We could be a force that changes the world.

“If I could have a punk show where people were on the same wavelength as me, then that could be a community that works together to achieve common goals. We could be a force that changes the world. And you could be a leader. You can be the person making the change happen, not just someone who is along for the ride. Punk rock really taught me that I had much more power than I realized.”

Interview with Elona Jones for Bitch, May 2013

Photo by Martin Sorrondeguy at the Masque, 2014.

Attention students/faculty of Loyola Marymount University, I will be participating in a symposium next Wednesday, March 19. I’m not sure if this event will be open to the public but if you happen to be at LMU next Wednesday, please stop by.

Friday, March 21st I will be reading and performing at the Simi Valley Public Library. Free admission, all ages.

Femme Fatale, circa 1974. Pat, Alice and Margo.

Over the past two years, I feel fortunate to have been invited to several universities where Violence Girl - 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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

Bitch: In Violence Girl, you write about witnessing domestic violence in your parents’ relationship, and then experiencing it in a romantic relationship. What did you hope to convey about domestic violence by documenting these relationships?

Alice Bag: I think two things: that you can survive it. and that it’s not something that can be accepted in a relationship. I don’t think my mother should have stayed in that relationship. And I don’t think she should have told me that she stayed because she was trying to hold the marriage together for my sake. Those things made me angry. I feel·that if you’re in that situation or if someone is telling you that, you gotta call them on their bullshit. It’s one thing when someone attacks you and you leave, it’s another thing when you keep coming back. At that point you need to analyze your own role in it.

And I don’t know if all that comes through in the book. but I realized that because I was around it as a child, I really internalized it. When I got in a band and was able to release all of this rage, it had already done damage to me. It surfaced when I found myself hitting my boyfriend in a very similar way to how my father had hit my mother. It was shocking to me that somehow this really ugly trait manifested in me.

I just want people to be aware that when you grow up around that, sometimes it’s in you and you have to figure out a way to address it and check yourself. Make sure you’re not going to end up in a situation where you play either role. You can’t have a healthy psyche if you’re either abusing someone or allowing yourself to be abused.

There are so many ways people can heal themselves. Some people find it through talking to a friend or reading, others need therapy and some people find it through spirituality. Do whatever it is that makes you feel like you can find your center and figure out whether you’re on the path to where you want to be.”

Interview with Bitch, summer 2012

Rumpus: “Your book Violence Girl contains an emphasis on dualities, like in the passage where you describe your love of Bruce Lee movies and their well-defined roles of thugs and heroes. What do these doubles mean for you, the narrator?”

Alice Bag: “There are several things that happen when, as a child, you see the adults in your life behaving in ways that seem inconsistent with how you have come to imagine them to be. Initially there’s confusion and maybe even a little bit of disbelief. We treat children to very simplistic explanations of humanity, we tell them people are either good or bad, so when people exhibit both traits and we all eventually do, it can be difficult to know what to do with that new information. It’s hard to figure out how to relate to someone who does good things one minute and bad things the next. In my book, my father is both a doting parent who showers me with unconditional love and the man who abuses my mother. I had to deal with conflicting emotions, I hated and loved my father equally. Experiencing these seemingly contradictory emotions forced me to have empathy for people because I could see the complexity of human nature.”

Six months of almost daily writing have passed and I find myself on the final leg of my journey. Strangely enough, it feels like I’ve been to hell and back when the truth is I haven’t left the familiar surroundings of my home in the desert north of Phoenix. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved that the end is in sight. I am fifty this year and my story only covers the first two and half decades of my life, a time when I discovered the world, love, and death. I experienced so much in those years but it took the experience of writing of this book to make the biggest discovery – me. Writing about my childhood forced me to look in the darkest corners of my memory where the monsters were hiding. Writing about my adult relationships made me realize how much I’d been affected by my own parents’ examples. It was as if I was seeing myself clearly for the first time. I didn’t always like what I saw.

As I said before, I’m looking forward to typing the final words on the final page of Violence Girl. It’s my sincere hope that someone out there who is dealing with their own monsters will recognize a bit of themselves in Violence Girl and know that there is a way out of the darkness.” 

One of my final blog entries for True Life Adventures of Violence Girl, from March 2009.

Clip of Get Out! performed by Las ChiChis (CHIcanas CHIngonas) at Cal State LA last night. This was our first time performing this song on stage. The video begins at the end of the second verse.

Get Out! Words and music by Alice Bag

Boo Hoo - he started to cry
Bam - came the punch to the eye
You provoke him he says
Don’t you know how he gets?

Thud - when your head hits the wall
Oh no - you’re starting to fall
Why do you push him away?
You know you want him to stay

Cause you love him
And he’s sorry (he’s so sorry)
Much more than the time before
And he loves you (you really want to believe)
And he’s sorry
He won’t do it anymore

Crack - boots and your ribs collide
Hush - quietly bleeding inside
And as you fade from the scene
You can hear the sirens scream

But you love him
And he’s sorry (he’s so sorry)
Much more than the time before
And he loves you (you really want to believe)
And he’s sorry
He won’t do it anymore

He’s so sorry
He won’t do it anymore
He’s so sorry

How many times will you touch a hot stove
To see if a flame will burn?
How many times must he beat you senseless
Oh baby, when will you learn?

Better get out…

"Suddenly, anyone could do it. So we did." An abridged soundtrack to my book, Violence Girl, courtesy of @WorldsBestEver.