Over the past two years, I feel fortunate to have been invited to several universities where Violence Girl - From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story is being used in courses with topics ranging from Literature to Music, to Chicano/a Studies, Gender Studies and beyond. One question I am frequently asked is how I see my Chicana identity. It’s a question that doesn’t lend itself to a short answer and I feel that it’s important enough for me to take time explaining.
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in social justice but I got off to a rocky start on my road to forming a Chicana identity when I perceived negativity towards my odd, unpolished glam-rock style from members of the Chicano organization at my high school. All during my late teens and early twenties, I called myself a Mexican-American rather than a Chicana because I believed that term was reserved for people in Chicano organizations like MeCHa and I believed those organizations were biased against people who looked like weirdos. Punk empowered me in all kinds of ways: it gave me the confidence to claim my Chicana identity, to define it in my own terms and to refuse anyone the power to exclude me.
I never took any Chicano Studies classes until I was in college. My Chicana identity was formed primarily from experiencing events where I felt that Mexicans and/or Mexican-Americans were included and represented, events like the Chicano Moratorium which I attended as a child, the grape boycott and the walk-outs at local schools in East L.A. These historic events all affected me and made an impression on me. I was just a kid but I knew in a very simplistic way that it was people like me standing up for people like me. I was attracted to the cause but I didn’t feel welcome in the club, so I have never been part of any Chicano organization but that doesn’t mean I’m not a Chicana.
I see my Chicana identity as a celebration of both my Mexican and American heritages as well as an honest appraisal of the sociopolitical practices of these two societies and their influence on Chican@ society. Both sides of my heritage have values and traditions which are beautiful but sometimes flawed. Mexican and American societies are both guilty of sexism, classism, racism, and homophobia and they both need fixing. I refuse to romanticize them or choose one culture over another.
Ethnicity is not all that forges identity, my personal identity can stretch to be large and inclusive or shrink to be small, focused and specific. In my broader identity I am a component and an active member of the living organism that is the universe and in my smaller, more refined identity, I function as a Chicana, feminist, bisexual, punk rocker. My personal identity is rich and multifaceted - different aspects surface in different situations. When I’m discriminated against as a woman, my feminist identity rushes to the forefront; when people try to negate the place of Mexicans while teaching or discussing American history, the Chicana side of me will raise an indignant voice and demand to be included and when anyone, anywhere in the world is mistreated, the punk side of me that feels empowered to shape my world is ready to stand as an ally. Most of the time I’m just me: an individual, a human being only partially conscious of the ways in which people see me or the expectations they might place upon this particular configuration of atoms. I see myself as limitless, so the labels are strictly to facilitate specific functions for a limited amount of time.
When I first started performing, I remember looking out into the audience. Usually, there were lights near the front of the stage illuminating me and the other band members. As my gaze moved further back into the audience, the room darkened. I could make out the people in the front rows clearly enough to read their faces and feel their energy but beyond that, the room faded to infinite blackness and in my mind, that blackness might as well have been a view of the vast reaches of the universe. From my perch on the stage, I felt incredibly powerful as my performance elicited dancing, jumping and bursts of emotion from the concert goers. We were exchanging energy, refueling, tapping into something much bigger than any one person. I felt fully connected not just to the people in the room but to the entire universe.
Punk rock as religious experience: go ahead and laugh, I know it sounds crazy. Connecting with others on that level made me understand my power not just as an individual but as part of a community. So while it’s important to know who we are, it’s also important to know that we are so much more than labels can convey. We are conduits for ideas, we are agents of change.
THE PUNK SINGER DOCUMENTARY: BENEFIT SCREENING
Peace Over Violence
$15 / $20 day of event, (presale link below)
This is the kick off event for Denim Day in LA & USA! Join us for a screening of The Punk Singer and Q&A panel at the LA Derby Dolls Doll Factory!
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Derby Dolls Doll Factory-1910 W Temple Street, Los Angeles
6PM doors open
7PM Derby Dolls Program & Intro
8:35-9:15PM Q&A panel moderated by Martha Gonzalez (Scripps College) featuring Director Sini Anderson, Jack Halberstam (USC), Alice Bag (The Bags) and Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile)!
Mohawk Bend will be serving beer and food trucks will be on site.
Parking is available for $10 at the Silverlake Medical Center, 1711 West Temple, (near the intersection of Temple and Union), one block east of the Doll Factory.
* Your receipt will be your ticket to the show.
"Suddenly, anyone could do it. So we did." An abridged soundtrack to my book, Violence Girl, courtesy of @WorldsBestEver.
“Peace is a big word. I can’t isolate a few incidents in my life and say ‘I’m at peace’ when all around me the world is getting fucked by corporations and our country is waging war.” From a 2008 interview with Sandra Vista.
Photo by Rick Castro
"I remember throwing up behind an amp once. I don’t know what I would have done without the nerves. The energy comes from the nerves. I was getting ready for the attack. I didn’t see the nerves as a bad thing at all. It’s part of the whole performance thing. It drove me over the edge."
Bags at the Mabuhay SF, Jan 1978, photo by RUBY RAY.
Heading to Champaign for the @HipHopPunkFem symposium at University of Illinois. Full schedule here:
Castration Squad would play a show on the anniversary of JFK’s death every year, so it’s only fitting that I mark the big 5-Oh anniversary with Tiffany, Tracy, Elissa, Mary/Dinah and Shannon. From New Wave Theatre.
I just noticed that I’m breaking character by smiling and bobbing my head while playing bass. Oh well…