As the needle drops on an LP by Los Tigres del Norte, a group of female DJs in Oakland let out their gritos on the dance floor. It’s their rallying cry, telling the crowd these women are here to combat gender and cultural barriers — one record at a time.
“I come from, like, a Mexican household where I was not allowed to go out,” says Mar Velez, who goes by the name DJ Marvelouz. Compared to her brothers, she says, she felt really restricted growing up.
Now, DJ Marvelouz is center stage with her arms in the air, hyping up the crowd with Kendrick Lamar’s “Loyalty.”
This switch from norteño to hip-hop fazes no one. Everyone continues with their best two-step. Then things start to get real sweaty. “Quiero Bailar,” by the diva of reggaeton, Ivy Queen, booms from the speakers, while the disco ball reflects off the gold hoop earrings worn by many in the crowd.
For people of color who feel excluded from Oakland’s changing culture, this night on the dance floor at downtown's Legionnaire Saloon gives them a space to be unapologetically themselves.
“Big shoutout to all the black and brown bodies in this building! Celebrate yourself, celebrate your worth!” shouts one DJ through the speakers.
There’s no dress code, no cover, no lines and zero tolerance for harassment as this collective of vinyl-loving women spins their jams: new wave, cumbia, house, soul.
It's a dance party set to a bilingual soundtrack that reminds me of my childhood: chores on Saturday mornings, cruising to oldies, and dancing at quinceañera parties. As a teenager, I was embarrassed that my family only listened to funk, oldies and music in Spanish. But on tonight’s dance floor, I feel seen among other Latinx millennials who grew up like me.
A version of this story originally aired on KALW.