DJ Sizzle Fantastic has got an energy unlike any other. With her bubbly attitude and positivity, she can brighten the room in an instant. Sizzle, whose given name is Zacil Vazquez, has been working with music since she was 15 years old and is the creator of the popular event series known as Cumbiatón.

“I’m happy to be here chatting with you all, you know, as somebody who also came out of Boyle Heights and I’m always super excited and down to connect with other Boyle Heights and East LA youth,” Vazquez said in a recent interview with Boyle Heights Beat student journalists.

She was born in Guerrero, Mexico, and moved to Boyle Heights when she was 4 years old. “We lived in Cancun for a bit, both of those places were really tropical, really humid.. and here [in Boyle Heights] it wasn’t really that way,” Vazquez said. “So it was definitely a big difference.”

Her love of hip-hop, oldies, and Latin music helped her navigate life in Boyle Heights as a queer, undocumented woman and eventually led her to pursue DJing. 

Through her DJing gigs, Sizzle has built incredible relationships with the Latinx/Hispanic community and uses her platform to advocate for immigrants. In the interview she said that hosting in various parts of California for all kinds of audiences has deepened her love for music.

“When I would see people get happy over it [her playlists], or where they’d be like, ‘Oh, my God, this song is a banger,’ I fed off of that energy,” Vasquez said. 

Reporters Dania Legido and Anthony Acosta talked to Zacil “DJ Sizzle Fantastic” Vazquez about using her love for music to create a safe space for queer Latinx/Hispanic communities.

DJ Sizzle Fantastic speaks with the Boyle Heights Beat youth team. Photo by Kate Valdez for Boyle Heights Beta.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Boyle Heights Beat: What was your first encounter with music?

DJ Sizzle Fantastic: My first encounter with music happened in high school. I was a cheerleader and whenever there were cheer practices we used to bring… Okay, I’m gonna date myself here. We used to bring CDs, we used to burn CDs back in the day. Those of us who had  access to a computer, we used to be able to download songs, give our computer viruses in the meantime, but also get music, right? So we would burn the CDs and that’s how I started, just really liking music and thinking of it as a way of doing something more with it. 

But if we go further into that music was just always in my life. Shout out to my mom who always played music, Saturday or Sunday mornings cleaning. Growing up, as you walk through the ‘hoods, you hear hip hop over here, oldies over here, corridos, bandas… everything. So I’ve always thankfully been exposed to music.

BHB: How has Boyle Heights changed since you first came here as a child from Guerrero, Mexico? 

DJSF: You know, I’ve lived in Boyle Heights pretty much all my life since I got here. I’m 34. Oh my god, 30 years I’ve been here. And it has changed a lot. César Chávez [Ave.] was called La Brooklyn, Brooklyn Avenue. I’m not sure if y’all remember. It was what it was. A lot of POC, mainly immigrant communities, so I felt right at home. And unfortunately, it has changed, the demographics, the people. It’s one of those things that is hard to accept especially as we keep seeing our neighborhoods change. But overall I’m really happy that there’s still a lot of community here. We still have high schools with a lot of POC youth that are doing important work like you.  

BHB: You mentioned your mom. How did she or your family play a role in your musical journey?

DJSF:  My mom was my first introduction to music. She was the one that would play cumbia , salsa, merengue… tropical music at home. My dad was more into rock, Motown and oldies. So I got my tropical sense of music from my mom. And for my dad, I got the [music in English] and those two created the core of who I am now. Where my love of music stems from, and that’s from my parents.

BHB: How has your identity and gender influenced your career?

DJSF: It has a lot to do with it, it has everything to do with it, actually. I am a queer woman that has really had to make a name for herself in a male dominated industry. I was just thinking about that on my way here, because we actually just hosted an event at the Ford Theater where we were really intentional about booking women, queer, trans people of color, migrant people, because those are the people that are often left out of the conversation, left out of the stages, when in reality, we’re the ones that are creating, are at the forefront of culture. For me, that’s very important to do at whichever level of work that I’m doing, because it’s imperative that we’re always gathering and uplifting our communities. Because if we don’t do it, people are not going to do it for us.

