This interview was originally published in Issue 14.
Occasionally, Guadalupe Rosales will visit the place where her cousin, Ever Sanchez, was killed. She can still remember the night it happened in 1996: getting the phone call from her sister and trying to process the unwelcome news. “That was the last time I talked about his death,” says Rosales. “I didn’t reopen that door until five or six years ago.” The grieving compelled her to move to New York in 2000 and remain there for fifteen years, far from friends, family, and even farther from the details and reminders of his death. After years of self-work, these details compelled Rosales’ quest for healing through questions around underrepresentation of Latinx culture in LA, the gentrification of her old neighborhood, and the ways the erasing of space ultimately put the memories connected to that space at risk.
In 2015, Rosales started the Instagram account Veteranas and Rucas (@veteranas_and_rucas), a digital archive of crowdsourced photographs of Southern California Latinx youth culture and scenes from the 70s through the 90s. Soon after, in 2016, Map Pointz (@map_pointz) was born: a similarly crowdsourced account devoted to images of LA’s underground rave scene of the 90s. Both platforms archive previously inaccessible material of an underrepresented and unstudied group of people. The photos and ephemera featured on each account, and in the immersive site-specific installations that Rosales has started to put together with donated materials, celebrate the beauty and vibrancy of a culture that is simultaneously fetishized and feared.
Rosales is driven to deconstruct and reframe the marginalized histories of her Chicanx community, offering platforms and spaces of conversation and agency of self-representation. Rosales has and continues to resurrect a part of history that hasn’t been talked about before, highlighting the different ways of telling stories visually and drawing out people’s experiences in a narrative way.
Why did you start the Instagram channels: Veteranas and Rucas and Map Pointz?
I think I wanted something to bring me closer to that period of time. I felt so far away from those memories and my culture in LA after having lived on the East Coast for so long; I just wanted something to make me feel like home. When I moved to New York I also made the decision that I wasn’t going to communicate with my family because I had so much to work on personally. It always felt like there was something missing though. I have all these amazing friends in New York, and we’re all doing a lot of really amazing things, but it always felt like I wanted more, but I didn’t know what that more was. I started thinking about my youth a lot.
My cousin’s death really affected me and my sister a lot. I remember when I got his death certificate, that’s when I realized how important physical documents are. I think that’s a big part of why I started this Instagram, because I was hoping that people were still holding onto this time period, whatever it was—photos, fliers, magazines, clothing. I think I started these platforms in order to understand, not just my upbringing, but also my cousin’s death. Like how did this happen? I mean, I know the details, but even in the conversations that I’ve had with people that were there that night, they’ve started to forget details. The fact that these memories and history can be so easily forgotten made me want to archive and preserve the remnants of our culture. After thinking about it a lot, I started the Instagram Veteranas and Rucas as a way to reconnect with my past and share photos of my friends and family that inhabited specific subcultures in East LA in the 90s. I knew that I didn’t want to just take people’s photos to post, but instead, wanted them to contribute them because I want people to feel good about it or feel safe sharing their story.
Yeah—have everything come from a willing place.
Exactly. I started by posting my own photos. I had those glamour shots and I had a Street Beat magazine with me. I didn’t necessarily want to focus on one subculture or one scene, but instead wanted to merge all those things into one conversation. I started combining party crew culture, lowrider and cruising culture, and gang culture.
Up until recently, why do you think there’s been little written or documented about the Latinx community during this period of time in LA?
I think that just like how the way brown people or communities of color have been criminalized forever; this conversation about our history also evolves very slowly. But I think it’s good because it gives us time to think about it, and to examine the materials and history in a more thoughtful way. I think it’s also because people still don’t know how to talk about it. I posted a photo of a brown woman with red lipstick and there were comments that said, “Oh, that’s a chola.” I’m like, “That’s not a chola. It’s just a girl walking on the boulevard.” That comment is the exact same type of profiling that would happen back then at venues or clubs. They had these strict rules where young men couldn’t walk into a club if they had a shaved head or they were wearing baggie pants. It’s a way of controlling a person.
Why do you think that 90s Chicano youth culture is such a pertinent sub-culture to the history of Los Angeles?
I think it’s just as important as any other time, but what’s so strange is that unlike other periods of LA history there’s very little to show for this period of time. I was talking to a friend of mine that works for the Los Angeles Times, and I asked her to help me find some articles. I said to her, “Hey, there was this article that came out in 1983, and also an article about my cousin in 1986, is there any way that you can get me some PDFs?” She did some digging and then emailed me back and said, “It’s so weird. But it’s almost like there’s this chunk of time missing in the LA Times archive.” Even the LA Times doesn’t have documentation of this period of time in Chicanx culture. She eventually found three articles, but that’s it. It took her not finding anything for me to realize that it wasn’t just me that was having a hard time recovering this history.
Was mainstream media just not reporting on it?
There were a lot of movements that were happening in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and I think that what’s really fucked up is that all the information about these movements was regulated by the media. The media was able to portray any movement or subculture in whatever light they wanted to, and they really skewed the way things were going down in the 90s. People were like, “Oh, yeah. The 90s are really bad.” But things actually weren’t bad if we talked about the whole picture. Let’s stop looking at Chicanos and Chicanas as criminals and start examining what’s going on around these communities, and what’s happening around us.
