(A four-part series introducing on our Niñas Arriba scholarship recipients. Written by Sarah Esther Maslin.)
Xiomara is twenty-five years old. She’s married to her childhood sweetheart and they have a two-year old daughter. Her husband, a trained mechanic who works full-time in an auto shop, wants to build a house on a small plot of land he owns so the three of them can start a life together.
But Xiomara is a climber.
When she was fourteen, she moved from a backward village in San Vicente to San Salvador with her mother. The move opened the door to a high-school education, and attending the Maria Auxiladora School made Xiomara want to go to college. A scholarship from Niñas Arriba made it happen.
Then she learned she was pregnant.
Like so many working women, Xiomara feared that her peers and teachers would see her as less capable because she had a child. That fear disappeared one afternoon when she was eight months pregnant and a classmate invited her to Burger King. Pink and blue balloons greeted her at the door and a crowd of Economics majors shouted, “Surprise!” Her professor showed up to the baby shower carrying a cake.
At first, Xiomara didn’t know how to juggle her classes with a newborn baby. After her daughter Ariana was born in October 2013, she started doing her homework late at night, but she’d lose focus every time the baby woke up.
Eventually, Xiomara learned to study more efficiently—prioritizing assignments, working quickly, and blocking out distractions.
“I couldn’t hole up in the library with friends for hours anymore,” she said. But having less-than-perfect working conditions has prepared Xiomara for a job in the real world. And having Ariana has given her something to fight for.
When I met the two of them at the university one morning, Ariana, in pigtails, wore her mother’s university ID on a lanyard around her neck. In the library—just one big room with a couple dozen bookshelves and a computer cluster—Ariana presented the ID to the security attendant.
Outside, students chatted on benches and gathered at picnic tables, textbooks spread out in front of them. Xiomara pointed out the new Economics wing—a block-like building painted blue, green and yellow with orange Z-shaped staircases jutting out from each end.
As we ate pupusas in the student cafeteria—Xiomara’s scholarship includes a daily food budget—we chatted about Xiomara’s hopes for the future. She wants to get a job at a big corporation, perhaps a car dealership or a technology firm—somewhere where hard work is rewarded by the chance to climb within the company. Quotas excite her; so do the bonuses that come with them.
It was easy to forget what was happening beyond campus walls. July 27, the day before we met, was one of the most violent days since El Salvador’s twelve-year civil war. Gangs called a countrywide bus strike, in an effort to destabilize the government, and over the course of 24 hours, seven bus drivers were murdered.
Meanwhile, thousands of Salvadorans had no way to get to work. They flagged down pick-up trucks, cramming in like cattle, clutching each other for balance as the trucks sped down the highway. The few busses that continued to operate were packed with passengers willing to risk a stray bullet in order to get to their jobs and classes.
Xiomara, Vanessa and Ariana were among them. In Soyapango, where they live, gangs collect a weekly extortion tax from every household. Most people pay “la renta” and try to go about their lives without thinking too much.
When Xiomara’s husband moved to San Salvador to be closer to her and Ariana, gang members assaulted him in the auto shop where he worked. After he watched gangsters pilfer the cash register, a gun against his head, he told Xiomara he couldn’t take it anymore. He returned to San Vicente, where the gang presence isn’t as strong.
Every weekend, Xiomara and Ariana take a two-hour bus ride, followed by a series of local buses and pick-up trucks, to see him. But Xiomara is trying to persuade him to move back to San Salvador so she can work in the city when she graduates. There aren’t any corporate jobs in the village where they grew up.
More importantly, Xiomara wants Ariana to go to a bilingual school. She wants her daughter to have the chance to climb even higher.
Exciting news! Xiomara received a US visa to attend the Aug. 13 Niñas Arriba benefit concert in Austin, featuring Sara Hickman and Suzanna Choffel. Come to the show and meet her!
It’s on mah friends! Join us for our most exciting Niñas Arriba College Fund benefit concert to date on Saturday, August 13 at Stateside at the Paramount! Help us celebrate our first college graduate, Xiomara, with powerhouse Austin musicians Sara Hickman and Suzanna Choffel!
We’re also seeking individual and business sponsorships – email me at email@example.com!
[Check out this week's Austin Chronicle for yours truly bearing all, hasta los chones!]
It was July 2014. My album, Up.Rooted, was still buzzing from spins on NPR, USA Today and a weekend hang with Shakira and Enrique Iglesias at the top of the iTunes and Amazon Latin charts, and it was time for my yearly trek to NYC for the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC)—think: tiny baby SXSW for Latino music-makers, movers and shakers.
Panels boast a healthy lineup of heavy hitters—music supervisor for Nike, president of the Latin Grammys, head of multicultural content at Google, etc.—who actually hang around exchange business cards for your latest music. Networking, baby!
Jodi, my partner in life and the true engine behind all things Gina Chavez music, was with me, and for a girl who equates preparation with that over-the-counter creme, I was prepared! Branded business cards, NYC show flyers, 40 shrink-wrapped albums. Listas!