BHB: Have you ever encountered challenges, being born outside of the U.S., in your musical career?

DJSF: Yeah, absolutely. Being undocumented is not fun. Even though it is trendy, I guess, for immigrant rights advocates. We like to talk about immigrants, undocumented folks. But the reality of it is that it’s not at all a glamorous life. It does come with a lot of hardships. Personally, I’ve had to continue to fight, whether it’s the imposter syndrome, whether thinking I’m not good enough, whether just feeling like I don’t belong. And that has happened since childhood…  I think it definitely has affected how I view myself as an adult now, and it’s something that I consistently have to fight. 

But I also think there is beauty in the resilience of undocumented people. There’s that saying, we have to fight twice as hard. And I think that’s really given me a lot of character. It’s given me a lot of strength, and it’s shaped the way I work. I always give it my all, no matter what I’m doing. And I think that’s definitely been a reflection of my work. And not only mine, but the undocumented, immigrant community as a whole.

BHB: What inspired you to become a DJ. What was the spark that convinced you?

DJSF:  The spark that convinced me was that I saw how music made people feel. I could put my entire  thought behind curating a playlist. And when I would see people get happy over it, or where they’d be like, ‘Oh, my God, this song is a banger. This is fire.’ I be like: ‘Okay, I see you.’ So I also fed off of that energy. And it wasn’t until later in my music career, that I really saw this as a way for me to continue to create art, but also continue to organize and build community. 

Again, it went back to seeing how music really heals people, right? When we’re sad. Sometimes those of us that are musically inclined tend to play our favorite sad songs, and get sadder, or sometimes we mix it up and play happy songs. So it’ll boost us, right? So that’s how I started, really seeing the power that music had with people. And I was blessed enough to have access to music equipment.

BHB: How do you prepare the Cumbiatón?  How do you create your playlists, what inspires you? What goes into the prep?

DJSF: Particularly for events like these, I like to create the fusion between the old and the new. I like to be that bridge between traditional and current. Because for myself, I like to play to all generations,  I like to play to all audiences and be able to find that sweet mix of both. And I think that has played very well into Cumbiatón and who we are as a whole, because you could hear Los Ángeles Azules and Tokischa,  right? You can hear Bad Bunny, but at the same time you could hear Laura León, right? It’s like all of these intergenerational artists that come into that curation of either a playlist or any event.

BHB: How has DJing changed since you first started?  

DJSF: I think when I first came into the industry, about 15 years ago, it was a lot more male dominated. There were only a few women-led spaces, queer-led spaces, and those were in West Hollywood. So we would have to get out of Boyle Heights to go and feel like we were part of a community. Fifteen years forward, now we see a lot of queer women- led parties. And I think it’s absolutely beautiful. And I hope to continue to see more of that.

 I’m really looking forward to the future to see where those younger generations are going to take the music scene and industry. Who knows, they might be either one of y’all.

BHB: How do you feel you have impacted the music industry?

DJSF:  How do I say this without tooting my own horn?

BHB: Go ahead, toot.

DJSF: I go back to the show that we produced at the Ford Theater in Hollywood, and the theater’s 103 years of being active. We were the first Noche de Cumbia that had queer, trans, black, brown bodies presenting, and giving people the stage and the recognition it deserved. In 103 years, we were the first show. So for us that is super major, that is historic. And to think that this group of undocumented immigrant, queer people are doing this is crazy to me, and it shouldn’t be, but it’s like no me cabe in my head.  If I’m being honest, a kid from Boyle Heights didn’t really think that she was capable, so when these things happen,  it’s wild to me. But at the same time I carry these achievements with a lot of pride, because I know that someday, somebody else from Boyle Heights is going to look at what we have done and be like, ‘I could do that, you know.’

