Guadalupe Rosales remembers the party that changed her life: It was a night in 1993, when a 12-year-old Rosales listened from her bedroom as partygoers gathered in a neighbor’s backyard to blast unfamiliar music that reverberated through her East LA home.
“It wasn’t like quinceañera music, it wasn’t Spanish music, it was house music, and they had a DJ, and people were dancing and competing with each other,” Rosales, an LA-based artist and archivist, tells Noisey. They were playing DJ Trajic’s “‘Pants R Sagging,’ or something like that,” she recalls, and most in attendance were underage. It was the first time she remembers seeing mostly Latino neighbourhood kids, some of whom she recognised, partying away from their relatives. It was “something different, being organised by teenagers.”
This uncharted party circuit galvanised teenagers across Southern California in the 1990s. On any given weekend night, various subcultural groups – rebels, groovers, housers, and mods, among others – within the party scene would congregate in backyards from East and South Los Angeles to the surrounding valleys and Orange County. Together, they would lay the foundations for an influential but oft-overlooked Latin dance subculture that offered community for Chicano ravers, queer folk, and other marginalised youth, and gave exposure to influential DJ-producers like Drumcell and Doc Martin.
East LA became a popular destination for Chicanos who widely defined the movement to explore their identities, and party crews like East Los Angeles Aztek Nation, the crew Rosales identified with, provided a sense of belonging to teens not involved in gang lifestyle, or looking to supplant it. By 1995, an estimated 500 party crews were in existence. But that didn’t always preclude them from violence.
Far from the manicured lawns and Hollywood scandals of LA’s west side, undertones of loss threatened Chicano livelihood and permeated their neighbourhoods. In 1996, Rosales’ cousin, Ever Sanchez, was repeatedly stabbed at a party and left for dead on a nearby playground.
For Rosales, growing up between Boyle Heights and East LA in the 90s meant exposure to gang violence, the institutionalisation of public space, and racial profiling by police. But it also meant exposure to massive cultural innovation.
The thriving dance scene uncovered the ingenuity of Chicano youth who sought new and clandestine ways to party amid intensifying police surveillance. In a time when nightlife buzz travelled verbally or through party flyers, map points – infolines or locations where party maps were purchased, similar to a Will Call box – were devised to derail police raids.
“Despite the violence I had experienced, I knew my neighbourhood had so much to offer,” Rosales writes in Map Pointz, A Collective Memory, a new party crew art book based on her popular Instagram documenting photos and scenes from the era, and the pretext for her first solo exhibit at LA’s Vincent Price Art Museum, which runs through 22 March. “I had a community of good friends who I saw as family, I felt free at any time of day...Los Angeles was the most raw, real, uncensored city—it was home.”
After a stint in New York City, Rosales returned to Los Angeles in 2016 to reconnect with her roots and her disappearing neighbourhood. Her first project, a viral Instagram feed called Veteranas and Rucas, centres on the lives of Latinas throughout Southern California, the women Rosales remembers growing up around. Map Pointz, her second Instagram feed dedicated to archiving the party scene, was more personal.
“I began this because I didn’t know how to reintroduce myself, my life, and talk about my experience in LA,” Rosales says. “How do I talk to my sister about it, who also has her own trauma, my mom, who probably had a hard time with us as teenagers, [or the] the changes [I saw] that were happening in LA?”
Following the success of Veteranas and Map Pointz, Rosales shifted her focus to a physical archive, some of which is on display at the current exhibit. Initially relying on her personal collection, Rosales has spent the past four years amassing an impressive, crowdsourced digital and physical archive, donated to her by followers and admirers of her Instagram projects. From custom-embroidered crew hats, to party flyers, to Street Beat clippings – a youth magazine the Los Angeles Times called Rolling Stone for La Raza – objects of adolescence tell the stories of people like Rosales and her cousin Ever Sanchez.
“I thought about where [my cousin] was killed, the blood that was shed on the street,” Rosales says, recalling the erasure of history as inspiration. “I like to think about material and the city collecting memory or history. Not just in the way we tell a story, but what we leave in this world.”
While Rosales says she has been accused of glorifying gang culture in her work, a central drive behind all of her projects is to deepen and re-contextualise the narrative of Latinos often stereotyped and profiled as gangsters or “cholos.”
“Chicano culture is so rich. You can just keep going. And that’s why it’s so complex,” Rosales says. “You don’t really know the full history. It’s a fucking constellation, there are all these things happening all the time.
“We’re more complex than [gang culture or low riders]. It’s not this linear history or experience. There are pockets that haven’t been acknowledged, and the rave scene and party crew scene is one of them.”
Noisey: What was the inspiration for Map Pointz, and what distinguished it from Veteranas and Rucas?
Guadalupe Rosales: I wanted something that was very specific to the party scene and rave subculture in LA, while still focusing on brown folks or Chicanos. [But] everyone partied together, even if it was focused on Latinos. We didn’t say, “this is not your space,” or anything like that. The only way that that happened was if something was not accessible, or easily accessible, because in the 90s there was a lot of gang violence, and the police was after teenagers, you know. I think that platform is to talk about these issues as well. It’s not just to aestheticise or celebrate the party scene, but it’s also to talk about why these spaces were important at the time.
