Demolicíon: Punk and Latinidad
Right in the heart of East Los Angeles, at the corner of Cesar Chavez Boulevard, lies a sand-colored two-story building faced with turquoise tiling and bathed in a rainbow mosaic. In the 1980s, the building — then home to Self Help Graphics & Art — existed as a creative and mutual aid space for East L.A.’s Chicanx community and a monument to the Chicanx Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s and ’70s. There, aspiring and practicing Chicanx artists alike were encouraged to break with colonial ideologies and learn to celebrate and value their roots. Spearheaded by Franciscan nun and artist Sister Karen Boccalero, Self Help Graphics served as a home base for East L.A.’s activists, artists, poets, and punks — all of which could be seen flitting in and out of the community art studio’s cerulean doors.
By the mid 1970s, Willie Herrón, an artist and founding member of Chicanx punk band Los Illegals, and Joe Suquett (better known as Joe Vex), joined forces with Sister Karen to found Club Vex on the top floor of the Self Help Graphics building. This all-ages punk club, set up twice a month, was created to provide East L.A.’s burgeoning Chicanx punk scene with a community performance venue and meeting hub. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, The Vex was deeply ingrained in punk legend as the place where Chicanxs and other Angelenos could go to see the musical revolutionaries at the forefront of the Chicanx punk movement — punk bands like Los Illegals — unfettered in all their rage and glory.
My introduction to punk was a fairly standard one. It started with my family’s vinyl collection, when an initial interest in the influences of the grunge and rock bands that made up the soundtrack to my childhood soon became personal excursions into the music of the Dead Kennedys, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and anything else punk or punk-adjacent I could get my hands on.