When you look at mainstream media they were giving no context to the things going on in these communities, and most of what they said about East LA in the 80s and 90s, was about gang violence. But I feel like, with the party scene, there was actually this sense of community that was being built.
Yeah, my experience with the party scene came out of friendships I had at school. It was very common for people to organize in school. Most of my friends were in the same party crew as me. There was almost like this chain reaction where my best friend in high school, who was the person that asked me to be in the party crew, had a brother in the older generation of that party crew. We all knew each other from school, mostly, or from the neighborhood. It was just really amazing to organize events in the midst of the adversity, not just gang violence, but also a terrible school system.
In what ways do you think that the party scene was a form of resilience and working and negotiating within a system of oppression?
A lot of the people in party crews got involved in embracing awareness on certain issues like HIV and AIDS, and a lot of people were involved with MEChA. The way we were organizing, we weren’t depending on others. You’d see a fourteen-year-old person or young crew organize amazing parties, and not just one party, but several in one night, and also have no one get hurt. Eventually, that changed because the whole movement just grew, but I think a lot of people that were coming to the party scene were people who couldn’t really associate with what was going on outside of themselves. Even aesthetically, I think that fashion was so unique at this time. When I was a teenager and growing up, I don’t remember thinking, “I’m going to be like the older generation and dress like them.” We were always thinking outside of the box and wanted to be different. Whether that was getting creative by making your own jewelry or dress, or wearing something that no one else was wearing because you’re doing what you want. Those were all gestures of resisting: resisting a narrow and outdated mentality. The whole scene was an opportunity for all of us to express our creativity. Even with the fliers for these parties, people would sneak and make them in their computer class at school and make these awesome fliers even though we had very limited fonts back then. So there were a lot of different forms of resilience and resistance, mostly through creativity—the art, the fashion, the music, and organizing.
Give me some history about party crew and gang culture; how were the two connected?
The party scene started way before the 90s. It was 70s disco, and then the Cha-Cha times in the 80s, and then techno stuff in the 90s. When gangs started discovering these parties, we started using map points and voicemails. So we were using telephone numbers, and we stopped putting the map on the flier. We would call this number an hour before the party started and the voicemail would give you the directions. The voicemail recording would only be up for an hour in order to prevent cops and gangsters from finding out. The other way was that you would meet someone in the gas station—they were the “map point”—and that person would tell you cross streets like, “Soto and 1st.” At that location, there would be someone passing out a map, literally a drawing of a map. We were always trying to come up with ways to prevent the wrong people from coming to these parties.
These parties were safe spaces for people, some of whom had a brother or a cousin that was a gangster, but who could go to these parties and just dance and be themselves. Eventually what happened was that that person who had a brother who was a gangster would bring them to a party. I’ve heard many stories like how their brother was trying to get out of the gang, but ultimately they still had that gang mentality. Gangs also started getting territorial. They would be like, “You’re in our hood, so we’re allowed to come to this party. If you don’t let us then we’re going to steal your DJ system.” That started destroying the party scene. The gang scene and the party scene were so different from each other, but ultimately, we were all still from the hood. Although there was a big difference between the two subcultures, one thing I like to highlight on each Instagram account is that we still come from the same place in a way. We may not have gangster parents or cousins, or whatever, but we all shared the same space; we grew up around that. Even if it’s not in our blood, it is.
How did party and gang culture intersect in your life?
Growing up, the two scenes were both a part of my life. I hung out in the party scene as much as I hung out with gangsters. I partied with gangsters my whole life. The reason why I wanted to focus on the party subculture on Instagram is because it wasn’t being acknowledged. People didn’t talk about it even though a lot of people were involved. People know about the gangs. People know about the violence. People know about lowriders. But do people know about this stuff?
You’re archiving more than just materials: you’re really archiving these peoples’ histories. How are you reframing the way people look at photos now?
I like to see the project as a collaboration. Every time I get new images or fliers, or materials from someone, I can just imagine that person dusting off these archives in their garage or storage unit. It’s such an amazing thing. Just the other day I got a box: it was a Corona box with a bunch of fliers in there, it was super dusty, but I noticed that the box was also from that time. The guy that gave it to me said I could do whatever I want with the materials, but just thinking about why he kept holding on to this stuff for so long is so interesting. I asked him that question, and he’s like, “I guess it’s like looking at baseball cards; when I’d look at these fliers and stuff I could remember the party.” All of the materials that I receive are charged with these peoples’ stories.
That’s what I love about the whole project is that it’s all about the community. You wouldn’t be able to do this without people submitting their ephemera. How have things evolved?
I’ve been focusing on bringing the archive into a psychical space, which with this most recent show at Commonwealth Gallery, I’m able to create an immersive space with all of these artifacts. It all started through digital archiving, but let’s say Instagram, one day, disappears. What happens next? It’s great that people are donating material, but I want to be able to provide a physical space where people can come and look at the materials all the time.
Do you see this project as a form of community building, then?
Definitely. Not just community building, but also empowerment and obviously dismantling this idea people have about brown folks in Southern California.
Do you see the archives and your work personally as a form of activism?
I think the work is a lot of things. I think it’s activism, I think it’s archiving. I think it’s educational. I don’t really like labeling it one thing or the other. I think it’s a bunch of things happening.
For more from Guadalupe Rosales follow her on Instagram.