Latino artists and zine makers are taking representation into their own hands

When Allancito, a Guatemalan-American Long Beach resident, first started going to punk shows, he often found that he was the only queer person of color in the room.

In his feminist theory classes at Cal State Long Beach, he learned more about the injustices faced by those who share his identity and experiences. Depressed and upset, he launched Darcy Crash Distro and began independently publishing poems expressing the emotions of feeling like an outsider in a punk rock world.

“If no one is going to notice me, then I am going to make myself be noticed,” he told the Post.

When making a zine (pronounced “zeen”), the typical rules of publishing get pushed aside. No topic is off limits, no editor is around to tell you no, and no matter what critics have to say, it will still get printed.

At self-publishing celebrations like Long Beach Zine Fest, wild fantasies, under-represented identities and messages deemed controversial or unmarketable by the mainstream all have value and voice. Zinesters from all backgrounds have the freedom to express a diverse range of experiences and concerns through print. Within the same aisle, you could go from reading newspaper clippings on the Zodiac serial killer to browsing pictures of rainbow sloths.

Long Beach Zine Fest in Long Beach September 15, 2018. Photo by Samanta Helou.

But for Latinos living in Long Beach and beyond, this year’s LBZF was a chance to showcase identities beyond the typical Mexican and Chicano narratives. It was also significant that the event landed on Sept. 15, which is Independence Day for most Central American countries and the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Hispanics make up more than 40 percent of the Long Beach population, a nearly 10 percent increase since 2000. Though no statistics for country of origin exist for Long Beach specifically, the Pew Research Center found that about 80 percent of Hispanics in L.A. County are Mexican, while less than 15 percent are from Central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala.

Allancito’s Darcy Crash Distro was among those tabling at Long Beach Zine Fest last weekend.

“I see our brown parents telling us to fit in instead of standing out because this is how they survived a white supremacist world,” read an excerpt called “Ivory Towers.” “I see our golden brown skin permeating through the literal ivory towers of punk. I see us thriving in our perpetual alienation and re-birth as bodies made of clay.”

For Allancito, zines are an important way to connect his queer identity and Guatemalan heritage with the greater struggles facing Latinos of all backgrounds. Since most of the people in his community are Mexican-American, he says that he’s become more comfortable identifying as “brown.”

Long Beach Zine Fest in Long Beach September 15, 2018. Photo by Samanta Helou.

“Everything I’m experiencing is inherently brown and queer,” Allancito said.

While some of his passages are as sweet as the baby blue and pink paper they’re printed on, others express the harsh realities of heartbreak, loneliness and marginalization as a queer person of Central-American descent. Allancito is also the organizer of his own Long Beach zine fest called Zine Queens, specifically for members of the queer and trans community.

“I think when you’re queer or trans, you’re more likely to face discrimination when you’re trying to publish something,” he added. “So if you could just do it for yourself, and give it to friends, or sell it at shows, and sell it at a zine fest, I think that’s empowering, and that can help queer and trans people. That’s what helped me because I wasn’t seeing that represented, so I did it. And being able to do that is what empowers people.”

Latino artists and curators have always had a difficult time gaining access to mainstream art and publishing worlds. Art galleries and major institutions do not usually give Latino artists their own shows, according to Sarah Wilson, education curator at the Autry Museum of the American West. Rarely are they seen as curators or gallery owners and, thus, their experiences are not accurately represented, if given a platform at all.

“If you turned on [the nightly news] and there were stories about people in Chicano communities, they were bad stories of gangs of violence, of communities and buildings being vandalized, that sort of thing,” said Wilson, who was tabling at LBZF to promote Citizen Journalism Project LA:LA, a zine composed of local contributors who shared the community’s challenges, successes, issues and stories.

The publication was created as an educational component to The Autry’s LA RAZA exhibition, a documentation of the community newspaper of the late 1960s and 1970s that recorded L.A.’s Chicano rights movement.

La Raza set out to say that’s not who we are,” Wilson said. “This is actually who we are. Our language is more diverse than that. We are mothers; we are teachers; we are musicians; we are doctors; we are cousins…We are a diverse community.”

Monica Leal Cueva, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, was reminded of her hometown while creating “Searching for Our Lady de Guadalupe,” an independently published photo essay of Virgin Mary visages publicly displayed throughout Los Angeles. Though she doesn’t have any religious affiliation to the Virgin Mary, she still appreciates seeing the iconic figure throughout the community.

“Every time I saw the Virgin, I felt this connection,” she said. “It just so happens that in very Hispanic neighborhoods, that’s where you’re going to find them. So, I started driving around through those, and I started to feel way more connected to the city, to the people. So what does it mean? It means there are so many of us. We are so different. […]There’s still a lot of distance from one another, but through this project, I’ve started to feel closer.”

Leal Cueva tabled at LBZF as Tacos de Luna. She also presented her other mixed-media projects such as her twisted loteria cards that add the head of el diablito (the devil) to the body of la sirena (the mermaid) and replace el mundo (the world) with a man holding la rosa (the rose).

“This whole series happened by accident when I got into a fight with who I was with at the time,” she said. “I was so angry, and I had those cards in my house. And I just thought, either I break a window, or I make a collage.”

Kimberly Magaña tabling under the name La Colocha. Long Beach Zine Fest in Long Beach September 15, 2018. Photo by Samanta Helou.

Kimberly Magaña, a Salvadoran-American from San Fernando Valley tabling under the name La Colocha, shared hand-drawn, hand-stapled booklets filled with drawings of nude brown girls, women like her who are proud of their curly hair, thick thighs and stretch-marked bellies.

Most Latino cultural events Magaña has attended were generally dominated by Mexican-American and Chicano representation, she said. In response to the lack of Central American presence, she created her own platform through zines.

With a space like LBZF, the diverse subcultures within the Latino community have a safe space where they have the freedom to express their identities and concerns. Those who have never been exposed to these identities have the opportunity to meet the author face-to-face, understand and appreciate their work and establish new connections. As more of these personalities develop a platform, they can aid in eliminating the consequences caused by internalized racism.

“Mexican American, Central American, South American, we have Afro-Latinas as well who are even more underrepresented… It’s about allowing us to take up space,” Magaña told the Post. “It’s really about just making sure people are giving us that space to allow us to grow our platform. Let us breathe to build.”

Editor’s note: Long Beach Post Editor-at-Large Sarah Bennett is a founding organizer of the Long Beach Zine Fest.

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