@belladonala and Chicana Place-Making in Photography
This image is one of the most striking photographs in the exhibit. The postures and stances of the women in the photograph are boldly assertive, showing a sense of dominance over the landscape they occupy. Their body language evokes toughness, and they all gaze directly into the camera with intensity. For those who are familiar with Los Angeles, the photograph's setting is Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles that has become increasingly gentrified over the past years. As discussed in Eric Avila's The Folklore of the Freeway, Chicana women in working-class communities of color have not had the means to directly oppose these development policies that displace their communities and affect their lives directly. But Chicana women have employed art or literature and other means to remind future generations of their presence. I argue that Bella Doña's/Quesada's photography is a form of making a statement about Chicana history, as a form of resisting Chicana invisibility in an increasingly gentrified L.A. locale. The photograph also calls to mind the film Mi Vida Loca, a chola/homegirl narrative that scholar Rosalinda Fregoso discusses in meXicana encounters. Fregoso values the sense of feminist kinship that the film portrays, but also acknowledges its implications in portraying a stereotyped representation of Chicanas. Nevertheless, Bella Doña's Echo Park photographs differ in that they are overtly performative of the homegirl identity, thereby holding the potential to use the chola signifier and rework it into a statement about Chicana belonging and resistance again gentrification.
This photograph of Rosie posing against a Beaux Art downtown building is also making a statement about Chicana's place and belonging in Los Angeles. As we've read in John Fante's Ask the Dust, Mexicans and Mexican Americans have a longstanding history of being part of downtown's landscape. Since development policies have eradicated ethnic neighborhoods, however, this history tends to be forgotten. By taking photographs that show a sense of defiant belonging, Chicanas are challenging painful histories that have marginalized their bodies from downtown's landscape.
In one shot, this image makes a statement about the Chicana's body vis-à-vis the state. It recalls the history of the Pachuca, the "bad girl" Mexican American figure who challenged the police state with her gender-transgressive fashion and blades in her big hair, and who were also arrested along with young zoot suit men. This Chicana, however, is continuing that anti-police legacy in explicitly wearing a shirt that reads "Fuck that police". In regards to recent events that remind us of how police forces are an oppressive feature of poor communities of color, this photographs show how homegirl/chola-inspired fashion can also serve as an avenue for making social critiques against the police state. Also, being a lyric of Compton-based group N.W.A., a Chicana photographed with this rebellious phrase shows that Chicana L.A. participates in the street gangster culture that have historically been part of black neighborhoods in Los Angeles, reminding us that communities of color often bleed into one another in multiple ways.
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