The New Mestiza Lives In L.A.: Chicanas, Mobility, and Landscape in Urban Photography by Ivonne Gonzalez
Throughout my time in this course, I've been interested in thinking about how different historical sources relate constraining notions about gender and propriety. In particular, I've been looking at how Mexican American women/Chicanas are portrayed by a variety of scholarly sources and digital archives. As a feminist dedicated to the endeavor of reclaiming Chicana agency via historiography, I insist that we question how we receive implicit messages about gender from scholarly sources and archives. My digital review offered a critique of Calisphere, an institutionalized digital archive part of the University of California system, for presenting implicit biases against photographs of Pachuca women in the 1940s. The archive’s description of a photograph depicting young Pachucas describes them as a “Mexican female gang” and labels their existence as “somber”, thus imposing notions of female respectability upon the reader. At the end of my review, I argued for thinking about sites of self-fashioning such as Tumblr as alternative archives that contribute to the the project of recovering Chicana history.
Tumblr as a site of self-fashioning holds the potential to create new narratives about race, ethnicity, and gender. In researching the myriad aspects of Tumblr, I began to question how Chicana feminist bloggers in particular self-fashioned themselves in relation to their localities. One of these bloggers, Rosie, has posted pictures of herself within spaces that are specific to the Chicano experience in Los Angeles (in some photos, she even dresses like a Pachuca). Via her Tumblr and Instagram profile, I also came across the work of two Chicano photographers (Andrew Quesada and Joaquin Guzman) who have worked with her and who aim to capture her uniquely Pachuca-Xicana essence. In exploring the Instagram profiles of these two male photographers, I found that both extensively photograph Chicana/Latina/o women against landscapes that evoke a working class urbanism, such as bridges, barbed wire fences, and industrial wastelands.
In this digital exhibit, I will explore how photography on the Instagram profiles of Andrew Quesada, Joaquin Guzman, and Rosie illustrates a narrative about Latina/o mobility. To what extent does their photography mirror Latina women’s real-life mobility in Los Angeles? How are Latina bodies being photographed against landscapes and objects to construct new visions of Los Angeles? Is Latina/o urban photography a way to reclaim the city, and challenge narratives about Los Angeles that erase communities of color? These are some of the questions that I want viewers to think critically about while engaging with this digital exhibit.
1. Chicana Self-Fashioning and Bella Doña L.A. Clothing Line
Photographs retrieved from Instagram: @belladonala
Chicanas Take Over Echo Park
These photographs were taken at Echo Park, which is located in the central region of Los Angeles near downtown. The young women in the photographs evoke Mi Vida Loca, a 1994 film about a group of Chicana women who were in a street gang. A sense of camaraderie, as well as ownership in the park’s landscape, can be discerned in the body language of the young women photographed. The palm trees and graffiti on light poles allude to an experience that is both very Californian and urban working class.
The Chicana in Beaux Art Downtown L.A.
In this photograph, Rosie is photographed against a historic Beaux Art building in downtown L.A.. Her Chicana aesthetic - hooped earrings, bright red lipstick recalling the singer Selena - clash against an old downtown landscape. In this regard, the photograph articulates the meeting of two dissimilar cultural signifiers. Nevertheless, Rosie’s assertive stance indicates a sense of belonging within downtown’s architectural landscape.
While the other scenes are specific to a locality in Los Angeles, these two photographs allude to the Chicano experience in the barrio. In one photograph, a young Chicana woman poses in front of a house while leaning on a wired fence. The house’s architecture and detailing is reminiscent of working class Latino homes in the barrio, and the young woman in the photograph shows pride in her home. Instead of a conventionally “glamorous” backdrop, this Chicana shows that one can be confident and beautiful in one’s own working-class, immigrant setting.
The image of the Chicana in front of the police car also points to another urban reality that plagues communities of color in the barrio and the city at large. The Chicana in the photograph, however, challenges the police-state with her shirt that reads “Fuck tha police”.
2. @elfotografojoaquin Captures Latinas in Urban Landscape
Photographs retrieved from Instagram: @elfotografojoaquin
Latinas Strike a Pose Under the Bridge
These photographs show Latina women posing against graffitied underpasses of bridges. Underpasses in downtown Los Angeles are often considered “grimy” urban spaces that homeless people often make their homes. How does the Latina body add dimension to these urban landscapes and borrow from them to fashion themselves? We can also think about the ways in which gendered notions of domesticity are being destabilized in these photographs, as elucidated in the way the women’s body language conveys agency within a viscerally masculine, grimy, urban landscape.
The automobile is another historically specific symbol of Los Angeles, as the city’s endless freeways make it the most convenient form of transportation in the city. These photographs show women taking ownership of cars while being well-dressed and elucidating glamour. The photographs imply Latina women’s agency over their mobility, as well as a strong sense of dignity in their bodies.
These photographs show a young woman sitting on top of a public telephone booth and on top of a pile of wooden pallets. The telephone booth is an object that is ubiquitous in working class communities of color, and they are often decorated with graffiti. The wooden pallets call to mind Los Angeles’s industrial sections that are often located in working class neighborhoods. By sitting on top of these objects while smoking a cigarette, the young Latina woman shows dominance over the urban landscapes they symbolize.
3. @blacklotusrosie and Xicana Self-Representation on Instagram
In other photographs, Rosie is situated in different geographical contexts that suggest her mobility through Los Angeles. In one picture, she is posing on a cliff by the oceanside. In another photograph, she is posing with two friends on a rooftop while L.A.’s downtown skyline sits in the background. She therefore constitutes herself as a woman who, very much like a Pachuca, is not a static subject confined to one locality.
Literal and Environmental Mobility in Chicano L.A.
Other photographs are indicative of more literal mobility. The photograph below is a selfie, which means that Rosie took a picture of herself with her iPhone camera. As the caption reveals, she took the photograph while riding the train.
Another picture on her Instagram features Rosie and a friend posing on train tracks. Many of these tracks cut through working class neighborhoods, becoming part of her landscape. These two photographs show how mobility for working class Chicanas is not only an experience, but also something they may be constantly reminded of by the infrastructure of their immediate environments.
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