What started as a personal Instagram project aimed at reconnecting the artist with her roots grew to encompass the shared experiences of a distinctly SoCal subculture.
Projections of young Latina women partying in 1990s Los Angeles dance on the walls behind Guadalupe Rosales underneath a ceiling dotted with plastic glow-in-the-dark stars. If the images represent a constellation of Chicanx subculture, Rosales is its North Star.
Rosales runs the popular Instagram account Veteranas and Rucas, a digital community-sourced archive dedicated to images that reflect 1980s and ’90s Latinx youth culture in Southern California. She began the account in 2015 while living in New York as a way to reconnect with her Boyle Heights roots. The archivist has turned the collective history into her first solo exhibition called “Echoes of a Collective Memory” showing at the Vincent Price Art Museum in East Los Angeles through March 23.
“When I started, I didn’t even know the words to describe myself,” Rosales says to a group of nearly 70 exhibit attendees on a rainy Sunday afternoon. “I had to start with the stereotype — the lowrider, the chola — but everything I found was cliché. I needed something that went deeper.”
For Rosales, the archive celebrates the “good times and trauma” of coming of age in ’90s Los Angeles when gang violence was at its highest. During that decade the homicide rate topped 1,000 deaths per year in the city alone. The project is also a way for Rosales to heal from her own wounds. In 1996, her cousin, Ever Sanchez, was stabbed to death at a party in a gang-related murder.
Haunted by grief for her cousin, Rosales booked a one-way trip to New York in 2000 where she lived for nearly 15 years.
“I left L.A. being very confused by how much pain I was having,” Rosales says. “That’s actually why I started this because I felt so alone in it.”
But Rosales found that the more she shared, the more others began to connect. Her followers began contributing their own photographs and stories — mainly focused on young women of color — to the account, creating an impressive archive of more than 4,100 images to date. A year later she launched a second Instagram account called Map Pointz solely dedicated to the ’90s party scene.
“I see her work as very feminist,” says Pilar Tompkins Rivas, director of the Vincent Price Art Museum. Rivas says Rosales’ work provides a much needed portrait of the lives of young Latina women, who have limited representation in popular culture. “The idea of a chola doesn’t conjure up a lot of aspirational things in terms of women and I think that she’s taking control of that kind of identity and presenting it in a celebratory kind of way.”
“When I started, I didn’t even know the words to describe myself. I had to start with the stereotype — the lowrider, the chola — but everything I found was cliché. I needed something that went deeper.”
A large mural of young Latina women immediately visible upon entering the gallery represents the feminine influence in Veteranas and Rucas. Rosales explains that the piece is an invitation for visitors to share their story and embrace their history.
“It’s a map of the city and life that many have tucked away to forget,” she says.
These histories are ones that Rosales’ followers are often hesitant to share, mainly due to the negative associations of being connected to gang activity. Rosales says most of the shame stems from the misrepresentation of Latinx and youth party culture in popular media.
“Our culture is so complex,” she says. “It’s not just like a sentence, it’s like I need to tell you a story for you to understand.”
As Rosales speaks, “Tried by 12,” a song by Brooklyn-based hip-hop producer East Flatbush Project pulses through the room, the bass line muffled to make it seem as though the music is coming from a house party down the street. Soft blue light permeates the space to mimic the lighting of a club or teenage bedroom. Go-go boxes similar to ones found in dance clubs like Baby Doe’s in Monterey Park are covered with bright neon fliers for parties and raves. One 1995 flier promises to whisk attendees away on “a night of never-ending pleasure, where fantasies become reality.”
“I see her work as very feminist. The idea of a chola doesn’t conjure up a lot of aspirational things in terms of women and I think that she’s taking control of that kind of identity and presenting it in a celebratory kind of way.”
Pilar Tompkins Rivas, director of the Vincent Price Art Museum
To Rosales, the fliers represent stories of the people who once owned them. Some of the handouts have phone numbers from potential hookups scrawled on them in bold Sharpie ink. Others are marked with the tags of different party crews.
“One flier I got was still folded in half with weed inside!” Rosales exclaims.
A second go-go table displays Jordana lip liners and Covergirl compacts. The makeup is neatly positioned atop a pair of black boy shorts with the words “Party Teaser” — the name of a San Gabriel Valley party crew — neatly embroidered with white thread across the front. Rosales says she had to scour the internet to find the exact lip liner that she and her friends used to buy at the dollar store.
“It’s a simple detail,” she says, “but it’s very important.”
Each item holds a specific meaning to Rosales — the makeup is the same kind her sister had given to her cousin to hold the night he was murdered — but the artifacts also encourage attendees to recall their own memories from that era.
“This is like a temple to me,” Rosales says in a hushed voice. “The space activates people wanting to share their stories.”
Amber Guerrero, an exhibit attendee who grew up in East Los Angeles, says the exhibit is a way for her to connect to her family.
“My sisters were teenagers in the ’90s while I was still in diapers,” Guerrero says. “They used to talk about parties and going out. They had little notebooks they kept with them in case they found a cute boy at the club so they could get his information … It’s really nice to hear those stories told to me.”
Rosales says there’s a reciprocal force behind publishing these marginalized histories. She says she was recently contacted by a follower who had found her cousin’s backpack which contained a notebook. It’s now part of the altar dedicated to him in the exhibit.
After her L.A. show wraps up in March, Rosales will be displaying her work for the first time south of the border in Guadalajara, Mexico. She hopes to one day own a space where she can oversee the archive her community has entrusted to her.
“Because I was being so open about my own history and telling a story, people started doing the same thing,” Rosales says. “We’re all collectively realizing how important it is for us to tell these stories.”
Guadalupe Rosales: Echoes Of A Collective Memory:
Show runs through March 23, 2019.
Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College