That’s a good point, and you sort of see that within so-called minority communities, or queer communities, or other racialised communities. We forget how important safe spaces are, and we don’t really think, “Oh, yeah, a party is a safe space for people to celebrate their identity.”
Safe spaces can be many things, it doesn’t mean nothing will happen. A safe space is where people can be themselves and identify with others. And of course in LA, there wasn’t just one party happening in one night, there were maybe like six or 10 parties, but it was because we knew that parties weren’t going to last long. So maybe we’d be at a party for an hour or two max, and then we’d go to another party. But it’s because of that, because these parties were happening in the midst of violence. They would get raided by the police, but we also had strategies. “If the cops show up, what do we do?” And we had a whole thing, we would just start singing “Happy Birthday” so the police would think it’s a birthday party, you know? It was like teenagers organising what we thought was a safe space. Whatever that was at the time.
It’s funny because on my way to the exhibit, I was thinking, “How many movies have I seen about Berlin ravers?”
Or like taking acid or E?
Yeah, it’s sort of like the scope of our experiences are limited, and we can’t break this mould, like you were saying. You have to belong to something. And apart from the answer being a racist structure, when Latinos [party] it’s politicised, it’s an epidemic.
That’s exactly the thing. Other things are being celebrated, but people feel more comfortable talking about the UK rave scene, [which] people know. That’s another reason why I wanted to start this project. The way we were being, I guess stereotyped or profiled, [assumed] we only lived this one lifestyle, which is gang culture, or low riders, or whatever. With this Map Pointz platform, it’s saying we’re more complex than that.
I feel like because of my time growing up in the 90s, as an adult, I still carry that, "What is my mom gonna think?,” “What is society gonna think?” I still see it on Instagram, where people say, “You shouldn’t be celebrating that,” or “A lot of my friends died,” but let’s talk about that, too. Just because that happened doesn’t mean that we’re just not going to talk about it. Which, for me, is important to put out there. It’s not just good things that happen. We were also going through major challenges with family, with racial injustices, and all this political stuff that was going on at the time.
Having experienced gang violence directly, what do people tend to forget about the 90s and how dangerous of a time it was?
When you’re part of something or experiencing something, when you’re in the moment and you grow up seeing it, it just seems [normal]. Living in LA, we’re used to having helicopters fly over, or hearing sirens. I was used to seeing drive-by shootings by my house. Now I [think], “Damn, that was really fucked up that I saw that.” I saw this guy get shot in front of me, so I think it’s important to think back about the experience, and what was happening with myself. I [remember] sitting on my porch, and there was this moment [before the shooting] where I felt, “Oh, the sun feels really nice, it’s a Sunday, the kids are playing outside.” But then this thing happened where a car showed up and started shooting this guy. There’s trauma in there, you know what I mean? Maybe I was young too, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it, [but] I wasn’t scared. If I were to see that now, it would probably affect me in a different way.
Do you think your work is you trying to confront some of those traumas, or understanding your trauma?
It’s not really confronting, it’s more like revisiting and acknowledging it. I want to believe that [it’s healing], but it’s not, because it’s not like I’m going to stop thinking about it. That memory is still going to be with me. It’s more like moving through it. I still think of my cousin’s death. When people say “healing,” it’s like, “I’m just going to heal from this trauma and not think about it anymore.” How do you think about it, and experience those memories, and then be OK in a way that you can still cry, you can still miss someone? So for me, with the work and acknowledging all that, it’s more like telling a story, sharing an experience of part of my history. The work is about raising questions, reflecting, and if I do talk about something that’s really difficult, or trauma, it’s also being real. I’m not really interested in censoring anything, but it starts with me. I’m in a place where I can talk about trauma, but it doesn’t mean that other people are ready.
I actually posted something about my cousin not so long ago, and I said, “I kind of shared my own story about my experience with growing up in the 'hood,” and this guy was like, “I don’t know how you do that, how you can talk about that history? For me it’s really hard, and I don’t like thinking about it.” And I had to tell him, “Take your time. Be patient. You need to tell your story whenever you’re ready.” Those conversations happen with Veteranas and Rucas and Map Pointz. A lot of people died in the party scene as well. Again, the parties were taking place in neighbourhoods where there were a lot of gangs. Let’s say someone from a party crew was passing out flyers, and he had a shaved head, so he looks like a cholo. A gang [passes by, mistaking him], so then they’ll shoot the party and people would die like that. But also because people were inviting their cousins or their brothers who were in gangs.
How important was it to belong to a crew? Did you need to belong to a crew?
There were people that just loved partying, but being part of a crew – my sister was in a crew, my brother was in a crew, I was in a crew. Different crews. We’ve all had different experiences. I got involved in a party crew [through] my friend from junior high [whose] brothers were from the party crew, Aztek Nation. They started partying maybe in ‘89, ‘90, and then I used to hang out with her a lot because she was my best friend. I started partying with Aztek Nation, and that’s how I got involved. It felt good to roll to a party with like 10 people, rather than just yourself or another friend. For me it felt really good to wear my hat, to wear my jacket that said “Aztek Nation,” and say that proudly when walking into a party. It was almost like a family.
