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Ladyfest Tijuana: An interview with Ines Castillo, organizer from Ladyfest Tijuana

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32° 30' 35.1432" N, 117° 1' 34.9212" W

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Ines Castillo and I am 29 years old. I dedicate most of my time doing literature, art or theater workshops for kids, although I also teach at a high school. I am also an activist- almost full time. Sometimes teaching at the high school gets in my way of doing activist projects. But, yes this is what I do.

Are you from here?

Yes I was born here in Tijuana.

How did you get involved in organizing Ladyfest Tijuana?

Well, around 1998 or 1999, I started listening to the Riot Grrrls, and then I found out that they organized Ladyfest. Then I began to learn about their history and Ladyfests in general, world wide. I really did not think about organizing one at that time, until I went to Ladyfest Monterrey (Mexico) two years ago. I thought to myself, “Well, doing a festival like this could be good for Tijuana, too!” I didn’t think that it had be called Ladyfest because I thought the name was patented, but I did want to do something similar to it. So, when I got back to Tijuana, Stefanie, who was also at Ladyfest Monterrey, and Ana from Hermosillo- who actually organized the festival in Monterrey- got together with me and we decided to organize ladyfest in Tijuana in October of last year. Ana moved to Tijuana specifically to organize Ladyfest and then we started to build from there.

Were you in communication with other Ladyfests’ organizers in order to get feedback or advice on how to go forward with the festival?

Well, I did let other organizers know that we were planning on doing one, but we didn’t ask for much help. We just did it. However, we did talk to organizers from Monterrey and Saltillo, Coahuila. But we basically focused on what we thought was needed to be said here in Tijuana. The message is not always the same everywhere.

What inspired you to organize a Ladyfest? Why do you think your city needed one?

Firstly, Ladyfest Los Angeles and all the themes they had going on. I didn’t go (even though I wanted to), but I read the entire program. What caught my attention was that it was all DIY. So I thought to myself, “We can pull this off in Tijuana.” Monterrey was also inspiring, although there were certain things that I did not like at all. For example, one of their issues was that the organizers were divided into committees and one of those, the art committee didn’t really check up on what one of the pieces scheduled in was really about. It turns out that the artist of this piece was pro-life and I thought it was outrageous that someone against abortion would take part of the main frame in a Ladyfest.

No, that doesn’t make sense.

Exactly. Another thing is that bands taking part in a Ladyfest should be made up mostly of women, but if that doesn’t happen, like it was the case here in Tijuana – there are very few all-female bands here- then at least there should be one female in the band. In Monterrey, however, even though there were all-female bands, some of them sang “male” songs and had sexist lyrics. So, they were repeating the same macho pattern. That’s exactly what we did not want in Tijuana. We invited very few people to participate but we wanted those who wanted to get involved to read the call for submissions and truly understand what they were getting into. In the end, many decided not to participate and did not register themselves again. And I guess that is fine because then people knew what they were going for; the same went for us.

How did you go about organizing Ladyfest? Who was involved and what kind of support did you receive?

At first, we were Ana, Stefanie and I. Ana returned to Hermosillo and she helped us from far away. However, we needed someone physically here. Stefanie and I ended up organizing a pre-Ladyfest, which was a small concert. It was quite a lot of work but we did it. But thanks to the pre-Ladyfest, which was on March 8th of this year, a lot of people joined us in our effort. So, since then, we were not only two people anymore, we were six. Then we did another event and even more people joined our team. In the end, our team was comprised of 12 people and even backed up by much bigger organizations. But the truth is that I was ready to give up several times. Meetings sometimes did not work out, or some people were not taking care of their tasks like organizing drinking water, transportation or venue. We didn’t have money for this or that. However, I always kept the faith that in the end, last minute, people would help out and support me because solidarity works that way. That way, I could rest my mind and not worry so much because I knew that if people saw me struggling carrying stuff around and setting up or whatever, they would not hesitate in helping. I knew there would be supportive people around.

What did you like about organizing this Ladyfest? What would you say was significant to you as an organizer?

Maybe you could call it romantic or whatever, but I really liked seeing people’s excited faces. People made comments like, “Wow, you really did a great job here”; or “We need more events like this one”; “Thanks for all the workshops”, etc. People’s appreciation and gratitude was what I liked the most. All of us cooperated, a little or a lot, but we were all there. Personally, I focused on punctuality and tried to keep the program on schedule, since there were several no-shows. In these cases, I had to figure out how to fill in the vacant spot on the schedule and I really liked being able to improvise and solve the problem.
For example, in the program, we scheduled simultaneous workshops for kids or adults and people chose the workshop they wanted to attend. One day, one of the kids’ workshop presenters did not arrive and we found ourselves wondering what to do about it. So we decided to put up a sign on a bulletin board we had and wrote: “who wants to do a workshop with the kids?” Immediately, two or three people offered to help and so they improvised something for the kids. As I thought to myself, I realized it was not completely improvised because the people were there and it was just a matter of organizing a solution with them…and it worked!

