Monday, January 30, 2012

13 Questions With Susana Sepulveda

An interview conducted by Susana Sepulveda, student at UCSC, January 2012.

1.) Do you identify as Chicana and if so, how do you feel you embody this identity in punk?

Alice: I do now, but I didn't always. When I was younger I wrongly believed that there was something I had to do, a test I had to pass or a class I had to take to be able to call myself a Chicana. I know better now.

I identify as a Chicana punk. Punk is an attitude, it's a rebellious, unapologetic dig at the status quo. As Chicanos we've had to fight to carve our way into a narrow and bigoted definition of what it means to be an American in the US while at the same time refusing to be blanched and synthesized by assimilating into the American mainstream. Refusal to relinquish our ethnic identity is punk.

2.) How do you feel you created a space for yourself in punk?

Alice: I showed up and played, I was at the right place at the right time. I was in tune with what was happening in the music scene and wanted to be at the forefront of it, so I put myself there. It meant moving to Hollywood which was where the punk scene in Los Angeles took off first.

3.) Was it difficult to be recognized in punk as a woman of color?

Alice: My ethnicity was acknowledged in a casual way, I never felt like anyone tried to diminish or disparage my background. I always felt completely comfortable in my own skin being a woman of color in the early L.A. Punk scene. In some ways, I had an easier time being a Chicana Weirdo around other weirdoes than I had being a Chicana weirdo around other Chicanos.

4.) Do you separate your racial identity from the scene, or do you feel that you perform and/or represent it? Would you say that is performed/represented in an alternative way (from what it is dominantly known or seen as)?

Alice: My racial identity is always with me, as is my gender, my background, everything I am is represented in the work I do. Sometimes it's overt, sometimes it's not and it's not even always deliberate but what we create can only come from what we have within.

I think there is a dominant way to represent Chicano identity and I have no problem with it as long as it doesn't become the exclusive way to do it. The growth and success of the Chicano movement depends on its ability to be inclusive and represent a broad spectrum of Chicanos.

5.) Do you feel that the emergence of more Chican@/Latin@ youth in the punk scene has maybe altered punk from the dominant idea of what it is? If so, what changes have you encountered or noticed? Would you say that it is a completely new scene of punk?

Alice: There were Chicanos present in the early LA. Punk scene. The Masque was a beautifully diverse club where people from all of L.A. County's communities felt at home. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Latinos have always been there. The punk scene is a landscape and the people who document it choose what they focus on. We need to do more documenting, more validating; if we're not seeing Latinos then we need to redirect the focus.

6.) How do you feel the punk scene has embraced feminist ideas, if any? And how these ideas might be transforming punk itself? Have feminist ideas always been a part of punk (just not visible)?

Alice: I think feminist ideas have always been a part of punk. Women helped create the punk scene as equal partners and in equal numbers to men. Women empowered themselves to do everything that men had traditionally done. That's not feminist theory - it's feminism in action. Feminism was there at punk's inception. Over the years as punk has evolved we've made gains and we've had setbacks but those of us who were permanently changed by punk will never allow women's contributions to punk to be overlooked or diminished.

7.) Do you feel that "Chicana Punk" or punk with feminist attributes is a completely different punk scene?

Alice: No way, I refuse to be a faction. I want in on the big action, punk without pussy power, punk without ethnic diversity just supports the status quo, it doesn't subvert or challenge it, therefore it can't even be called punk.

8.) Do you feel punk can be thought of as a space to evade and contest social violence? Do you feel it can recreate violence within itself? How so?

Alice: If by social violence you mean social injustice such as unfair laws and practices, I'd say yes. I think punk is more about confrontation than evasion. Punk is the perfect medium for contesting social violence because it's about questioning authority.

9.) How do you feel about discussions of punk being incorporated into academic discussions? Does it lose a certain aesthetic or authenticity?

Alice: Academic discussions are often based on having read the same texts and being familiar with the same theories as other people involved in the discussion. Discussions between people who have different points of reference can be productive if the participants take time to understand and respect each others' experiences.

10.) Do you consider yourself a feminist? Do you feel that you embody feminism or feminist values in performance, music, and/or punk? How so?

Alice: Yes, I consider myself a feminist. I never set out to embody feminism onstage but being a woman in a band, playing music with other women, being assertive and somewhat androgynous in my performances are all consistent with my feminist values.

11.) How do you feel you have rebelled against dominant values of Latin@ culture, if any?

Alice: I don't think I have rebelled against Latin@ culture. I have rebelled against those who try to make me warm tortillas for my brothers when they can warm them for themselves, I have rebelled against a patriarchal religion. I rebel against small mindedness in all ways and in every situation but those things are not an intrinsic part of latin@ culture and I will fight tooth and nail against anyone who tries to make me feel like I'm less Chican@ for not embracing the small-mindedness.

