Quince Night organizer Alexis Chavez Rob Aft/Andy Hermann
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Aft/Andy Hermann

Quince Night organizer Alexis Chavez

Aft/Andy Hermann

On a recent Sunday night at the Lodge Room, a Masonic temple
turned music venue in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los
Angeles, salsa and cumbia music wafted down from the
second-floor concert hall. Over the stairs, gold mylar balloons
spelled out the words “Quince Night.”

In the lobby at the top of the stairs, young couples waited in
line for slices of tres leches cake, while others posed in a
makeshift photo booth. At first glance, it looked like a
typical quinceañera, which was the whole idea. But this Quince
Night was not one 15-year-old’s coming-of-age party. It was the
latest fundraising concert in Los Angeles put together by a
growing movement of young Latinx promoters and activists who
are using music to fight back against what they see as federal
policies that are anti-immigrant.

The event, whose full name was “Solidarity for Sanctuary Quince
Night,” raised money — and awareness — for CARECEN, an immigrant rights
organization that, most recently, has been at the forefront of
efforts to protect the more than 260,000 Salvadoran immigrants
facing possible deportation if the Trump administration follows
through on its plan to
rescind their temporary protected status
in 2019. Between
bands, attendees listened to speeches by members of UndocuMedia, which helps
immigrants lacking legal status apply for DACA and other legal
protections, and L.A. City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who
called Quince Night “one of the most brilliant events I’ve ever
been to.”

“Ever since Donald Trump got elected, I’ve been waiting for
this moment,” declared Kevin Martin, the Mexican-American
singer-guitarist for Brainstory, a jazz-rock
trio from the predominantly Latino L.A. suburb of Rialto. “That
I can play my heart out to people who believe in diversity and
love and peace. That’s what this s***’s all about.”

Solidarity for Sanctuary Quince Night is far from the only
event of its kind. A few weeks earlier, an L.A. rock band
called The Soft White
held another benefit show for CARECEN at the behest
of their Mexican-American lead singer, Octavio Genera, who sang
the band’s new anti-Trump single “Brick by Brick/Piedra a
Piedra” in both English and Spanish. Elsewhere around the
country, a new group of Latinx promoters from Atlanta, called
OYE, has begun
producing “immersive experiences that live at the intersection
of arts, culture and progressive activism,” according to its
website, while in Denver last fall, a ska band called Roka
Hueka organized a benefit show for the Metro Denver Sanctuary
Coalition, featuring a diverse bill of young local acts playing
everything from punk to hip-hop to electronic dance music.

Back in Highland Park, one of Quince Nights’s organizers, a
24-year-old music industry newcomer named Doris Muñoz, darted
around the Lodge Room making introductions between musicians
and activists and generally making sure everything ran
smoothly. Muñoz, whose main gig is running her own artist
management company, Mija Mgmt, held her first fundraiser
concert in March of last year for purely personal reasons: to
raise money for her own undocumented parents’ legal fees.

“When I was little, my biggest fear was one day I would come
home and my family wouldn’t be there anymore because they’d
been deported,” said Muñoz, the only member of her immediate
family who was born in the U.S. In 2015, her brother, a U.S.
resident since the age of two, was deported for misdemeanor
marijuana possession and unpaid traffic tickets; since then,
she has lived in dread that her parents could be next.

“Seeing how aggressive ICE has been since Trump’s
administration, I broke down one day, like, ‘What the hell am I
gonna do?'” Since she had extensive experience booking shows,
having worked as a concert coordinator while getting a degree
in communications at Cal State Fullerton, she decided to help
her parents with a fundraiser concert.

She called her event Solidarity for Sanctuary. It raised nearly
$3,000, more than she expected but still only “half of what’s
really needed” to cover the legal fees her parents need to
petition for permanent U.S. residency. After a second concert
raised the rest of the money, she decided to keep Solidarity
for Sanctuary going as a regular series, first fundraising for
specific families under threat of deportation, then for
undocumented students in need of scholarships. Moving forward,
she plans to align her events with non-profits like CARECEN,
having learned that they’re better equipped to find families
and individuals with the most pressing needs for financial and
legal assistance.

Quince Night was originally conceived by two other promoters,
Alexis Chavez and Johan Moreno, who met while volunteering
together at local NPR affiliate KCRW and decided to launch a
fundraiser concert series of their own. When they reached out
to Muñoz for logistical advice, she offered to combine their
two events into one night.

For Muñoz, organizing a concert was playing to her strengths.
But for Chavez and Moreno, who had never booked a show before,
it was more a matter of choosing a vehicle that they felt had
the best chance of connecting with their fellow millennials. “I
feel like young people especially, they relate to music,” says
Chavez. “That’s something so powerful and something that brings
people together,” Moreno adds.

At Quince Night — which Chavez attended in the same billowy
white dress she wore to her own quinceañera, while Moreno opted
for a wide-brimmed black cowboy hat — their strategy appeared
to be paying off. The overwhelming majority of the crowd looked
to be under the age of 25, and most stuck around not just for
the musical acts — which also included local singer-songwriter
Hana Vu, San Diego
bedroom beat-maker Temporex, and
falsetto-voiced singer-guitarist Omar Apollo, who flew
in from Indiana for the show — but for the speakers, as well.
The young, racially mixed audience greeted calls for solidarity
and social action with cheers and frequent profanities aimed at
Donald Trump.

“It’s all the young people here who give me hope, because
you’re gonna be voting,” said CARECEN’s Jenny Villegas, before
introducing Brainstory, the evening’s last act. “You’re gonna
be running s***.”

Muñoz, Moreno and Chavez plan to produce more fundraising
events in the future, both together and separately. But more
than that, they hope that Quince Night and Solidarity for
Sanctuary can lead by example, inspiring young promoters in
other cities to mount similar events that both raise money to
support undocumented immigrants and celebrate the culture those
immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, have brought to America.
Already, Muñoz has been sharing knowledge and resources with
Atlanta’s OYE, one of whose co-founders, a DJ named Florista,
came to L.A. to spin records at Solidarity for Sanctuary Quince

“We want to set this on a national level eventually,” says
Muñoz. “This is my passion project. This is my baby. And I want
to see it continue its growth.”