What was the program like? Has there been a main focus, such as on music, or on a specific topic?

Well, there were music gigs both days. On Friday there were two bands, and on Saturday there were like 5 bands. On Sunday, the scheduled band, Polka Madre, didn’t arrive at all. So, that was for the musical side of things. Most bands were made up of women, and when there bands with only one woman, then at least all them were anti-sexist...or at least that's what the seemed in order to be part of the program. All of the bands were really good and people liked the music.

How many people attended the festival?

Well, I think that it is when the most people were around- during the music gigs. I guess people here are really into music and such. Besides, bands from other places came, like Bruse Violet from Los Angeles, or Doctor Bird from San Diego. So, people were probably curious about these bands and wanted to hear what they had to offer. I am not exactly sure about the amount of people we had, but at least there were 190 registered, and in addition there were people who did not register- including the whole Ladyfest team (we simply didn’t even have time for that).

Besides music, there was artistic expression in the form of photography and paintings. There was one project which was a story represented by 12 drawings that were hung on 12 different trees around the ranch. It was a story by Michelle Ende, but drawn out by this young woman. In addition to the art exhibitions, there were performances by Rak Sabina and by a theater group called Metamorfosis. We also had a lot of workshops. We had 3 simultaneous workshops with the duration of one hour each. So, we had workshops all day on Saturday, until 6 in the afternoon and on Sunday, until 4pm.

How did the workshop/conference on “Mujeres Fronterizas” (“Frontier Women”) work out?

That workshop got canceled. A big issue we had to deal with was that some of the workshop conductors didn’t show up because they could not find the place or because they thought we were supposed to go pick them up. Of course, we could not do that while the festival was already happening. So, 3 or 4 workshops had to be canceled.

How about the workshop called “Taking Back the Media”? Could you tell us a bit about it?

That workshop was given by Tita. She has a radio show called “Chispa con Tita”. She is a student at the University of San Diego. She studies communications and media and came to talk to us about her experiences in the radio show and about “Chicanismo” and the definition of “Chicano”. There were several participants there.

What were the people’s reactions to the idea of “Chicano”?

Well, the majority of the people reacted positively. The name “Chicano” did not come across as degrading and people really did not make much noise around the that topic, even though I know that other people out there talk about it and its surrounding issues.

Another general thing to mention is that because I was here and there and everywhere, I could not participate in completely in any of the workshops and I missed out on a lot. So, what I am talking about here is more in general and from the feedback I got after the festival. That’s why I don’t want to organize another one (jeje) – because I miss out on the workshops!

So, you wouldn’t organize another Ladyfest?

Well, I actually would do with, with pleasure. However, I would do less workshops and would not do schedule them simultaneously so that one could attend all workshops offered. But definitely, there would be fewer workshops; we got over excited and put all kinds of things on the program. We sent the call out for participation in the festival and we received responses just a few days before the actual festival, which we ended up agreeing to for the program. Next time, at least, I would make the festival shorter, like a day and a half.

What would you change about the festival and what would you still keep on doing the next time you organize such an event?

Well, I would definitely make the duration of the festival shorter- a day or a day and a half. Three days was too much (for us). If it were to be three days long, then we would need much more people to help out in the organizational part, and responsible people at that. Some people told us things like “Yeah, we will be there!”, but the day of the festival, we could not really be sure on whether or not they would show up. Actually, we still have not heard from those people. So, if we organize a 3 day festival again, then there needs to be more people to help out. However, if there is the same amount of people in the organization team as in this year, then the festival has to last just a day and a half.

I would have liked to have more bands from Tijuana. Unfortunately though, there aren’t enough bands. You could say that there are female bands here in Tijuana but not all of them are conscious about their way of being, or they don’t acknowledge there feminism, or they even reject it. In México, in general, there aren’t many female bands. What would have been better than having all Mexican bands- because it is Ladyfest México, even though it is in Tijuana, the very top left corner of the country? However, it turned out to be more of a binational event, which is fine, too. But I would have really liked it if more women from México would have participated in this Ladyfest.

A positive element that continues to inspire me to keep on working on Lady Fest was that the whole event was really interdisciplinary. I really liked that suddenly a band was playing and when it was done, there was already a performance happening at another area. At the end of that performance, some other happening began right after; when that we over, a theater piece started. That was a lot of fun.

What kind of feedback did you get from the people who attended this Ladyfest?

