially when there are such xenophobic and fear-based labels being used to describe our people.

Enrique: I second what Diego is saying. Those ideas motivated us to record our version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Thirty years ago, two British guys wrote a brilliant song about how the lust for power corrupts society. As Trump continues to spew his “build a wall” rhetoric, I thought the song’s lyrics, specifically “holding hands as the walls come tumbling down” lyric, held a new meaning. We reinterpreted it with a Mexican son huasteco rhythm as a statement against all that nonsense.

What do you hope to see change for Latinx communities in the future?
D: I hope to see a stronger sense of identity from the Latinx community. We were in these lands centuries before it was called the United States of America and we deserve a place in its future.

E: I also hope to see more artwork created that incorporates the richness that is found inside the intersection of all these cultures. Its presence seems to be missing in mainstream music, films, and television.

What actions can we take to bring about those changes?
D: Always educate yourself and participate in what is in front of you right now, no matter how much or how little. Whatever you are able to do will matter, because many don’t do anything at all.

E: What our band has chosen to do is to invest in young people within the community. We chose our neighborhood in Kansas City, a predominantly immigrant neighborhood, and founded a yearly music camp and an after school lesson program aimed being attainable for low-income families. I think it’s pretty hard to change the world, but it’s possible to change a neighborhood, a street, a family, or even just yourself. Start small, but start something.


Hurray for the Riff Raff

What made you want to participate in Nosotros Fest as a performer? You founded the festival, but what made you decide to actually perform?
I guess it just sounded really fun to get together with all of these bands I respect so much and have a night in NYC where Latinx people are celebrated. I think to me it means a lot because of the times we are in. I need this event; I need to unite with other Latinx artists in order to feel strong and continue my work.

What does it mean to be a Latinx performer in today’s social and political climate?
It means so many things. To me it means getting in touch with the ancestors. Listening to their call, because there is so much healing to be done and our generation can achieve it. I really believe we are the generation that can turn things around; we have a foot in each realm: in the past and the future. We have a clear and humane viewpoint. For example, we want to save this planet not only for ourselves but for our children. The threat of climate change and of destroying our earth is very real to us. We know we have a long road ahead and whatever damage is being done today will be left for us and our children.

We also want to work on decolonizing our minds and our land, to heal the pains of our ancestors. To live freely for them and to carry their stories and their dreams with us.

What do you hope to see change for Latinx communities in the future?
I hope to continue to see revolutionary cultural change made by people of color in this country. There have already been beautiful actions of solidarity between black, Latinx, and Native people. I also see that our generation is aware that the intersections of race, class, gender identity, and sexual identity play huge roles in the way we are oppressed. We must not be afraid of these intersections; we must embrace them and learn from each other. See each other as the complicated beings we are.

What actions can we take to bring about those changes?
I think what we can do right now is share information and know that our freedoms can only exist if we are all free. We need to stand up for each other no matter how uncomfortable it may be. We must speak the truth in our art and our daily life. My freedom lives inside of my brothers and sisters who may be fighting a different struggle. We cannot forget each other right now.