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Latin American Punk Rock and Protest
by Joaquin Cienfuegos and Mike Guerra
When people think of punk music, they don't think of it's origins within the indigenous and people of color community. They usually think of white angry suburban youth rebelling against the system and everything that is wrong with this society. Throughout
Jose Palafox in the article, “Screaming Our Thoughts: Latinos and Punk Rock” explains, “Since the late 1970s, Chicano and Latino punks have been playing music and getting their own bands together, putting out zines, setting up benefit shows for groups in their communities, releasing records, and changing the face of punk.”
“On the international front, the 1994 Zapatista uprising in
In “Punk Subculture in Mexico and the Anti-globalization Movement: A Report from the Front” by Alan O'Connor he writes, “The habitus of Mexican punk has to be situated in this broader context, since punk subculture did not originate in Mexico and has clearly been influenced by punk scenes in other parts of the world.” He goes on to explain how they also take part in the social movements, as in his experience with Mexican punk band Desobedencia Civil who write songs about revolutionary movements from all over the world, “Although the experience of the Palestinians is quite different from anything in recent Mexican history, the Mexican punks related very strongly to the imagery of youth rebelling in the streets resisting the police and military. The members of this band are associated with a well-organized punk collective. They have regular meetings and a study group. Their support for a free
There are several veteranos and newer faces out there in the punk community today, who put in work in their communities and have learned a great deal from their own challenges in the
Not4Prophet - emcee of X-Vandals, singer of Ricanstruction, founder of
Ricanstruction Network, and all around artists and agitator explained his experiences in the punk scene, "I think that besides coming from and being raised in a particular culture/background, there is also a particular innate non-white, non-european aesthetic that exist for people of color, whether it be Indigenous, African, or Eastern, as in non-western. Although I have listened to so called punk and rock since I was a kid, when I started actually making music as a musician, it wasn't what would be considered typical punk or rock because it was infused with everything that was a natural part of me as a Afro-Rican raised as a Nuyorican within an African descendancy in the diasporas in the barrios/ghettos of New York City. I once performed at a punk show in
skin heads raided it and started beating up the ‘regular’ white kids who were watching the show. Turns out the white supremacists didn't want the other white kids to listen to a Puerto Rican punk band. And, of course, there were many shows/tours where besides us there were no other people of color or women (N4Ps former band, Ricanstruction had a Puerto Rican woman in the band) for miles around. I've also heard racist, sexist, or homophobic things said while at shows that folks
thought I was out of earshot from hearing. I wasn't.”
“For us who reside in the un-united states of
Brenda aka Chabr, drummer and vocalist for Sin Remedio talks about how culture has influenced her music, “There are a lot of tribal rhythms that are rooted from Aztec drum beats. But it would be hasty to generalize towards my indigenous influence. My brother and I (bassist) spent a lot of time with my grandfather. We spent many hours listening to classical music and Flamenco. Although we later developed our own musical identity it’s really an intertwining of two distinct and actually opposing cultural entities.” She later goes on to explain her experiences in the scene, “Politically correct in the punk scene? I didn't think that existed. Anyway, yea when Sin Remedio first started Christy and I always got hassled. That’s how we got our punch line for our t-shirts. Some guy went on out message board and told us we shouldn’t play his kind of music that we gotta stop playin that ‘border hoppin' hardcore.’ So that’s what we play, border hoppin’ hardcore, for life!”
Yaotl Mazahua of Aztlan Underground also explains, “I think that the experience of growing up in a community where half of the population was poor-white tremendously inspired my expression. It gave me a passionate element to the things that I write about from my personal experiences with white supremacy. I was an anarcho-punk in the 80’s in LA hanging out with supposed enlightened anarchists who I marched against apartheid with, and here they are calling me ‘taco boy’ ‘guacamole head’ and when I confronted them the response was, ‘You know I’m down! Come on!’ Also, when I started hanging out with the Xican@ movement/community I tried to bridge these two communities in resistance. However, I was met with slurs, violence, and accused that I was a reverse racist, which anyone who studies racism knows that it is impossible. Hence, I reacted to all this by retreating to my own community. Only recently have I made contact again with my anarcho cohorts.”
