Demolicíon: Punk and Latinidad
The feminist punk movement in the Pacific Northwest was catalyzed by a Latina.
Mia Zapata, a Mexican-American punk rocker living in Seattle in the early 1990s, played a key role in shaping the nascent grunge movement with her band, The Gits. Known for their aggressive live performances and their straightforward, melodic punk music, the band, fronted by Zapata, quickly became popular among the feminist echelons of the Seattle punk movement. Their debut studio album, “Frenching the Bully,” was met with widespread support from the music community, and for the rest of their short-lived tenure, The Gits were musical mainstays in the punk and grunge scenes in Seattle.
Internationally, the Latinx punk movement only continues to grow. Across Latin America and the United States, new scenes continue to crop up in places where the genre was once overlooked (such as Toledo, Ohio) and to expand in places where punk has long been a cultural mainstay (like Bogotá, Colombia). Once a genre reserved mainly for white, cis, heterosexual men, punk has more readily embraced the idea that its community should be a refuge for those who don’t fit in with or who want an escape from the mainstream. The Latinx community within the genre — namely the women and people of color — has played a big role in furthering that vision.
In New York City, it’s bands like Las Ratas en Zelo, an all-female outfit whose members pride themselves on their hard-hitting punk music which comes at fans with “more ESTROGEN than ever!!!” according to their Facebook page. Performing in both English and Spanish, the band is a mainstay in the city’s punk scene, where they have performed at various events including the 2018 celebration, Latinx Punk Fest.
By the ’80s, punk music and the scenes that supported it had been steadily growing in the U.S. and U.K. for almost a decade. So much had the punk movement grown that the classic and relatively homogenous scenes of the mid to late ’70s had broken off to create a whole new set of distinctions within the punk world. Classic punk splintered into hardcore punk, post-punk, new wave, street punk, anarcho-punk, pop punk — the list goes on and on.
Further south in Latin America, punk was becoming a nascent and powerful force at the turn of the decade, spurred on by the injection of these outside punk records into the Latin American airwaves and psyche alike.
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.