What’s your most vivid party memory?
I wish I remembered locations, but I remember scenes or memories from certain parties. I remember being on the backside corner of the backyard, and seeing everyone, seeing the go-go box and people dancing on it. I actually share this story from way before I started partying. I must’ve been 12, actually. I was in my bedroom and my neighbour was throwing a house party and I listened to the music. It wasn’t like quinceañera music, it wasn’t Spanish music, it was house music and they had a DJ and people were dancing and competing with each other. And I was so young, but I felt so intrigued by it. That was actually the first time I saw something different being organised by teenagers because I didn’t see any adults there. And the fashion, I’ve never seen anything like it. There were taggers or groovers in big clothes, but I didn’t think of them as gangsters. I knew what gangster was, but I knew this was different. I still remember that actually. It was really dark but [there were] flashes of lights here and there.
What song will bring you back to a 90s backyard party overlooking a crowd?
I have a few songs, there’s one that’s called “Groove to This.” That one reminds me of my sister at a party. And then that one with the party happening next door, I think it’s “Pants R Sagging,” or something like that.
What’s a memory when the party wasn’t safe? A time when you were like, “Holy shit, I don’t know how long I can keep doing this?”
My sister threw a party at my house, and the neighbourhood gang showed up and started harassing people. We used to charge $2-3 for the entrance, and they came in and were like, “If you don’t let us in, we’re going to steal your equipment,” like turntables, stuff like that. They started bullying people, so I remember that night. There were also a few [other] nights. I think it was around Halloween, I was in the backyard and then I heard shooting, and my cousin and I went outside and we saw this guy lying on the ground. We were like, “Oh shit, let’s get out of here,” so we left. But the thing about it is that being so young, I didn’t feel scared, except that one time at my house when the guys showed up, but I was like, “OK, let’s go to the next party,” even though we had just seen some guy laying on the ground. But I definitely had scary moments, when it was like me and my friend just standing on the street and no one’s around. Those were the scary moments. Even though violence existed at parties, I think I felt more afraid out on the street. Like not related to a party.
What inspired you to come back to LA?
The work that I’m doing. I moved back in summer 2016 just because the work was growing so much, beyond like digital or social media. I was meeting a lot of people, and wanted to have these conversations in person. I was doing interviews, and I also started reconnecting with my family. That was why I began this. [The erasure of history] is why I started this physical archive where people were donating objects and clothes. Everything. I didn’t see it like, “Oh, this is such a cute shirt.” I see it like, this kid who passed away who was 15 wore this, and his mom probably didn’t wash it. There’s still maybe something about him. Personal. And that’s how I feel about the city. I don’t see the city as this landscape. I don’t see it as this surface. I see it like what we do, how we embed things, our experiences, culture. I needed to be part of that in real time.
Who is the Map Pointz audience?
It’s a lot of people. It’s more universal because people can relate to socialising and partying, not just in LA, but in Europe, in Mexico, New York, and Chicago. It’s pretty open. With Veteranas, people weren’t familiar with the things we were talking about. It’s not just we drive low riders and listen to oldies. We also listen to house music, we also dress weird or whatever, coloruful, and there’s a creative aspect of that. Teenagers designing flyers, being unique, being creative with organising parties, and I feel like a lot of teenagers in general can relate to that. For some reason, being a teenager stays with us.
What sort of stories do you want your archives to tell, or what do you want people to get from experiencing your archives?
With Map Pointz, I’ve seen a positive shift where people rethink their history. I met people who have donated material, and I also met people who were like, “Oh my god I have a box of fliers in my garage, I’m gonna take it out and take care of them,” which is cool because [otherwise] they were probably going to throw them out. So I guess what I want people to get out of it is, before they think that part of their youth experience is not important, to sit with it, and think about it. And also, if they’re holding onto material, I always wonder why they kept it for so long. There’s something special about it. This is why they kept it. I think there are a lot of people who can relate to my own experience and didn’t even know it. I also kept like my own archive and now I know why. It was so important. It is part of me. And I think other people are realising that as well.
What’s the future of Map Pointz? Do you see yourself doing more exhibits like this, or even parties?
I am starting to focus more on the physical aspects of the work. I was running both pages at the same time. I have my friend who is running Veteranas, she’s taking over, but we’re still working on it together. She’s posting for me so I can focus on the physical work. So putting shows together, lectures. I’m collaborating with Fresh Jive, so we’re going to Paris in January. It’s so exciting, but also at the same time, everything’s happening so fast already. I have like five shows next year, the show at Aperture is traveling as well. I would like for people to keep donating material. If people have an archive and they don’t know how to take care of it, or they want me to take care of it, donate it.
Marla Bahloul is an LA-based producer at VICE. Follow her on Instagram.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.