From the Zoot Suit-donning pachucos to the punk Alice Bag disciples to the iconic ASCO collective, the Mexican-American youth movements of East Los Angeles have proven time and again that creative expression and resistance are intertwined. Today’s Los Angeles is no different. In the last few years, women-led organizations like the socially-conscious arts collective Ni Santas and the LA outpost of all-female DJ crew Chulita Vinyl Club are once again uniting music and the arts with rebellion and, this time, intersectionality.
Over the course of a year, Los Angeles-born photographer Devyn Galindo set out to document this new era of Mexican-American youth in her debut book titled, We Are Still Here. In the extensive, 73-page series released last November, Galindo captures the diversity, creativity, and activism that sets this new generation apart — all of which is embodied in the Xicanx identity, a relatively new term some Mexican-Americans have claimed that stems from the grassroots and working-class roots of the 1960s Chicano movement, but also incorporates indigenous consciousness, feminism, and queer theory in its politics.
For Galindo, her connection to the documentation series is personal. As a non-binary queer Mexican-American, Galindo explained in an interview with Remezcla that she found inspiration in exploring her identity. It was in East Los Angeles, where she settled down in 2015, that she found friends and community that made space for both her Mexican-American and queer identity.
“The next generation is paving the way for being more progressive with their language around gender pronouns.”
“Before I couldn’t feel like I could walk into a room and feel comfortable as a queer person,” Galindo said of Mexican-American spaces only a few years ago. “And I think that just now in the past couple of years, the next generation is really paving the way for just being way more progressive, with their language around gender pronouns, and just trying to create more safe and inclusive spaces.”
Similar to the Chicano photography of the 60s and 70s, Galindo’s eye focuses on Xicanxs in the midst of protest, but also in their personal, daily lives. Before Galindo started the project, she connected with poets and zine makers on Instagram, later meeting many of her subjects in La Conxa, an autonomous community space in Boyle Heights run by Ovarian Psycos. Awareness of her project soon spread through word of mouth and gradually more women joined as participants in the series. Soon Galindo developed close ties with the women included in the photo book, allowing for an intimate look into their lives.
From there, each photo session became more of a get together amongst friends, sometimes at the beach or at a local, queer punk show. Other than the in-studio shoots, nothing else was staged. But even those photographs, Galindo explained, were taken while hanging out at her personal studio in downtown Los Angeles.
“I would invite [for example] one of the girls Fina [to shoot]. I would be like ‘Fina, let’s do a shoot in Venice. Let’s all go and hang out and eat pizza and roller skate.’ Everything was just hanging out,” Galindo said. “I just wanted to capture their personalities, their truest self. I don’t like to project anything. I want people to come as they are.”
While some of her photographs seem taken right out of her personal archive, other photographs lean toward photojournalism and others could slip easily into an editorial spread. The style shifts from portrait to portrait, creating different points of view of the same community.
“We come from a long line of resistance.”
The stylistic shifts are also a reflection of the range in style and expression of Galindo’s ten recurring subjects, among them artists, poets, DJs, photographers, zine makers, and fashion designers.
For those who follow Xicanx culture on Instagram, some faces featured in the photo book are instantly recognizable, like that of Leather Papi and Chicana Catwomxn. While references to chola and pachuca fashion are abundant, the photographs inside We Are Still Here are a reminder that there is no one “formula” to be Xicanx. Each woman samples and remixes cultural movements and icons from both sides of the border, ultimately creating an expression that is unapologetically unique — sometimes flashing bright, pink pixie cuts or buzzed heads or rocking a sharp winged eyeliner or thinly-penciled eyebrows.
It’s this boundary and binary-breaking spirit that appears repeatedly throughout the book, perhaps best crystallized in a photo of a made-at-home banner that reads “Rompe Las Fronteras.” This thread also runs through the book’s collaborative 24-page zine, which provides a more individualistic look into the minds of the women photographed. The zine includes portraits, names, ages, and quotes from each of the book’s protagonists, like one that reads “Decolonize your mind” or another that says “I’m a queer Chicanx and I’m a scholar.” The rest of the zine includes poems, like “Chicanismx” by Chicana Catwomxn (also known as Alma Rosa Rivera), which declares “We might live on this side of a man made border…but there are no borders for us…as educated Chicanxs we know where we came from and we celebrate it!”
Taken together, the photo book provides a thorough examination of what Xicanx identity means to its community. But equally as important as this document is the book’s audience. As a “for us, by us” type of project, We Are Still Here is intended to remind fellow Mexican-Americans who may not identify as Xicanx of where they come from. In preparing her book, Galindo reflected on her younger cousins’ rejection of their brown features. “[They] …hate their brown skin, hate their nose, hate their hair because of what the media tells they should look like,” Galindo said. By titling her book We Are Still Here, Galindo sends the message that Mexican-American heritage is not a flaw, but a strength that should be claimed. After all, Xicanxs are here today despite centuries of colonization, exploitation, and marginalization.
“I think it’s important for people to realize we’ve been here pre-Columbus and we were not discovered,” Galindo said. “We come from a long line of resistance and no matter what stage you’re at in your identity process, this is your birthright and this is in your blood.”