We landed at JFK airport and hopped a nearly empty train at Jamaica Station. Plenty of room to spread out. By the time we hit midtown, the train was packed. Jodi and I had miscalculated the best stop to get us uptown and made a quick decision to hop off two stops before our planned exit for a better route. (Internal high-five.)
It wasn’t until we all stepped onto the platform that I noticed. Our black carry-on was… still on the train! Subway doors slammed shut and poof! My luggage—with all our clothes, shoes, and gear—disappeared into the black abyss.
Eyes widen. Brain screams, “NOOOOO!” Then starts racing, wallet!? phone!? CDs!? By the grace of God, that morning Jodi and I had hastily moved half of the CDs from our luggage into her backpack. And my wallet was there, too. Gracias a Dios!
I sprinted to the subway kiosk attendant who, at glacial pace, said, “well, why would you leave your bag on the train?” No help there. Filed a police report. No help there. It was midnight by the time we found ourselves buying a cheap replacement wardrobe at the Forever 21 on Times Square. Oh and we got panties at Walgreens. To this day, I’m convinced I’ll find someone performing in the subway with my loop station while hawking my CDs. But it’s the panties I wonder about most. We dubbed it the #bringbackmypantiestour.
Every time I travel, I embark with great intentions of blogging. Well this time I’m really doing it! Every Friday, the Austin Chronicle will publish my tour diary as we journey to five different countries; a journey that begins in less than 3 hours. But before I grab a couple hours of shuteye, here’s the first installment.
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Gina Chavez is a bilingual Latin-folk singer/songwriter who blends the sounds of the Americas with tension and grace. Her latest independent release, Up.Rooted, is a passionate collection of bilingual songs traversing cumbia, bossa nova, vintage pop, reggaeton, and folk combined with dynamic vocals and sharp social commentary.
The album won the praise of National Public Radio (NPR), USA Today, and The Boston Globe, and topped the iTunes and Amazon Latin charts after a feature on NPR’s All Things Considered. She is the 2014 John Lennon Songwriting Contest (JLSC) Grand Prize Winner for her song “Siete-D,” a rock-cumbia-rap mix that explores the delights and dangers of El Salvador from a window on the 7-D, the bus route she rode as a volunteer there in 2010.
Backed by a six-piece band, Chavez has claimed a prominent stake in the Live Music Capital. An eight-time Austin Music Award winner, Chavez and her band swept the 2015 awards, winning Musician of the Year, Album of the Year (Up.Rooted), Song of the Year (“Siete-D”), Best Latin Band, and the Esme Barrera Award for Music Activism and Education, while placing in six other categories. They have shared the stage with Grace Potter, Grammy winners La Santa Cecilia, Latin Grammy winner Gaby Moreno, Mexico’s Carla Morrison, Argentina’s Federico Aubele, Las Cafeteras from L.A., and Austin’s own Grupo Fantasma. In 2013, they performed for Latin rockstar Juanes as one of nine bands nationwide selected for the Dewaristas contest.
Chavez is currently promoting the June 2015 release of the official music video for “Siete-D.” The video – filmed last October in El Salvador — follows Chavez on an exciting cross-country journey to reunite with her former students — young women she considers her Salvadoran sisters and four of whom are able to attend college on scholarships from Niñas Arriba, a college fund co-founded by Chavez and her partner, Jodi Granado, since their volunteer year in 2010. Southern Living and Olay named Chavez one of 11 “southern iconic women who have left a beautiful footprint across the South,” for her continued work in El Salvador.
“Gina Chavez is the 2015 Austin Music Awards Musician of the Year. Enough said. If you get to SX early, you can see her at The Sidewinder Outside on Tuesday, March 15.” [read full article]
“La cantautora de ascendencia mexicana y suiza-alemana, Gina Chávez, lanzó ayer, a través de Youtube, el nuevo video grabado en El Salvador de su canción “Siete D”, un tema basado en la ruta de…” [leer el articulo]
“…when you’re on top of the world, you can pretty much go anywhere. So why not record a jazzy cover of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”?… [read full track premiere]
Much has happened for Gina Chavez since I first saw her at an unofficial SXSW showcase about five years ago: two albums, fan and industry recognition, this year’s Austin Music Award for Austin Musician Of The Year… [watch full concert]
Gina Chavez, who previously won Austin Musician of the Year, appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert recently and really represented. Below is the whole show, and it’s a wonderful Wednesday pick-me-up… [read full article]
We’re very very happy today to get a chance to hear a wonderful performance from Gina Chavez and her band. She is a multiple Austin Music Award winner; she’s had an amazing life thus far… [listen]
ATX6 today announced its new group of rising Austin musicians that will represent our fair city at North By Northeast (NXNE) and other international festivals this year… [read full article]
Filling the State Theatre with Black Fret donors Saturday night, Gina Chavez debuted the music video for her Austin Music Awards Song of the Year, “Siete-D.” The evening raised almost $12,000 for… [read full article]
