Growing up in the East Los Angeles neighbourhood of Boyle Heights in the 1990s, Mexican-American Guadalupe Rosales joined the Aztec Nation party crew.
The "crews" were an overlooked subculture that sprang out of the Los Angeles gang scene. Though intertwined, the party scene and gang life remained separate, she says.
Rosales, now 35, has been living in New York for the past 15 years. It was nostalgia for her adolescence spent in the crew scene that pushed her to begin the Instagram feed @veteranas_and_rucas
, a digital archive of southern California's party and gang scene in the 1980s and '90s.
"I think a lot of people didn't realise or didn't know that this was a really important part of history," Rosales told Refinery29. If not for her Instagram, she adds, "I feel...it would have been forgotten."
Rosales' account, which currently has more than 50,000 followers, is visually captivating. It's flooded with wrinkled, old photographs of fierce-looking women with teased hair, maroon lip liner, crop tops, plaid shirts, and baggy denim. It's an homage to the style attributes we expect from the 1990s chola persona.
Chola — the feminine form of cholo — is loosely defined as a "mestizo," a person of mixed and/or indigenous race. By the mid-to-late 20th century, "cholo" morphed into the slang term for gang member, but it was also used by women in party crews who had adopted a similar style. Rosales centred her Veteranas and Rucas account around the young women — unacknowledged, but just as important, leaders in the party crew scene.
The women's masculine style of dress represented the strength and struggle of marginalised Southern California Mexican-Americans — a community sidelined by racism and classism.
Rosales acts as curator, inviting other Chicana women to send in their personal photos and videos from their time in party crews. The result is an online collective where past crew members can reminisce and outsiders can view a cultural narrative that Rosales feels the media typically misrepresents as violent. She aims to foster an understanding of how party crews gave young people a sense of belonging within a society in which they weren't accepted.
Political events such as the 1992 L.A. riots (during which about 51% of those arrested were Latino
) and California's Proposition 187 (a 1994 measure that prohibited undocumented immigrants from receiving non-emergency health care and education) helped activate the party crew subculture, according to Rosales.
Ahead, Rosales talks more about the powerful female personas in party crews, and what @veteranas_and_rucas
means to her.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.