“I think that cultural empowerment serves as a means of providing insight and analysis to the human condition. It can be the basis for a bird’s eye view understanding of white supremacy and the pitfalls of centralized power and its disempowerment of the people. Learning about one's culture is a path to understanding ourselves as human beings.”
These artists and the collective experiences of indigenous artists/punks of color have made an impact and has also created necessary struggle in the subculture. In South Central Los Angeles, young brown punks are organizing themselves and creating a model in self-determination.
Mike Guerra, a member of the Guerrilla Chapter of Cop Watch Los Angeles, the Revolutionary Autonomous Communities, and the Youth Justice Coalition has been part of organizing shows at a community center in South Central called Chuco's
What has created controversy has not been that work that happens out of the space but the policy that was developed by the youth organizers for punk gigs. The policy came to be about 2 years ago where they decided to make the shows a space for bands of color explicitly. The policy states, there must be at least one person of color in any band that performs. The band must have an understanding of the work that goes on in the space and in the community. This is achieved by the organizers talking to the band before the show. The bands have to be responsible for the crowds they bring in.
The goal is to create clear consciousness and a movement within the punk scene in South Central Los Angeles. They give the punks a safe space where they promote empowerment of queer youth, women, and people of color. They throw all ages shows, and it’s a drug and alcohol free environment. If there's drama they have everyone step in to handle it. If there's a fight, the bands stop to check in with fans. It's understood that its working class and unemployed neighborhood, so the shows are donations only and no one is turned away for lack of funds. No one individual makes money off of shows. It's always a benefit for a touring band, or for the space.
Mike Guerra, who has been involved from the beginning, says that there has been support from a lot of people of color for the policy and see no problem with people of color empowerment through punk. They have been getting a lot of criticism on-line from white punks, who call them "reverse-racists." They have to explain to them how reverse-racism doesn't exist. They even call the organizers the KKK. Mike Guerra explained, "There's no hate, it's strictly self-determination. It's lifting each other up, sharing our words and our experiences. We're creating a stronger bond with the people that we live with in our neighborhoods. Personally, I get mad when we get told that White People created punk and we're trying to steal the music away from them. They feel like they have entitlement and ownership over the music."
Mike feels like there are illusions about race, sex, and gender being non-existent in the scene. They feel like they're all just punk and therefore all equal. "We think we're all free when we step into this sub-culture. We're all still conditioned and we're all still socialized. No matter what we're still living in this racist, sexist, and homophobic system. Until we get rid of that we're not going to be free. The system still controls every aspect of our lives."
The organizers have opened dialogues where people can discuss the policy and people's disagreements. There have been instances where the white punks get hostile towards the organizers. The youth from the space have never gotten defensive and always maintain their cool. They're not trying to create enemies or create divisions.
There are countless positive things that have come out of that space and the show policy. Local bands have become more outspoken and they take this behavior to other venues. People of color bands connect, work together, and share information. They empower other communities and promote that it's up to those communities if they want to do something with it. The bands and punks build strong friendships and relationships as So Cal Punks where they have unity in their politics as well. The space has raised 1000's of dollars that goes towards revolution in
This hasn’t been the first time punks in communities of color have tried to create safe spaces for themselves. Jose Palafox writes in his article, “Latino punk bands have used their shows to critique white liberal notions of a ‘colorblind’ punk subculture. The Los Crudos song, ‘That's right motherfuckers, we're that spic band,’ was written specifically for a person who had called the group a ‘spic band’ at one of their shows.”
“When punks of color demanded a room (a ‘safe space’) to discuss racism within the scene at the ‘More Than Music Festival’ in Columbus, Ohio, many white punks criticized them for ‘self-segregation’ and accused them of undermining ‘unity within the scene.’ In response, Josh Sanchez, a participant in the people of color discussion group at the festival, told a group of people: ‘The safe spaces aren't there to keep you out. They're there so we punks of color can be together and learn from one another.’"
