Growing up in a predominantly brown community in Houston and raised by a single chingona mother, Denise Hernandez never felt like she didn’t belong. That all changed when the first-generation college graduate experienced culture shock while attending Texas Tech University’s law school in the rural town of Lubbock.
“I was one of a few Latinas there, and it was the first time I ever really felt like a minority,” she said.
Hernandez formed a new, tight-knit tribe that included the few women of color who were there. Upon graduating, she moved to Austin, Texas for an internship and eventually became Assistant District Attorney in the special victims’ unit of the family violence division in Travis County. “But when I first moved here it was also a shocker,” she said.
The once vibrant communities of color that brought uniqueness and diversity to Austin were fading as a result of gentrification.
Hernandez sought refuge with members of her former Lubbock clan who also moved to Austin, in the arms of her biracial fiancée Krista Cottingim and by volunteering with local organizations that also believe in furthering opportunities for Latinx youth.
But there was still something missing: a space where all badass Latinas could come together, build community and celebrate the beautiful culture and resilience that unifies them.
That’s why the queer power couple founded Hustle for The Cause, a social impact brand and event production firm that is on a mission to create products and experiences empowering underserved communities.
On April 7, the firm is launching the inaugural Chingona Fest ATX at Hops and Grain Brewing to unite fellow chingonas through music, food and art, with most proceeds benefiting local nonprofits Con Mi MADRE and Latinitas, which empower young women.
The artists, vendors and musicians in attendance, as well as those planning behind the scenes, are virtually all Latinx.
Jolt, a local Latino political action movement, will be registering voters at the event.
“The hope is that we’re waking up the sleeping giant. One way of doing that is by waking up the Latino voter,” Hernandez said.
Despite Austin’s changing landscape, Hernandez said the fest will reflect the community’s resilient Latinx culture, identity and values. “By collaborating on this event, we are hoping to bring something that’s been sort of a subculture of the community, and bring it to the forefront,” she said.
Coming up with the name “Chingona Fest” came easily because it’s a way for Latinx to take back a term used against daring women, turning it into something positive and wearing it like a badge of honor.
“Chingona is not just a word,” Hernandez said. “It’s a movement of Latinas going to college, starting businesses, being elected to office and creating spaces of inclusion and diversity.”
Scheduled performers include the all-female group Mariachi Las Coronelas, artist Cecilia and the Broken Hearts, a DJ set by all-women Chulita Vinyl Club and headliner, Selena cover band Bidi Bidi Banda.
Creative and food vendors are selling Latinx art, jewelry, totes and clothing. Chingona Beer, crafted by Hops and Grains Brewing and designed by Claudia Gizell Aparicio Gamundi, will also be unveiled at the event.
Jessica Garza, who is coordinating volunteers for the event, said the amount of interested volunteers far exceeds expected numbers.
“The website broke the first week, and I think that’s such a powerful statement to the potential of this event, this movement,” Garza said.
TK Tunchez, who created Las Ofrendas brand, which includes digital art, handmade flower crowns, jewelry and other items, is handling vendors for Chingona Fest. And it’s something she has plenty of experience with. Under her brand, Tunchez has organized a monthly women of color-centered mercado and cultural space known as Frida Friday ATX; Luna Lllena ATX, a monthly event with workshops, DJ and vendors; and Fuego ATX, a monthly QPOC dance party.
“Austin is way overdue for something like a Chingona festival. People have this idea that Austin is a really white city, but we have a strong Latina community,” Tunchez said. “I think we really need to create spaces like this where we see each other and connect with each other.”
The fest is already reaching Latinx way beyond Austin city limits. Hernandez, who got the idea for the celebration in part from a smaller version of a similar event in San Antonio, hopes that it can serve as a model for Chingona festivals across the state.
It’s her hope to one day use proceeds to gift a young Latina with a college scholarship. “Being a chingona is about creating your own path and releasing all the fears that aren’t serving you, and boldly embracing your divine true self,” Tunchez said, adding that the fest encourages Latinx to find their true selves and their potential.
Tickets are $20 and selling fast at Hustle for The Cause.