What started as an identity crisis has since grown into a highlight of the Latino community.

Photo by Al Rendon
Uvalde Mural by Jaime Prado

By: Bella Larralde.

Where it All Started

Music, Art and Soul (MAS) is what rising nonprofit MAS Cultura is all about. What started as a Chicana woman trying to find her community within Austin evolved into a group dedicated to shining the light on all underrepresented communities. 

Monica Maldonado is the girl boss who started it all. Maldonado is an Austin native who grew up in the heart of South Austin. She attended Becker Elementary, Fulmore Middle School and Travis Early College High School while residing in the Dove Springs community, where her mother still resides. 

The passion Maldonado demonstrates for her culture derives from her Chicana heritage. During her childhood, her mother sent her to Mexico to stay with family, and it was there where she was exposed to cultural traditions such as posadas and quinceaneras. Meanwhile, on her American side, she learned customs from her neighborhood and, most importantly, her mother, who supported her family with three jobs.

“The term [Chicana] is a way for us U.S.-born Americans who have Mexican descendants to identify ourselves as ‘ni de aqui ni de alla’ (neither here nor there),” says Maldonado. “Identifying as a Chicana reflects the intersection of my identity as both Mexican and American.” 

Photo by: Ed Vela. In the photo: Dr. Sylvia Herrera (PODER Co-Founder.) Event Pictured: Cesar Chavez Day march.

A short-term move to Phoenix, Arizona, in 2016 immersed Maldonado in Chicano culture. After seeing lowriders and experiencing the heavy Latino presence in Phoenix for nearly two years, moving back to Austin stunned her. 

“I was having an identity crisis, wondering where my people were at,” Maldonado expresses. “It was a challenge because I came from Phoenix, where it was diverse and there was more Latino representation, and so when I came back home, I realized we are not represented in this city.”

A coincidental run-in with a lowrider exhibit near her job gave Maldonado the chance to find the community she sought. While speaking with some of the event attendees, they mentioned a local park called Chicano Park, sparking curiosity inside Maldonado to dive deeper. 

“I went to the park, and I already had in mind this vision to curate an exhibit, to share with them the possibility of what we could do with art to express ourselves and celebrate the culture,” says Maldonado. 

With the advice from a friend to act and find her community, Maldonado took the initiative to start organizing her first event. She began by fostering connections and networking in her neighborhood to get the word out.

Photo by: Monica Maldonado. Event Pictured: Mas Cultura Mural Summer Program.

“I curated an exhibit; my idea was that it would be all woman photographers, and the women selected would not be models,” Maldonado explains. “There is no culture without the people, and I did the work, printed the fliers, went to body shops and went to the neighborhood where I was hosting the exhibit and went door to door inviting people.”

Her first event was in the summer of July 2019, a photo pop-up show with a lowrider meet up, was a success, and with that she knew she wanted to create an organization inspired by the culture and values she observed. 

“One of the things that fascinated me about the low riders was the dedication they had, the loyalty, the respect, and it was all these pillars and values that make up who we are as Latinos,” says Maldonado. 

MAS Cultura

When brainstorming names, Maldonado decided on a play on words with the word más, the Spanish word for more: Music, Art and Soul. Thus in June 2021, MAS Cultura was formed and founded. 

“The very first art show I curated under MAS Cultura I did in collaboration with another group,” Maldonado recalls. “I had 65 Latino artists, with upward of 70% who had never shown their work.”

Photo by: Leandra Blei Photography.

Maldonado’s desire to center artists derives from the fact that whatever sparse resources the Latino community receives are usually focused on health and wellness. While both are important assets to any community, what about the cultural arts?

“Cultural arts are essential so we have a form to express ourselves, and all of it combined lands on mental health,” Maldonado explains. “We need it.”

MAS Cultura’s mission is to empower and help raise funds for artists of various capabilities. For example, with Latino Art WKND 2021, the nonprofit was able to collectively raise more than $15,000 for Latino artists and performers showcasing their passions. 

“I am honored that people trust us with the work of our mission,” Maldonado says with a sense of urgency. “But then, it also saddens me that there is so much needed and such a lack of resources.”

The Cross-Section of Culture and Community

Not only does MAS Cultura help local artists, but they incorporate their art in meaningful ways. In the summer of 2022, after the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, MAS Cultura helped fundraise for two artists to create a personalized mural to honor the 21 victims. Showing up for the community in ways like that is something Maldonado hopes to increase amongst everyone.

“MAS Cultura stepped in,” Maldonado expresses. “If we wouldn’t have stepped in, no one else would have. No other organization does what we do.”

Further examples of MAS Cultura’s intentional integration of culture and community include the organization’s collaboration with CapMetro. The two have collaborated in order to bring local artists and the community together. The For US, by US: Celebrating Diversity Bus Art series selects an artist to paint a mural for a given heritage month, such as Native American Heritage Month or Women’s History Month. The piece will then be displayed on a bus.

“This collaboration makes me feel inspired,” emphasizes Maldonado. “Working alongside others with diverse talents and ideas really motivates me and pushes me to explore new possibilities and think outside the box.”

MAS Cultura’s event Fuerza was one of Maldonado’s favorite events she has taken part in. The line to attend and see the work of different artists and photographers stretched down the block. In a time where she felt photography was overlooked, it astounded Maldonado.

“I’ll never forget Art Flores; [he]sold all his photography that night,” recalls Maldonado. “He looked at me and said, ‘For the first time I see myself as an artist,’ and that was something that echoed throughout the room.”

Photo by: Luis Nieves. Event pictured: first lowrider photo pop up exhibit in July 2019.

Other past events hosted by MAS Cultura include MAS Cultura Festival and most recently Cultura Power, an unofficial South by Southwest event that MAS Cultura plans to organize again next year. The event contained panels, art displays and a musical showcase, as well as highlighting local businesses.

“The events [are]very neighborhood centered so that we keep the authenticity,” says Maldonado. 

Photo by: Monica Maldonado. Muralist: Fili Mendieta.

Looking to the Future

Currently, Maldonado is an advisor in the new Carros y Cultura exhibit for the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Running until September 2, the exhibit contains lowrider legacies, some of which Maldonado handpicked, and includes actual lowrider cars in the museum. 

Photo by: Kevin Cloud. In the photo: Idalis Maldonado and Mousie Guerra.

“I never ever dreamt or imagined that we would take up space at The Bullock Texas State History Museum,” Maldonado expresses with enthusiasm. 

As for MAS Cultura’s future, analytics done by the organization show that their main age demographic is from 24 to 32. Maldonado hopes the next generation sustains and grows the organization.

“When I think about the dreams for me, it is that the organization becomes multigenerational. The next generation can grow MAS Cultura into something that no other cities have, grow it into something that can continue impacting the Latino community.”

Photo by: Zachariah C. Ulloa. Event Pictured: Mas Cultura Dia De Los Muertos.



Leave A Reply

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial