Why I started this project
“ Subcultures [have] endured in the Mexican American community since the Second World War. One is born Mexican American but one chooses to be a Chicano. Politically charged, the Chicano life style has been passed from one generation to another. It has survived wars, prisons and strife”- Gaspar Enriquez
I was born in California in 1980 to two Mexican immigrants who met in the fields while working. Raised in Boyle Heights, until I was about 12 years old. My family and I then moved to East Los Angeles and lived in a house that faced Whittier Blvd. That is when I realized how rich my culture was and was not what we see in movies or in the television. From the age of 14-17, I was part of the party crew scene- a subculture organized by and for the youth in a time when many of my friends and relatives were in gangs. The gatherings occurred on the weekends and some weekdays in residential backyards and industrial warehouses throughout Los Angeles. Like most youth subcultures, music played a key role – we listened Techno, House and New Wave. Then on Sundays we cruised down the boulevard while bumping some oldies and freestyle. The Boulevard was a place where boys and girls met and exchanged telephone numbers.
In an age before the Internet and social media, we utilized "party lines". We dialed a telephone number found on the flyer promoting the party and a pre-recorded message provided directions to the party. These flyers were distributed around high schools and parties. We also had map points. Map points were our meeting points for example a gas station or street where we picked up the directions to the party.
Disempowered and criminalized by the public school system and at times mainstream media, party crews and raves allowed the youth to engage in resistant cultural practices, organizing for the sake of unity and alternative lifestyle. Party crews were made up of 30 people or more and named our crews with names such as Aztek Nation, Operation X, East LA’s Madness, Latin Tribe, Rebel Familia among others.
Because the party crew subculture was in the midst of gang culture, towards the end of the 1990’s, violence peaked as gangs muscled their way into the rave scene and the lines between party crews and gangs blurred as more gangs took interest in the subculture prompting party crews to carry weapons to the parties. Ravers got into gangs and gangsters into party crews. Eventually the scene died out.
In 1996 my cousin, who at the time was 20 years old, was stabbed to death at a peace treaty party. Even though I had been around gangs throughout my youth and had lost many to gang violence, his death affected me deeply. So in 2000 I decided to move out of California far from friends and family, and even farther away from the grisly details of where his body was found.
I moved to New York and stayed there for 15 years. As time passed by, I began to wonder how my friends, family and community in Los Angeles were doing. I began to keep track of the changes in Los Angeles and it seemed like gentrification was erasing my history, and that’s what prompt me to reconnect with my community I had left behind.
In 2014, I started coming around again and started my investigation on my history in Los Angeles. I started to think that maybe there were others who had similar stories as mine that had to be heard and acknowledged.
I began to understand the body as archives, bodies that document memories, history and trauma. I focused my research on the Los Angeles youth cultures in hopes of finding a deeper identity. If I Google searched my experiences as a teenager, what would I look for and how would I describe myself and those experiences? Someone who lived in Los Angeles and in the midst of gang violence, the Los Angeles riots and numerous protests.
I wanted to read and look at images the brown youth on the dance floor and backyard parties, cruising the boulevard or anything that had documented the (sub)culture that existed in the midst of violence, unfortunately I wasn’t finding anything. With very little success, I started an Instagram feed, titled Veteranas and Rucas and posted photos from my own personal collection as reference. Within a week of my initial posting, people began to submit their own photos through email and messaging them through Instagram, perhaps because they felt an intimate connection to mine even though we had never met before and yet our lives were now exposed as parallel. This digital archive was proof that my desire and need to find material about this particular part of my life was also important to others- I describe the Instagram feed as a digital archive of previously inaccessible images of an unrepresented, unstudied group of people.
In 2015 I proposed a project to UCLA Chicano Studies- to start an archive collection on the 90s Latino Party scene in Southern California. I organized a panel discussion to present the collection and invited former party goers to participate on the panel as a way to reframe and establish this history.
That same year I decided to finally move back to LA. Because I wanted to get more intimate with this project and engage with people who wanted to share their stories and donate material from their personal collection such photos, flyers, videos and other types ephemera. My sister once said to me I had people digging through their storage and photo albums because they really wanted to support my project. Through this process I learned that the party scene and people who were deeply involved, who were once called delinquents and criminals were the people (like myself) who were seeking and creating spaces of unity and belonging.
Although I am facing different challenges now, I continue to be enthusiastic about and inspired by this project, I hope it continues to grow.