12.) Has embracing punk transformed your identity as a Chicana or women of color? Would you say that you have created a new culture and/or space for yourself (balancing punk and Mexicanidad), in your own way?

Alice: Yes, embracing punk and knowing that I was participating in its creation and definition made me feel that I had the power define my Chicana identity in my own way. Both chican@ and punk ideology have to do with being true to yourself and asserting yourself ethnically, artistically, spiritually, in all ways.

13.) Do you feel that punk itself is a culture?

Alice: Yes, I think so. I know that punk is much more than a style of music, it's a way of looking at the world, a way of looking at yourself and empowering yourself. Punk is great at destroying the illusion of limits. It starts with the feeling that you can express yourself onstage and make an impact on music and ends with the certainty that you can express yourself in any arena and make an impact on the world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Long Shot Comes Out Ahead

As ludicrous as it may sound, I feel that my life has been one continuous series of events in which the long shot comes out ahead. As a child growing up in East LA in the 1960’s, the expectations for me were so low that had I been a practical, level-headed girl, I might easily have grown to fulfill them. Instead, I dared to dream big dreams. I dreamed that I would someday morph into a comic book style superhero who would defend my mother from my abusive father. I dreamed that I would be a rock star and change the world with my music and ideas. I dreamed that I would be a brain surgeon who would save lives with my brilliant mind.
I can almost hear the snickering from where I sit and it makes me smile, because who in their right mind wouldn’t laugh at those goals? But, as it turns out, I did grow into a strong woman who was able to stand up to my father on my mother’s behalf. I did help create an important rock movement that would make a lasting social and artistic impression on many people around the world. And, although I wouldn’t trust myself with a scalpel, I do think that my music, my writing and my ideas can cut and on more than a few occasions they’ve healed and possibly saved the lives of others who have struggled with similar difficulties.

I am currently on a book tour for my memoir, Violence Girl, which can be purchased through Amazon or your local indie bookstore. I hope to see you at one of my readings in 2012.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The More Things Change

From an interview I did in October 2004. This question and answer has particular relevance to me because I see the same things happening in this country that I saw happening in the 1980’s, only now the mass media in this country is almost completely controlled by people with a ve$ted intere$t in maintaining the status quo. Even if you don’t agree with me, you should still seek out some news sources from outside of our country so that you can gain a different perspective on what’s happening here and abroad.

Q: You also went to Nicaragua in the early eighties to gain some new experiences, would you tell us something about that time and if it changed your views on certain things and how do you see the political situation in the U.S. in the moment…?

A: My trip to Nicaragua changed me forever. It made me realize how few material possessions a person needs to be happy and it put me back in touch with the values that living in a consumer society can deaden in you, basic human values like caring about your neighbor. I realized that the U.S. government has been bought by corporate entities that have little regard for Americans and even less regard for the rest of the world. Their sole concern lies in expanding their control over the economic systems of the world. Countries are either to be exploited for their natural resources or else they are markets for goods that are produced elsewhere and controlled by the corporations. These corporate entities only have one natural enemy and that is a well-informed citizenry focused on self-determination. As an American taxpayer and a corporate consumer, I am complicit in my own government’s efforts to block other people’s movement towards self-determination. That’s what my experience in Nicaragua taught me. I think we Americans need to get serious about taking back our country and making it responsive to our needs and goals. What’s happening in America right now could happen anywhere when people get too complacent.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Class War 2012

One of my favorite punk rock songs, one which still seems incredibly relevant. Class War was originally written and performed by Chip and Tony Kinman, aka The Dils. This live recording was captured during a Violence Girl book reading on January 14, 2012 in Oakland, CA.

I guess you probably know that if I'm going to do a book tour, it won't be a traditional "sit down on a stool and read excerpts" kind of thing.

Here is Class War performed by Alice Bag: vocals, Lysa Flores: guitar and backing vocals, Dave Jones: bass and Martin Sorrendeguy: drums and backing vocals. New lyrics as follows:

I wanna war between the rich and the poor / I wanna fight and know what I'm fighting for / I wanna class war, class war, this war, that war, class war, class war / In New York and LA / City Halls are Occupied / There's no escape / from the mighty 99 / I wanna class war, class war, class war, this war, that war, class war, class war / If I'm gonna fight in Iraq or Afghanistan / there'll be a war right here in this very land / I wanna Class War, Class War, This War, That War, Class War, Last War.

Class War Live in Oakland by alicebag