|Photo of Claudia Saenz from the Chulita Vinyl Club Facebook fan page.|
As the palm trees start to appear, Claudia Saenz begins to feel right at home as she reaches the Rio Grande Valley.
Saenz, the 27-year-old founder of the all-women, all-vinyl, DJ collective known as Chulita Vinyl Club, has been residing in Austin for the last two years, but has long considered the Valley her true home. While she lived a portion of her childhood in Houston, she was born in San Juan, and spent the majority of her youth in el magico Valle.
"I never really say I was raised in Houston," Saenz said. "Most of my childhood that I remember is from the Valley, and all my family is from there, either northern Mexico or the Valley."
Growing up in deep South Texas, Saenz was surrounded by the sounds of racheras, corridos, cumbias and Tejano music.
"At home, my dad would listen to corridos outside, my mom would listen to Los Bukis inside," Saenz said.
During our conversation, Saenz told me she graduated from Johnny G. Economedes High School in Edinburg.
"Oh, Roberto Pulido lives right in front of that high school," I tell her.
"Yeah! I knew that in high school, and of course I was a huge fan of his son, Bobby Pulido," Saenz revealed.
After high school, Saenz left the area to attend the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio for several years, before returning to the Valley and graduating from the then named University of Texas–Pan American in Edinburg.
Saenz would soon find herself out of the Valley again, relocating to Austin. She noticed that the local scene there was not particularly inclusive.
"Nobody ever asks girls to DJ because of the assumption that we don't collect vinyl or don't know about music."
Saenz decided to combat the issues she saw around her.
"I wanted to create a space for other girls that wanted to DJ," Saenz said. "The focus is to get girls to the front, in the male-dominated DJ and club scene. To join, you must identify as a girl and have vinyl to play. No music genre policy; anything goes."
So in 2014 she launched the Chulita Vinyl Club, an all-girl, all-vinyl collective of DJ's. Depending on the event and how she's feeling, Saenz will spin anything from old Chicano soul bands like the Royal Jesters and Sunny and the Sunliners to norteño acts like Ramón Ayala and Los Cadetes de Linares.
Starting this project really turned things around for Saenz, who says she felt like she was beginning to lose hope in Austin.
"It always felt like I was the only brown person in the room," Saenz said. "Only brown person at the bar, only brown person at H-E-B. "
After she created this movement, as she describes it, she discovered the area's Mexican-American and Latino/a community.
"To be brown here is very unique, to be honest," Saenz said. "For Chulita Vinyl Club to exist here, it was really special in that other brown people were excited that this was happening at bars that don't normally carry this kind of stuff."
As Saenz prepares on her upcoming trip to the Valley, outside of spending time with her family and friends and this event, what else is she most excited for?
"I always try to go to the pulga," Saenz said. "The Alamo pulga is like none other. It's a unique representation of the Valley so I always make it a point to visit. It helps me feel at home."
This upcoming event would mark the second appearance of the Chulita Vinyl Club in the Valley. The first appearance was back on January 8 of this year, at an event dubbed "Groove is in the Heart". It was co-hosted with Tigersblood.org. This next outing will be different from that first one, according to promoter Patrick Garcia.
"I don't count that (previous) one as the first full Chulita Vinyl Club experience," Garcia said. "In order for it to be the first Chulita Vinyl Club experience it has to be all women, playing all vinyl."
That first show included men on the line-up, while this one will be all women — Saenz, who goes by DJ Tear Drop (named after the Tear Drop record label), DJ Güerita, DJ Peleonera, and DJ Bequita.
"It's very rare when you have an all-women line-up, anywhere in the Valley," Garcia said. "So that's going to be really neat."
The quartet of DJ's is preparing to spin some great music, which will include regional flavors from the Valley, on Saturday night at Yerberia Cultura in McAllen.
When the weekend is over, and Saenz has to say goodbye to the Valley and its palm trees once again, one thing she won't be leaving behind is her fierce, proud Valley-pride.
"If anyone ever talks bad about the Valley, I'll defend the Valley to the bone," Saenz said. "The 956 is my home."
What: Chulita Vinyl Club
Where: Yerberia Cultura in McAllen
Time: 9:00 PM
Cost: Free for anyone 21 years of age or older. $5.00 for minors.