When Zacil Pech and Graciela Lopez — also known as Sizzle Fantastic and Funky Caramelo, respectively — threw their first parties as DJs two years ago, 50 people came. But it’s only taken two years for that number to grow exponentially: now, their parties bring in 1000 to 1500 attendees.
Pech and Lopez were invited to share their entrepreneurial experiences as undocumented, queer women DJs of color alongside Diana Chacon, who is also known as UndocuBougie, on Sunday. The Undocumented, First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center and Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship partnered to host the panel, “Undocu-Entrepreneurship: Hustling and Thriving.”
The event was planned as part of the U-FLi Center’s Undocu-Series, which aims to create space for discussion around the experiences of undocumented communities. Renata Mauriz ’17, the Student Success Program Coordinator at the U-FLi Center, and Julio Reyes ’12, the Program Director of the U-FLi Center, wanted the panel to speak to the intersection of the undocumented experience and entrepreneurship, so they brought the Nelson Center on board.
“This panel demonstrates how undocumented women DJs are creating and cultivating systems of support outside the economic system, while also thinking about how party spaces can serve as political activism,” Reyes said.
After Pech spoke at an event on campus last year, Reyes and Mauriz reached out to her about putting on a panel with with undocumented artists. Pech suggested “focusing on undocumented queer women as well, who get put behind the scenes a lot of times and aren’t given a platform to showcase their talents,” she told The Herald.
During the two-hour panel and workshop, the DJs covered topics ranging from entrepreneurship to political activism. They spoke to students about different types of business models and partnerships and how nightlife event production could act as a form of resistance.
Lopez and Pech work together to produce Cumbiatón, a movement that aims to uplift and heal communities through music. Along with their three other team members, they have established themselves as a company and have grown the event. Their first party was in Boyle Heights, California, which they said mostly family and friends attended, but they’ve since moved on to perform for national audiences in cities like San Francisco, Seattle and New York.
The third panelist, Chacon, is the creator of Arrebato, a celebration in Queens, New York that centers trans, queer, black and brown womxn and femme-identifying individuals.
“Besides (Lopez) and (Pech), I haven’t met any other undocumented DJ’s, and they are located on the other side of the country,” Chacon said. After connecting with Chacon through social media last year, Lopez and Pech quickly became mentors for her, Chacon said.
The close relationships between the three women stuck out to some of the panel attendees. “I like that they emphasize the communal aspect of entrepreneurship, because generally when I think of entrepreneurship I think of competition,” said Jasmine Ruiz ’20.5, Communications Coordinator for the U-FLi Center and a former photo editor for The Herald.
“I was taken aback by how they developed a business (by) learning from each other,” said Jennifer Nazareno, assistant professor at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. “For me, coming from an immigrant family and hearing the challenges they faced and overcame to develop a sustainable business (is something) I was very impressed by.”
Among the challenges they faced while building their careers as DJs, Chacon, Lopez and Pech all had to confront party spaces that lacked explicitly inclusive cultures.
“Nightlife hasn’t always been so accepting to women of color, queer, undocumented — everything is stacked against us,” Pech said. “We are met with a lot of resistance (from) cis, hetero white males who aren’t willing to listen because they have had access to these spaces for so long.”
Pech, Chacon and Lopez encouraged students to share their own entrepreneurial ventures and practice elevator pitches.
“Knowing that I don’t have to change who I am to be successful is something that I am taking out of this event,” said Heidy Mejia-Puerta ’22, who serves as the Undergraduate Community Engagement Coordinator for the U-FLi Center. “It’s really important to put on events that make us visible and give us a space on campus to exist.”
In addition to the panel, the three artists marked their second performance together at the U-FLi Center’s block party at the Faculty Club Saturday night. The location was explicitly chosen to break down historical conceptions about who has access to the Faculty Club space, Reyes said.
“Our hope is that students come and enter the space in the Faculty Club, thinking about crossing a certain boundary and claiming space in an area where people don’t feel comfortable,” Reyes said.