I met Guadalupe Rosales in Brooklyn about ten years ago. I was a desperately homesick San Francisco transplant, and L.A. native Guadalupe offered the perfect antidote to my New York alienation. We got to know each other at various parties in the local queer art scene; she was an artist, I was a disenchanted P.R. lackey at the Whitney. Over the years, we've bonded about our shared love for, and connections to, the very specific Mexican culture that blooms in California: its food and music, its political and social struggles. Recently, Guadalupe's been having that conversation on a much bigger scale. Her archival Instagram account, @veteranas_and_rucas, features personal photos submitted by Chicana women who were part of Southern California's gang and party culture in the '80s and '90s.
The account offers so much to love. It's visually stunning — who doesn't adore big-haired tough girls with meticulous eyeliner? But more important, it brings self-determined visibility to a subculture that's been overlooked and misrepresented in the mainstream. I sat down to chat with Guadalupe about the project.
Kira Garcia: What does "Veteranas and Rucas" mean?
Guadalupe Rosales: "Veterana" is a woman who has experience in gang life and is now older. She has "put in work." She's someone who's lived it and has stories to tell. "Ruca" is a slang word for girlfriend, like a boy will call his girlfriend "ruca."
KG: For those who don't know, what is Chicano versus Latino?
GR: Chicano is someone who is first or second generation; for example, my parents were born in Mexico and migrated to the U.S., and I was born in California. So I'm Mexican American/Chicano. Latino could be anyone who is Mexican or Central American or South American My parents are Latinos, and so is someone from El Salvador.
KG: How do you describe the culture that you're portraying?
GR: Living in L.A., gang and party cultures are interwoven. The gang culture has been going on for many years, since the Pachuco movement in the '30s and '40s, and the rave scene and party crews [started] in the late '80s and '90s. They were an alternative to gangs. So it was for people who said "I'm not a gangster, but I'm surrounded by it."
KG: Part of what drew me to your Instagram is just that the photos are so incredibly beautiful! The level of detail in the hair and makeup is so on point. There was such a specific style. I wonder if you can describe what that aesthetic looked like, in your own words?
GR: I do play the role of the curator! But Filas, British Knights, and L.A. Gear were really popular. Also the Nike Cortez. So if you had those shoes and some overalls you could also go for the tagger look, which is like oversize pants with a big shirt and some Adidas. Or you can go with the crop top and overalls and some Nikes. Also, the cholas had oversize sweatshirts, big hair, and chanclas [huaraches/sandals].
KG: I see these women as so incredibly feminine, but what you're describing is actually pretty androgynous.
GR: Yeah, and men were like, "Dang, that's hot!"
KG: But what if you decided to wear those clothes as a way of saying "I'm a queer woman." What response would that have received in the '80s?
GR: This is interesting. Women who are queer in the Latino community are more accepted than Mexican American gay men. Because of the machismo. Women who are gay and who are Latinas are not seen as being weak. But if a man is gay, that's a sign of weakness and femininity.