How a Family Rock Band Organized Mutual Aid from Hayward to Honduras

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The CIRES, a rock band comprised of four Hayward brothers and their father, used their music to rally their community to donate supplies directly to hurricane survivors in Honduras.  (Hellena Cedeño)

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What now seems like eons ago, U.S. audiences were tuned into the pivotal presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020 when images of destroyed homes started appearing online from La Lima, Honduras.

While the U.S. was caught in our own metaphorical storm, the first of two Category 4 hurricanes—Eta and Iota—rampaged across Latin America to end an already brutal year. What became one of the worst natural calamities of 2020 went largely unnoticed by U.S. media amid the blitz of COVID-19 wreckage and political solipsism. The two massive storms hit Central America in consecutive weeks, leaving millions of people from southern Mexico to northern Colombia in need of emergency assistance.

In pre-quarantined times, mobilized aid would have come quicker, and international involvement would have been more easily achieved. But, with COVID rates rising, and nations struggling in a stalled global economy, the majority of this catastrophe’s victims—many of whom already live in extreme poverty—were left to organize themselves.

So, when Hellena Cedeño, a Bay Area photographer whose family was directly affected by this crisis, saw her cousins posting about the storm and requesting aid on Facebook, she was shocked. Cedeño shared the news on her social media accounts, asking friends to donate whatever they could to assist those affected.

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That’s when a group of four Mexican brothers from Hayward decided to do something they’ve never done: an international fundraiser. Friends of Cedeño, the quartet are an emerging local band known as The Cires who have played shows at iconic rock venues around the Bay Area, including Bottom of the Hill and Rickshaw Stop.

As bilingual musicians, the hermanos are no strangers to sacrifice and struggle themselves. They were raised by Mexican immigrants in a working-class East Bay neighborhood, sharing a house with seven family members in total. The oldest brother and lead songwriter, Isaac Soto, was even deported back to Mexico at a young age before his family battled in court to bring him back. In many ways, the band’s journey shaped them into an ideal group to take notice of other families in need—and they did.

“I’m lucky to be able to have lived in the United States, and that put things into my perspective,” Isaac says. “My brothers also feel the same about growing up as immigrants. And now that we’re adults, we can make our own decisions, and we felt like we could help others who were like us with this cause.”

Inspired to make a difference in whatever way they could, the four Soto brothers and their father (Cessar, Isaac, Ruben, Edwin and Shannon… or, The Cires) began to organize an online concert in December, with their help of their music- and video-producing friend, Christian Francisco.

“We wanted to do something that was influenced by our roots—The Beatles, Mexican romanticas, and being hella Hayward—and we looked at the Live 8 concert, which was a music event in the ’80s that was used to raise awareness about AIDS. We thought it could be cool to do our own miniature version of that for us to raise money,” Isaac explains.

After a month of promotional giveaways, coordinating technical equipment, rehearsing songs and securing a venue (Isaac’s work office, which wasn’t being used due to COVID, became a one-night studio), the brothers put on a livestreamed show where viewers could contribute money for the relief funds, and could also request songs and give shoutouts live in return for their support.

Mostly performing in Spanish and Spanglish, the group played a nearly two-hour set dubbed the Central American Relief Concert, which aired on YouTube and remains available for viewing.

To their own surprise, The Cires say they garnered over $3,000—more than they’d anticipated. When asked what they planned to do with the money and how it would be used to help Central Americans, Isaac shared that he’s been in close contact with his friend, Hellena Cedeño. With the help of her family member Linda Zelaya, a lawyer in Honduras, and they have coordinated where to allocate resources.

“We established a close relationship with her, and we trusted that she wouldn’t take the money and just buy a new car, and that she would actually organize and distribute the supplies,” Isaac says with a laugh. “Thankfully she has enough money to endure what happened, so we knew she had good intentions and just wanted to help others. We had an idea to donate to the Red Cross or another big org, but you never know where that money goes directly, so that’s why we chose to do it on a more personal level.”

To ensure that the money is being spent properly, the brothers have maintained communication with the Cedeño family, and have posted pictures and videos on their Instagram to let fans and supporters know how the money is actually benefiting families in need. In one photo, Hellena’s family members are assembling relief materials and supplies—enough to fill up their living room—as preparation for aiding their community. Their efforts were even covered on a Honduran news channel. 

This successful international community effort is a reminder that no matter how far apart we feel in these times, we shouldn’t forget that creativity and compassion can work together, and that we’re in some ways more connected than ever before—regardless of our backgrounds, borders or status.

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“I don’t think we’ll ever become famous or earn big bucks, but just recording music and doing fundraisers like this will now be a part of our family’s legacy,” Isaac tells me. “We don’t depend on music to live—it’s just a serious hobby that allows us to do something amazing like this. We’re free to do whatever we want with our art, and we chose to help others; it’s not just for us, and we’re glad to help out whoever we can.”