The New Mestiza Lives in L.A.: A Final Assessment by Ivonne Gonzalez
When I mention that I am from East Los Angeles, California, a predominantly working-class Mexican American neighborhood, many people gasp and ask if it is as violent and dangerous as its representation in television and film. Isn’t that the ghetto? Are there gangs there? Growing up in this neighborhood, I had to contend with the many images and visions I encountered of the place that I lived in, trying to make sense of my reality and its representation in the media.The perspectives and images of women living in the barrio were even more out of sight. In fact, one of the few mainstream images that I encountered of women from my Chicana barrio background was singer Gwen Stefani's music video for her song “Luxurious”. In this video, Stefani took inspiration from the everyday sights of my life in East L.A. and used them to rework the meaning of luxury in representing her white body in the image of a working-class chola, or a Latina female gangster. Wearing a sexy chemise emblazoned with the image of la Virgen de Guadalupe, and with her hair braided in ribbon recalling Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, Stefani lies in a bed of assorted Mexican candies and touches her body seductively. She proceeds to situate the narrative of her song, which is about luxury, within the context of a “ghetto” as she articulates luxury through the colorful, street gang aesthetics of the barrio. Stefani speaks on behalf of women in the barrio, while they simply add local color to her project.Realizing the dire need of self-representation for Chicanas, I’ve argued in my projects for this course that we should privilege social media sites such as Tumblr and Instagram as valuable archives that provide first-hand insight into the perspectives of Chicana women. My digital exhibit has highlighted urban photography as a discursive space we should privilege in our understandings of Latina/o mobility. I’m interested in examining the urban sites that Latina/o photographers choose to represent Latina women’s bodies, and what messages about mobility, belonging and place are conveyed in these self-fashioned images. What does urban photography tell us about the working-class, Latina/o experience in Los Angeles? What narratives are implicit in the photographs?This project is also part of a larger effort that aims to challenge how Latina women are portrayed in Latina/o historiography. Following the work of scholars such as Rosa Linda Fregoso, Catherine Ramirez, and Elizabeth Escobedo, who argue that Latino historians should refrain from imposing standards of respectability on Chicana subjects such as pachucas. Pachuca women have been inspirational subjects in my work for this course, as I argue they play an important role in rejecting restrictive gender roles within Latina/o culture.As a Chicana feminist scholar, I believe that images have the power to change the way that Chicana women view themselves against multiple patriarchies they are subject to. Recalling the words of Chicana feminist writer Gloria Anzaldúa, “Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it happens in the images in our head.” (1987, p. 109)
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