So to answer your question, I think our contributions to music have already been historic. And I am super humbled and honored to be able to share those experiences with other people.

BHB: How did you initially decide to do the Cumbiatón?

DJSF: The idea of Cumbiatón came in 2006. I don’t know if y’all remember, around election time, how there was a certain individual causing a lot of havoc, both politically and socially. I’m not going to name them, but we will refer to him as the 45th. Our communities were very scared, particularly working communities, immigrant communities, queer communities, marginalized communities, right? And we’re still feeling the aftermath of that administration. 

Cumbiatón came out of the need for us to fight against people like him, or people that just wanted to put us back into the closet, en pocas palabras keep us oppressed. Because we did come from the organizing social justice movement [and we] provided a space for our fellow organizers, for fellow people in the trenches to come and dance, release, and rejoice in our own existence right at a moment where somebody tried to oppress us. , We were like, ‘Nah, we’re not going anywhere. In fact, we’re going to fight. And not only are we going to fight, we’re going to dance, and we’re going to sing, and we’re going to maybe cry while we’re doing it. But we’re going to let it out. And we’re going to heal.’ And that’s where Cumbiatón came about. 

And it was actually here, at the 1st Street Billiards, where we had our first Cumbiatón. It was only 35 people that showed up, and they were just our closest friends. But the event started growing little by little. And you know, now we’re at places like the Ford, we’re at places like Grand Park, we’re at places that are, you know, filling up to 1000 plus people. 

BHB: Do you have any upcoming shows in the neighborhood?

DJSF: Our last of the year, we call it a Posada Tropical, which is going to be here in Boyle Heights because as great and as amazing as other big venues are, I want to continue to bring back our party to the community that gave us all of the love [and] support that we have today. And that’s going to happen on December 15 at Don Quijote [on Olympic Blvd]. If you are 21 or older, you are more than welcome to come, but if you’re not, unfortunately you’re gonna have to wait.

BHB: Tell your parents to come.

DJSF: Tell your parents to come in. But you know, we usually do have all ages events and if y’all can come check one of those out, sometimes they’re free and I would definitely recommend you all checking it out so that you get to experience it. And if people want, follow us [on Instagram] the next few months, to see what we’re going to be doing.

BHB: Do you have any advice for upcoming DJs or someone who wants to get into the industry?

DJSF: Yeah. This is very important advice, so listen up: please never stop believing in your dreams, in your craft, in your music. There have been many doors, even to this day, that get closed right in front of my face. And while that really sucks,  it hasn’t stopped me. And if any of those doors that have closed had stopped me, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you all with a Cumbiatón fresh off of the Ford.  So if you have a craft, or if you have a skill, no matter… anybody can say that what you’re doing is silly, that it doesn’t matter, that you’re just wasting your time. As long as that craft, that dream is fulfilling you, you should follow it full force, and don’t let anybody else get in the way of your journey, of your dreams. 

A lot of DJs, a lot of musicians, wouldn’t be where they’re at if they stopped at the first ‘no’. So keep going. Just make sure you give your art, your craft, whatever it is that you are pursuing, you’re 100%. There’s always that saying, it’s 90% hard work and 10% chance of being at the right place at the right time. And I can tell you that that is 100% true. As long as you keep on working, you know, your day, your chance is going to come, you just have to be ready for it.

Dania Legido is a junior at Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School. She enjoys painting, writing, and listening to music in her free time. She hopes to attend a four-year university in the near future...

Anthony Acosta is a junior at Theodore Roosevelt High School. In his free time, he enjoys listening to music, taking photos of his favorite spots in the neighborhood and watching the latest horror movies....

Maria Castañeda is a junior at Theodore Roosevelt High School and part of the 2023-24 cohort of Boyle Heights Beat students.

Anakin Rivera is a sophomore at Theodore Roosevelt High School. In his free time, he enjoys drawing, playing video games and watching documentaries. In the future, he hopes to explore the field of engineering.

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