I feel fortunate to have been invited to several universities over the past two years 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.
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
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
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.