Punk has potential if only it looks beyond the sub-culture and into the social movements. It can play a role in building a revolutionary culture of resistance. This is what the artists think about the music’s role in this process:
“Martin Sorrondeguy [vocalist for Los Crudos explains], ‘Realizing the diversity within punk can only help punk and hardcore as more than just music, but as a political movement.’"
Brenda from Sin Remedio feels that, “It's important that this generation of teenagers learn to identify themselves in a world that seems to be dominated by bullshit superficial ideals and ideas. I mean yea its cool to be ‘different’ but its not cool to negate where you come from or the language you speak at home, or honoring the customs you practice with your family. If the music can help kids identify these issues then that’s fuckin’ awesome. This music is a tool that provides for anyone and everyone who lends an open ear. Doesn't matter if your Latino, Native American, Jamaican, Korean or whatever.”
“Punk is a very strong icon, but if you're going to just talk the shit and not do anything productive then you get an F in life. Do something. With so many contacts being established for example our Collectivas Autogestivas or Chale Rekords, and people using their talents to be able to express new ideas of revolution through education... it’s there. People have to wake up and do something. Yea we all complain about shit but you can't just talk. You gotta do something. It starts by reading a book, writing a poem, talking to someone younger than you, inspiring them to do something productive for your community, for your loved ones, for your self, for the world.”
Not4Prophet also shared that, “The ideas behind punk, such as the DIY ethic, the anarchist
concepts, and the anti-establishment aesthetic can all play a role in the movement towards liberation. But I also feel that unless punk (as a movement) legitimately includes Black/brown Hip Hop culture, it is doomed to failure. While punk was (mostly) created by the sons (and daughters) of the former slavers, Hip Hop was created by the sons and daughters of the former slaves. White culture world-wide is largely bankrupt at this point. The only things left with any vibrancy, life and real sense of liberation are the things that come from the non-white cultures and communities of the world. . Punk has had more room/freedom to speak out against the system and to practice anarchist and anti-authoritarian politics because, in large part, it is white in nature. Meanwhile Hip Hop has been attacked and (in large part) swallowed whole, chewed up, and spit back out by the system because anything that is ‘black’ is STILL a threat.”
“For punk to liberate Latin America, it will have to re-create itself within a Black aesthetic and see itself as a part of the struggle within the movement of the wretched of the earth who still walk this earth, and not just the ones who have the liberty or the inclination and the ability and overstanding to rebel within a radical and alternative context. Tomorrow’s punk rock will have to be something more akin to a kind of ‘afro –punk,’ sharing THAT history, which is OUR story and the true life tales of all that that entails. In fact, actually, Hip Hop IS afro punk it just doesn't know it yet."
Yaotl from Aztlan Underground expressed, “Personally, the critical lyrics and intensity led me to where I am today. It was the music that lowered my defenses and allowed me to open my eyes to the world and power structures, religion, etc. Therefore, this is the potential it has to inspire and affirm the need to change. I also ended up finding that in classic hip hop like Public Enemy. I continue to feel music as a whole can move and inspire. In fact that is where my role is, as well as social work, and raising my family, and activism. It is all interrelated. If I did not feel that it is a crucial tool for communicating to the people and assisting in liberation I would cease to engage in it. Because punk speaks to the nerve of disenfranchisement it touches a place in our heart and mind where we become reaffirmed in our struggle as a people to live a better existence.”
“From my travels and experiences it has already made a tremendous impact in affirming communities of resistance and its interrelatedness. For example, in
*Joaquin Cienfuegos and Mike Guerra are members of Cop Watch LA - Guerrilla Chapter and the Revolutionary Autonomous Communities.
For more info on the bands mentioned:
“Beyond the Screams: A
“Screaming Our Thoughts: Latinos and Punk Rock” By Jose Palafox, August 22, 2000 http://www.wiretapmag.org/stories/9674/
“Punk Subculture in
Report from the Front” by Alan O'Connor
Fallas del Sistema