I really like this record, it’s produced by one of my favorite producers, Michael Ramos, there in Austin and I think it really captures her essence and her voice. It really feels like she’s gotten to that sweet spot… [listen]
The Grupo Fantasma horns join Chavez on my favorite, a raucous rock-Cumbia-rap mix titled “Siete-D” where we jump on the 7D bus for a ride through El Salvador, a country where Chavez lived and continues to do mission work… [listen]
Gina Chavez’ “Siete-D” wins the Latin category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest Session 1… [see contest results]
Singer-songwriter Gina Chavez may be a Texan, but on her latest album she reconnects with her Latin roots, singing in both English and Spanish. Up.Rooted blends Latin folk and American pop… [hear full interview]
Bridging two cultures, the Latin songstress feels both out of place and exactly where she belongs…
Nothing short of one artist’s hallmark, this collection embodies Gina Chavez as an artist of her own right… [read full album review]
With Up.Rooted, Gina Chavez has established herself as the Joan Baez of her generation… [read full album review]
Gina Chavez is due onstage at the Austin Music Awards. Right now. Problem is, she’s still at her official South by Southwest showcase on Sixth Street. Fortunately, she’s only blocks from the Convention Center, and adrenaline from a packed, dynamic performance… [read full article]
Swiss/German/Mexican songstress Gina Chavez dives into her Latin roots on her new album, exploring the complexities… [read full article]
Gina Chavez’s Maiz, which streams exclusively at USA TODAY, is sung in Spanish and vocalizes the effects of NAFTA on Mexican immigrants… [read full article]
The result is an album that’s as confident as it is refreshing… [read full album review]
Pride bursts from every track of up.rooted. Fiery Latina Gina Chavez celebrates her musical roots in this… [read full album review]
Her writing doesn’t waste a syllable, and she gets right to heart of the matter – with a voice that knows its way around painful ecstasy… [read full article]
We are glad to announce that award-winning local singer-songwriter, Gina Chavez is back… [listen]
Gina Chavez’s voice stops you in your tracks the first time you hear it. At least that’s how it worked for me when I came upon her performance during South by Southwest a few years ago. She was playing a… [stream full album]
It’s quite possible that Chavez has a monster indie album on her hands. She is equally comfortable singing in Spanish or English and the material is nothing short of gorgeous with songs… [read full show review]
If anybody in Austin is mixing cumbia, bossa nova, reggaeton and old-school Latin pop to better effect than Gina Chavez, we’d love to know about it. This Austin Music Awards winner recently returned from eight months of mission work in Central America to write an irresistible album detailing… [read full article]
Through a journey of dancing beats, hypnotic language and enticing rhythms Chavez’s sound fires up a soulful album that barrels over any and everything… [read full album review]
Joy of Violent Movement – Track Review (1.16.14)
NPR Alt. Latino – Track Featured in Podcast (1.16.14)
PopMatters – Track Premiere/Review (12.3.13)
KUTX 98.9 FM – Radio News (12.12.13)
KOOP 97.1 FM – Radio Interview (1.13.14)
Remezcla – Track Review (12.9.13)
Enchufate – News (12.6.13)
Hot 106.1 FM – Podcast Interview (12.6.13)
BWW Music – News (12.11.13)
Faronheit – Track Post (12.12.13)
Altsounds – News/Track Post (12.13.13)
Nerdy Frames – News/Track Post (12.14.13)
LatinTrends: Introducing Gina Chavez
San Antonio Express-News: Latin rock star Juanes is celebrity judge at Club Rio
ConexionSA: Juanes looking for good songs
Blastro2 (VIDEO): Un encuentro “dulce y fire” con Gina Chavez
Austin Chronicle | Saborcito: Pachanga Latino Music Festival Fusion
Billboard: Intocable, Los Lobos, Carla Morrison Among Headliners for Pachanga Latino Music Fest
PuroPinche: 6th Annual Pachanga Fest (ATX)
The Globe and Mail | Canada: Austin’s Live Music Scene, Interview with Gina Chavez
Wanderless Austin: Austin Free Week, Austin Vida Showcase
Joy of Violent Movement – Track Review (1.16.14)
In 2009, Gina Chavez and Jodi Granado left their comfy lives in Central Texas for cold showers and chicken buses in Central America; to live out of a suitcase in El Salvador, where volcanoes and poverty loom large; to teach dramatic teenage girls in a gang-dominated barrio for eight months. They struggled, laughed, loved and received lots and lots of hugs.
But the mission didn’t end when they landed stateside in the Summer of 2010. Gina & Jodi immediately established Niñas Arriba, a college fund that offers full scholarships to a private, Catholic university for girls they lived with in Soyapango.
“Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and the empowerment of women.” – Kofi Annan, Former United Nations Secretary-General
Donations directly fund low-cost, high-quality education for young women in need. Scholarships cover monthly tuition, academic fees and supplies, food and transportation for four students — Xiomara, Marta, Vanesa and Rosemary — and are sent directly to the university in our students’ names.
booking (at) ginachavez (dot) com
Ryan (at) PressJunkiePR (dot) com