Over the years, I have been interviewed by students and academics who are researching the East L.A. or Chicano punk movement. I always have to point out that I do not consider myself or the Bags to be part of that scene. Like the Zeros and the Plugz, the Bags were considered part of the Hollywood scene of the mid to late 1970's, although we had Chicano members. The East L.A. scene really picked up speed in the early eighties, had their home base at the Vex rather than the Masque, and was spearheaded by bands like Thee Undertakers, The Brat and Los Illegals. I'm not able to speak about their experiences because I assume that they were different from mine.
I think that the early punk scene (1977-1979) was a somewhat unique time in that race and gender roles were pretty much discarded. What we were doing was so new (at that time) and counter-cultural (is that a word?) that no one had time to label us or put us in boxes. There was no one to say, "you can't do this or that because you're
a) a woman
b) a chicana.
So my own experience was that those gender/race barriers did not exist for me personally. I saw myself and was seen as a performer, not as a "Chicana/Female/Punk" performer. Those distinctions did not arise until much later, I would say towards the end of 1979, when the original punk scene had started getting major media coverage.
The first group of punk rockers was a special group of individuals. Most of us had been outcasts in high school. Venturing out into the world at large for the first time, we were almost incredulous at finding accepting, like-minded peers. We were unified by our sense of being "the other" or "the outsider." Since we had all been ostracized for being different, we bonded over that shared experience and came together as a group.
Also, many of us in the early scene dropped our surnames and adopted punk names: Pat Smear (who was black), Kickboy Face (who was French), Alice Bag (that's me). This helped us to create a new identity for ourselves. I don't think we were trying to escape racial prejudice, it was more like breaking from the past. Picking your new name was almost like a rite of passage. At the same time, new names leveled the playing field because nobody knew your ethnicity just from your name. Some people, like Diane Chai of the Alleycats, did not change their names and no-one thought less of her for being Asian. She was just cool.
In fact, I experienced much more prejudice from the Chicano community than I ever did in the punk scene. I remember wanting to join MECHA after the Chicano moratorium and discovering that I was too weird to fit in. Being into Glitter Rock, I dressed differently and had a different perspective from the people I met in MECHA. My impression was that the MECHA leaders were big fish in a little pond and they had no room for freaks like me. There was plenty of room for freaks in the big pond so that's where I went. Years later, as an adult, I watched again as people who identified themselves as Chicanos spent hours arguing over who was "chicano" versus "latino" versus "hispano". They spent more time refining and narrowing the definition of what was "Chicano" than actually creating art or doing something constructive. In order to grow and continue to be meaningful, they needed to accept those who had been previously marginalized like women, artists, lesbians and gays. My experience with the punk movement taught me to define for myself what it means to be a chicana and reject the definitions and limitations that are imposed on me by others.
But to get back to my original point, I don't want to sugarcoat this by telling you that there was no racism in the early Hollywood/L.A. scene, because there was, but for the most part people didn't tolerate it. When we lived at the Canterbury and the Berlin Brats came in wearing swastikas, a whole bunch of us harrassed them, yelling at them "die, Nazi pigs!" and "take off your swastikas!" Eventually, the Berlin Brats changed their name to the Mau-Mau's and stopped wearing swastikas. Another infamous racist was Farrah Faucet Minor, the subject of X's "Los Angeles", who "had to leave" because she "had started to hate every nigger and jew, every mexican who gave her lotta shit..." My guess is that she had always hated us and I'd like to think that maybe I was the mexican who gave her a lot of shit.