Ladies De Aztlan, Santa Cruz
America’s multicultural brew gave us some of the most stylish looks – when it gets too white, you’ve got imbeciles prancing around in pastel and bow ties pretending they’re dandies in higher learning. Fuck that. It’s a shame that at present time, core American brands are in, but they’ve been pushed back to American consumers by Japanese and European interests – crazy to see so many Red Wings in New York, but it’s odder to discover that the current boom trickled from Europe and the far east. Acting a follower on your own goods? Strange. Sometimes you can’t see the trees for the lumberjack felled quasi-woodsman style. I expected to see the next shit. Instead, I just saw dudes dressed like their dads.
Since the days of ‘Dance Energy’ I’ve seen Cholo-styled shoots capturing the stance and pride in Chicano culture. It beats the beard and buffalo-check look, but boy; has their culture been jacked. Chucks, Dickies and a white tee? Untouchable. On you? Not quite so good. Just wearing the outfit ain’t cutting it. Take a look through Estevan Oriol and Robert Yager’s (showcased here on the Selvedge Yard) work for starters and see how much deeper it goes. It’s been a minute since I saw a latino figure in a lowrider during a video, and that subculture’s their creation. People love to pick from the barrio aesthetic, but few want to put anything back again.
If we’re going to dwell on the aesthetics, the west coast’s proudest taught me how to deify the basics – there’s no excuse to not look fresh when your dresscode is built on making something out of nothing – pressed khakis and tees, Ben Davis shirts and Converses make for a sturdy collection of reappropriated staples, treated with reverence. Pinning back pants to avoid ruination by the lack of “back” on a pair of Cortez? It’s all about the little details.
Outsiders peering into any subculture will pick, choose and romanticize as they see fit. That applies to the previous paragraph, and it applies to photographers looking to shock, intimidate or defy stereotyping with their depictions too. An insider’s perspective certainly won’t lack an agenda, but for authenticity within a realm that’s been alternately demonized, robbed, recycled, parodied to the point of racism and frequently misunderstood, you need an inside man or woman. That’s where Reynaldo Berrios enters the picture.
If you’ve ever mourned the demise of even a fraction of your magazine stacks, or just missed out on a full fanzine run, decisions to compile in book form can only be something to celebrate. The recent ‘Boy’s Own’ compilation was a perfect example, and the ‘Sniffin Glue’ collection was strong too. Similar ones for ‘The End,’ ‘Dirt’… even annual ‘The Source’ compilations up to 1993 would be welcome. The possibilities are endless.
2007’s ‘Cholo Style’ book compiled the strongest articles from ‘Mi Vida Loca’ magazine, edited and mostly written by Rey Berrios, and frequently illustrated by Victor A. Spider, whose detailed but occasionally crude illustrations gave it a unique appearance. For the hood, by the hood and sold in the hood, it didn’t travel too much outside its target spots, but for a decade it documented Raza life in detail, with the editor risking his life to get a story written, seemingly for the love of it rather than any Pulitzer opportunities. Now that’s what’s real.
If you pick it up expecting a guide on how to wear a Pendleton properly, go elsewhere – there’s a trove of imagery from the inside present, but the uncompromising stance of the reportage and points raised might alienate some. Conscious of the whitewashing of his community’s legacy, Berrios talks about the cowardice of drive-bys, prescribing punishment for those engaging in the activity, makes trips to other areas interviewing the younger occupants about their hopes and fears, talks Che and Aztlan history race relations, cars; including an Oakland police lowrider, community organization, prisons and self- empowerment. ‘Cholo Style’ makes no effort to provide you with a learning curve, context or spoonfeed you a way of life, but it proves totally absorbing from the preface to the hand-drawn “a message from our sponsors” ads at the back for barbershops, boutiques and corner stores that stocked ‘Mi Vida Loca.’
Naturally, themes of machismo arise, but one of the best collections of images accompanies the feature ‘A Focus on the Homegirls,’ with submitted female crew photos capturing some strong looks and stances for the camera – true hometown pride. This is the stuff that stylists can’t emulate. What became of the showcased Ladies De Aztlan Redwood, San Mateo, South City, East Palo, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and South Hayward is never documented, but it’s a great moment-in-time captured. Importantly, Berrios caught the essence and diversity of his subjects – it’s not just about sending the photo editor the gun-toting shots of the most loco exhibitionists – this is the side of a lifestyle and culture rarely seen.
Feral House’s hit and miss approach to publishing the obscure, taboo, or rarely documented is always something to salute. For every couple of conspiracy-laden titles, there’s a ‘Lords Of Chaos, ‘American Hardcore,’ ‘Prisoner Of X’ (Allen MacDonell’s account of his time working for Larry Flynt at ‘Hustler’) and ‘Cholo Style’ – if the first two can get films made, the latter definitely warrants a documentary. Self-publishing against some heavyweight levels of adversity.
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