This Latina Couldn’t Find an Empowering Space for WOC, So She Created One

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Denise Hernandez grew up in a predominantly Latino community in Houston with a strong matriarch running the household. When she moved to Lubbock to attend Texas Tech University, she felt alienated by the lack of diversity. The bonds she formed with the few other women of color there helped her get through law school.

She thought things would change once she moved to Austin where she eventually became Assistant District Attorney in the special victims’ unit of the family violence division in Travis County. Instead, she realized communities of color had been pushed to the margins of the city as a result of gentrification, and she once again had to create her own safe space.

“After the 2016 presidential election, I was looking through the community and saw that representation was lacking. I felt really compelled and driven to create something where we, as women of color and Latinas, could unite and celebrate our culture and identity,” Hernandez says.

Sensing that fellow Latinas in Austin also felt a lack of representation and sense of community and support, she and Krista Cottingim founded Hustle for a Cause. The social impact brand and event production firm creates products and experiences to empower underserved communities.

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The firm took its mission a step further in 2018 by launching the inaugural Chingona Fest TX to unite fellow women of color through music, art, food, culture, and comradery. Proceeds from the event benefit local nonprofits Con Mi Madre and Latinitas that serve young women of color.

This year’s multi-day event, which celebrates Latinx culture, identity, and values, is scheduled for April 5th and 6th. Calling it “Chingona Fest” was an easy decision given the word’s historically negative connotation that has been turned around and worn as a badge of pride and honor by modern Latinas.

“The main mission and purpose of Chingona Fest is to celebrate and empower women of color, specifically Latina business owners, creatives, entrepreneurs and artists to be in a space together where we can express our culture while discussing adversity and successes and help each other and uplift Latinas and the Latinx community,” Hernandez says.

The 2019 event kicks off with Poderosa Platicas, an April 5th networking event with panel discussions on Latina entrepreneurship and Latina leadership. Speakers include Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Delia Garza, Texas Freedom Network Political Director Carisa Lopez, Samantha Najera, owner of HeartFire Media, Trenza founder Rachel Basoco, and Nelly Garcia Caballero, founder of Rocheli Patisserie.

The festival portion takes place all day on April 6th and includes live music, food, and Latinx vendors. California-based Cumbia heavyweights La Misa Negra is headlining the concert. Joining them on stage are Texas artists Ballet Folklorico MariCruz, Mariachi Las Coronelas, Tiarra Girls, and Bidi Bidi Banda. DJs Gracie Chavez and Canel ConSafos will also make appearances.

Chingona Fest closes out with the Puro ChingonX Vibes After Party that night with DJ sets provided by DJs Ella, Zetroc, Pinche Juan and Chorizo Funk.

Bidi Bidi Banda lead singer Stephanie Bergara says Chingona Fest brings women of color from all walks of life, ranging from grandmothers to young girls and their male allies.

Chingona Fest provides a community and a spotlight the likes of which Texas has not seen, and I am beyond thrilled to present Bidi Bidi Banda at the festival for a second year,” she says.

TK Tunchez is an Austin vendor who founded Las Ofrendas, a mobile shop featuring spirit-infused, hand-crafted and wearable art pieces, and Frida Friday ATX, the only women-of-color centered market in the area.

She says participating in Chingona Fest was a no-brainer because of her aligned belief in Latinas empowering one another.

“It’s rare to find an event that so beautifully embodies such a strong sense of community and really centers Latinas, and we need more of that in the world,” Tunchez says.

Fellow Austinite Juanita Segovia is a graphic designer and illustrator who is passionate about lifting the voices of women artists, activists, and entrepreneurs, in addition to nonprofits led by females and people of color.

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She is participating in Chingona Fest because it embraces queer women of color like herself and empowers voices of all Latinas.

“I think spaces like Chingona Fest are important because they are hard to come by – and especially in this day and age where the contributions of Latinas are disregarded (or even fetishized) by mainstream society, it’s radical to create spaces for us and by us,” Segovia says.

The original vision of Chingona Fest was a one-day event for Latina business owners, leaders and musicians to come together. The festival morphed into something much bigger once Hernandez recognized a lack of representation of women of color in conferences and panels held as part of Austin’s annual South by Southwest.

“Specific discussions around business startups, entrepreneurship, and business leadership weren’t targeted to the Latina audience,” Hernandez explains.

Chingona Fest aims to fill the gap by offering a space for business, personal development, and leadership discussions.

“The future Chingona Fest will encompass a multi-day conference with different panels and film events that are 100-percent reflective and representative of our culture and identity. That means adding film screenings, art shows, panels and conferences, and a mental health aspect,” Hernandez adds. “We’d really love for this to grow to a week-long event where we have events throughout the week on different areas of Latina representation and identity and really helping the social impact aspect grow.”

The 2018 event drew more than 700 women from Central Texas, Corpus Christi, Houston, and Dallas. Organizers say $5,000 was donated to chosen nonprofits dedicate to women of color. Vendors who participated in the 2018 event were small businesses owned and operated by Latinas. Most were first-generation entrepreneurs. Even more are expected this April. They hope to exceed that number, including doubling the number of vendors to about 45 total.

This event is a calling for Hernandez who feels she is working on something greater than herself that could ultimately inspire the next generation of Latina leaders.

Organizers said Chingona Fest is only possible with support from sponsors, vendors, and supporters. Remaining tickets to this year’s event are available at www.ChingonaFestTX.com. Festival passes are $30. All access passes are $65.

Festival Agenda:

  • Poderosa Platicas @ Chingona Fest Texas is April 5 at 6:00 p.m. in The Studio ATX, 2400 E. Cesar Chavez 212, Austin, Texas 78702

  • Chingona Fest Texas is April 6 starting at 11: 30 a.m. in Hops and Grain, 622 N. Pleasant Valley, Austin, Texas 78702

  • Puro ChingonX Vibes After Party starts at 10 p.m. in The Native Hostel, 807 E 4th St, Austin, TX 78702

Musical Line-Up:

12:15 pm – Ballet Folklorico Maricruz (TX)
2:00 pm – Mariachi Las Coronelas (TX)
3:45 pm – Tiarra Girls (TX)
5:30 pm – Bidi Bidi Banda (TX)
7:15 pm – Headliner – La Misa Negra
with DJ sets by DJ Gracie Chavez and DJ Canela ConSafos

Written by Christine Bolaños
Images courtesy of Chingona Fest Texas


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About the Writer:

Christine Bolaños is a Salvadoran-American journalist based in Texas who writes about social justice, women's empowerment and Latino issues for numerous national media outlets.

You can follow her work at https://twitter.com/bolanosnews08