Well, you know how no one gives real critique, right? We are used to saying “Awesome! I gotta go!” No one really gives constructive or destructive criticism. So, up until now, after a week, I have not received any complaint. Maybe we did not take care of the logistical aspect of things so well, like providing exact explanations of how to find the place or sending out a reminder to everyone. And even though no one has mentioned it, I know we were careless about such things like locating the people who were going to exhibit their work, bringing the workshop conductors to the festival, even though we had a team of people coming and going to pick up people. You know how we say we will be there at 4, but we are there at 5? Well, a lot of the people we were supposed to pick up were coming from the U.S., and they arrive punctually and leave punctually, too. Not us, we always arrive late, we lose a bus or whatever. That’s what I would not do again. But I did receive positive critiques. Some people said it was “Awesome” and that we should do the festival again. Others said that they would like to be part of next year’s festival. “I will help out”, some said. Others offered to be part of the organization, said they could help with food or transportation and even made suggestions for improvements for the next festival. These are all things that make me want to do Ladyfest again.

What advice would you give to any other person who is thinking about organizing a Ladyfest anywhere else in the world?

Well, in the literal and strict sense, I would say you have to keep on reminding people about dates, places, make a map, and even go visit the people personally. That was my experience this time. You also have to have many people on your side. On the more metaphorical side, we give a lot from ourselves so that everything comes out right, sometimes too much, and in the end, everything turns out fine! I was beginning to suffer from gastritis because of all the stress. I didn’t eat for a day, but I was over doing it for my limits. So, I would say that we should not exaggerate. Everything will turn out fine. In the end, on the very day of the event, people join in solidarity and support you. Also, of course, don’t be afraid of asking everyone for help. Say strictly, “Hey, I need you to take 20 jugs of water (to this place)”; don’t be afraid of asking for what you need and have faith that everything will turn out great. Do everything with passion!

How is feminism perceived among women here in Tijuana?

Well, most of my (girl) friends are feminists, or at least they call themselves that. However, I also have had friends that do not consider themselves feminist and because of that they have stopped talking to me, even guys. In Tijuana, there is still this distorted concept or view of the term feminism; some think that machismo is the exact opposite of feminism. Sometimes I think I don’t even have time to explain to a friend what feminism means exactly. However, I would say that it is my way of life, that I also seek a better life with more opportunities and that I want to feel freedom walking down the street, without having anybody shouting out at me. In my home, I believe in gender equality and think that both men and women should share the work equally. I want justice and I want women to get equal pay for the same job a man does. That is feminism to me, or at least that is how I live it out. However, I have had my share of problems because of all this. People have stopped talking to me and others might suggest that I shouldn’t talk about feminism, in the same way people suggest not to talk about politics or religion. So, fine, I don’t talk about feminism with such people, which is a bummer because I am who I am; it’s my way of life. I cannot be changing who I am depending on the people I am with. I try to say what I think and do what I say.

What would you say is a good way to rid feminism of its negative connotation?

Well, we have been fighting for 500 years. What I say or do with feminism is something from the memory. I am recalling history. As I talk now, I am speaking for many women from the past. Feminism is a battle. Feminism is definitely politics. Feminism is not about being above the others; it’s about equality, not just in terms of the female gender, but in terms of the many genders there are. There needs to be more awareness and respect towards others. Sexism must end; we are getting bombarded with that all over. In the strict sense of smoothing out the meaning or demands of feminism for other to understand, I would say that the world should simply let women (and people of every gender) be.

What role did the genderqueer and trans-inclusive policy and the concept of 'self-identified' women play in this Ladyfest? Were there people who attended who you think had not had specific contact with feminist activism?

Well, I think that there were some people who had not been to this kind of event before. Of course, one cannot ask around at the door whether or not she/he is feminist: “You are feminist; go ahead! You aren’t; please leave!” There were all kinds of people and that was our goal. The point with this event was that people gain some sort of awareness of what feminist women in Tijuana are doing. However, that might come later, after having attended Ladyfest. People might realize later and say, “Oh, it’s because they are feminist!” On the other hand, some people probably went just because of the music and were satisfied with the great bands, without realizing the main concepts behind the festival. The title of the festival, however, must stir people minds somehow. I just hope people left with a bit more consciousness, in whatever shape or form.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Well, because we already did a Ladyfest and because many people are interested in participating next year, I am sure we will continue doing this kind of event in the future. I am not sure if I will specifically organize another Ladyfest, but I would definitely keep on working with many of the organization team from this festival; we already miss each other! The team was made up of all kinds of people from all kinds of ages, and we saw each other very often and worked together very hard. So, I just warn you that we want to continue being active and doing such events!

Ines Castillo
Haydeé Jimenez and Elke Zobl
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