Inaugural Yola Dia Festival Puts Women and the Border Crisis Front and Center: "It's Our Duty to Be a Counterpart to Racism and Hateful Rhetoric"

Courtesy of David Black
Marilyn Minter's 'Resist' is one of the flags on auction at Yola Dia to benefit the ACLU

Celebrating the 99th anniversary of American women's right to vote, Yola Mezcal co-founders Yola Jimenez, musician Lykke Li and chef Gina Correll Aglietti team up to host the all-female music and mezcal celebration Sunday at L.A. State Historic Park, featuring an art installation of one-of-a-kind flags to be auctioned to benefit the ACLU.

Strong women. Strong drink. Together in the park. That's the motto behind Yola Mezcal's inaugural festival, Yola Dia, in celebration of the 99th anniversary of American women's right to vote. With a lineup of all-female music acts including co-founder Lykke Li (whose "Unchained Melody" is featured on the Booksmart soundtrack), the fest will feature women-owned food and beverage providers and a security staff comprising only women Sunday at L.A. State Historic Park. 

"I get the reductiveness of 'Oh, we're having a women's festival,' but it doesn't happen nearly enough and when it does, it has somewhat of a male gaze or connotation to it," says Yola Jimenez, the Mexico-born namesake behind Oaxaca-based Yola Mezcal. "But literally we are an all-female company in Mexico and here, so from the beginning everything that we were doing was focused on promoting some legislation and supporting every woman around us."

In addition to performances, Yola Dia will raise 26 one-of-a-kind flags created by 27 female artists, curated by Brian Thoreen, Su Wu and Yola Jimenez. The flags, modifying the Mexican and American flags or even crafting symbols dissolving the idea of a flag itself, will be previewed at a live auction event at Blum & Poe on Friday.

Kiosks will be provided for bidding at the festival, and the works will then move onto the Paddle8 platform for two weeks of online bidding open to the general public. The auction will benefit the ACLU and its immigration law and policy program in California, trying to reunite families at the border and support asylum seekers.

"What's been going on politically is inhumane, illegal, needs to stop and needs to be talked about in as many places as possible," says Jimenez, who cites family separations at the border as one of the main reasons for starting the festival this summer.

"We're all part of immigrant families. It's our duty to be the counterpart of all this racism and hateful rhetoric that this administration is talking about. It's our obligation to start to talk about how we can work together and the importance of inclusiveness, not separation."

Li notes that the political crisis helped push their pitch for the fest forward. "Everything that's been happening politically all of a sudden made larger companies want to give things like this a try."

Hosting the event in Los Angeles was intentional, as "the Mexican presence is so strong," adds Li. "It's time to celebrate the community and bonds that we already have. We have to awaken the heart somehow."

Among the 27 curated artists are Corazón del Sol, Frida Escobedo, Laurie Simmons and Kiki Smith. "Many of them talked to me about the word 'flag' evoking male connotations, like war, borders and limitations," says Jimenez. "They were so interested in making this topic female and personal and about something else."

Inspiration for the flag installation swirled particularly when news of children's detention centers at the border broke out, Jimenez adds. "We wanted to take the conversation back to how in America, people are born with a notion of self-determination. We need to make our own lives and not think of people as the other."

One admirer of the project is activist Dolores Huerta, who will introduce the unveiling of the flags at the festival. "She's been a hero of mine all my life," says Jimenez. "I remember saying when we started planning this that my ideal moment would be for Dolores to come."

Growing up in Oaxaca and recognizing Huerta as "such an important figure for Mexico," Jimenez has continued on the tradition of the mezcal farm her grandfather purchased in 1971, now having formed a company that is not only run by women, but whose product is bottled and handmade by women.

Li was introduced to mezcal after a chance meeting with Jimenez at a party in Mexico City. "I went down there after I shot Terrence Malick's Song to Song. I'm a light drinker and I don't really drink, but this gorgeous woman says, 'Why don't you try some mezcal?' Then I drank mezcal the whole night and had the craziest night with her. We became best friends," Li recalls. 

The next morning Li emailed her roommate, Gina Correll Aglietti, who immediately suggested that she meet Jimenez. "I was sitting with Yola at brunch and was like, 'Oh my God. The universe basically brought us three together.'"

Along with Li, performers at the fest include Courtney Love and the Chateau Band, Cat Power, Sophie, Megan Thee Stallion, Kelsey Lu, Empress Of, CupcakKe and Lia Ices.

"A lot of these people are friends of ours. It's like going through the phone book and being like, 'Who's rad?', Li says of compiling the roster

The food and beverage vendors also derive from their networks, as Jimenez notes that "we reached out to people we admire and we know that wanted to show up and be a part of something." 

Elena Reygadas (Rosetta Mexico City), Lil' Deb's Oasis, Tenzo and Pizzanista are a few of the dining options that will appear Sunday, along with drinks from bartenders including Charity Johnston (Toca Madera), Claire Ward (Hippo), Katipai Richardson-Wilson (Dirty Precious) and Claire Sprouse (Hunky Dory).

As Jimenez has kept hearing how "we've never seen anything like this" in L.A., the goal is to hopefully put on similar events in the future.

"This is an important mission. I just want everyone to feel jazzed. The world has gotten so monetized and commercialized. I want this to feel real and connected and intimate," says Li, whose final performance of the summer commences with her set at Yola Dia.

Having provided music on film soundtracks for the Twilight and Divergent series as well her "I Follow Rivers" featured in Blue Is the Warmest Color, Li is eager to get back into writing. Her Still Sad Still Sexy EP, with remixes from her June 2018 So Sad So Sexy album as well as a few new tracks, dropped in July.

"Blue Is the Warmest Color was one of the highlights of my career because I love that film and I love movies so much," Li says. "Whenever I write songs, I feel like I'm writing a movie in my head and I'm writing the scene. I go there, mentally. Whenever that finds a home, that's my biggest accomplishment in life."

Yola Dia starts at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, at L.A. State Historic Park.