Chicano band Las Cafeteras discusses history, race


Sophie Mann/The Daily Northwestern

Members of Chicano band Las Cafeteras discuss different stereotypes people have of East Los Angeles. The band spoke at Alianza’s spring speaker event and received the annual ¡Ahora! Award.

Mariana Alfaro, Assistant Campus Editor

History has always been told by the same people, and members of Chicano band Las Cafeteras are trying to change that, they said Thursday evening during Alianza’s spring speaker event.

Three members of the East L.A. band discussed topics of race and history while interacting with an audience of about 25 people and playing some of their songs during the event at Norris University Center.

Hector Flores, a band member, said history tends to be one-sided. He used as an example the fact that many history books say Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, even though there were already people living on the continent.

“It’s all about perspective,” he said. “Christopher Columbus won the war, he gets to share the story.”

He said Las Cafeteras identify as storytellers and how, through their music, they’re trying to change the stereotypical image the rest of the world has of East Los Angeles.

“When we say we’re from East L.A., an imagination exists in people’s minds,” he said. “No matter where we go … people know about East L.A., and they’ve never been there.”

He said TV, movies and other mediums tend to only portray the area as dangerous and violent.

“Its a very limited story, it’s a very one-sided story,” he said. “We have all heard that saying, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’”

The group screened their video, “La Bamba Rebelde,” which shows a more positive side of East Los Angeles. After showing the clip, audience members pointed out things about the area they hadn’t seen before.

“You change the story, you change the game,” band member Daniel French said.

The group specializes in Son Jarocho, a traditional folk music style from Veracruz, Mexico, that features indigenous, African and Spanish musical influences, which they combine with zapateado, a style of dancing similar to tap. They opened the event with “El Chuchumbe,” a song about immigration, among other topics.

“We take it upon ourselves to recapture this music, this Black-Mexican music that was outlawed during the time of the Spanish inquisition,” French said. “We’re thinking about how stories are suppressed, how stories and cultures are wiped off the map and how we can take that back.”

The group engaged audience members by asking them to raise their hands if they knew someone who eats Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Most of the audience members raised their hands. French said they asked the same question to two groups in East Los Angeles: a group of policymakers and a group of students.

He said although almost all of the East L.A. students raised their hands, only two policymakers raised theirs, showing how they could “live in the same ‘hood and be in different worlds.”

“All those professionals were in East L.A. talking about what things happen in East L.A.,” he said. “But you could see how far removed they were from the situation.”

French also spoke about how everyone has their own story, but it can be complicated to learn someone else’s story.

“There’s a lot of stories in the room that we may not even know,” he said. “You sit next to somebody, there’s a whole journey that brought them and you to the seat where you’re in.”

At the end of the event, Alianza, Northwestern’s Hispanic and Latino student alliance, honored Las Cafeteras with the ¡Ahora! Award to recognize the group’s efforts to open conversations about race and diversity in different spaces.

Weinberg freshman Marvin Sanchez, Alianza’s special projects coordinator, said he hopes the event will help students of color at NU understand that their narratives are important and that sharing them can help create “spaces of love.”

“Las Cafeteras really delivered today,” he told The Daily. “Talking about ourselves and our stories and connecting to each other in a more personal level is something that we need.”

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