Research Award Winner Susana Sepulveda: Chicana & Latina Zines

Written by Susana Sepulveda, Ph.D. student, Gender & Women's Studies, University of Arizona

When I applied to the Barnard Zine Library Research Award in early 2016, my dissertation project on Chicana punk subcultures was an idea waiting to for some direction. I began my research at Barnard in June of 2017, and spent three weeks researching zines by women of color, particularly Chicana and Latina punks, of the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s. Visiting the Barnard Library and sifting through hundreds of zines helped to open up new pathways in my scholarship relating to Chicana and Latina punk relations, identities, and consciousness formations. The Barnard Zine Library was a valuable resource for my studies as it introduced me to a variety of zines and zine makers that have informed my developing dissertation research.

In addition to being an emerging scholar, I am also a Chicana punk cultural producer and participant. I am the editor and creator of the zine series La Sangrona, sing in the Los Angeles based punk band Las Sangronas y El Cabron, and organize the annual musical fundraiser, Riot Grrrl Carnival. Thus, the opportunity to research zines at Barnard was both exciting and motivating for my creative projects and interests in addition to my academic work.

Within my work I view punk as a transnational anti-authoritarian and anti-conformist music subculture that challenges the status quo. Punk emerged in the mid to late 1970s and is aesthetically, culturally, and politically diverse. It is most notably represented through style, music, and performances. Chicanas and Latinas have always participated in punk subcultures, as exemplified through the musical trajectory of punk icons such as Alice Bag. However, punk has been predominantly represented by white, heterosexual, and masculine figures such as Johnny Rotten, Henry Rollins, and Ian MacKaye. Moreover, although punk has been widely written about, women of color are seldom represented in dominant punk narratives. Zines, which continue to maintain an underground circulation, are important modes of subcultural production in punk that serve to narrate, document, and foster punk experiences, performers, artists, and communities or scenes. Zines continue to be a method for marginalized and underrepresented punks in particular, to tell and document their own stories and experiences.

By addressing Chicana punk in my studies, a subculture within a subculture that grew out of the experiences of Chicana feminist punks, my work aims to challenge dominant representations of punk and conceptualizations of Chicana punk itself. I focus on the interrelations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and sound within Chicana and Latina experiences in punk subcultures, and explore the notion of consciousness within subcultural productions. Drawing from cultural texts such as zines, I aim to offer an analysis of how such texts illustrate and articulate what I term Chicana punk modes of consciousness, dynamic forms of awareness that depict processes of negotiation, participation, and production subjects’ encounter within Chicana punk subculture. I approach zines as sites of knowledge production, theorization, and where herstories are being told. I am particularly interested in how Chicana and Latina punks represent themselves, narrate their stories, and theorize ways of knowing through the making of zines.

Before conducting my research at Barnard, I had selected particular zines to study during my visit, such as the zine series’ Skinned Heart by Nyky Gomez and Muchacha by Daisy Salinas. But the Barnard Zine Library provided an extensive collection that exceeded my expectations and enabled me to access zines I would not have known about otherwise. I was excited to have found Susy X’s Malcriada and Chronicles of an 8th Grade Mallgoth zine series’, which present autobiographical narratives in journal like entries and comic book strips about the zinemaker’s experiences growing up, Latin@ identity politics she encountered, and a chronology of the alternative/punk music she engaged as a teen, which played a part in her subject formation, and arguably consciousness formation. In addition, Bianca Ortiz’s Hey Mexican offers a discussion of whiteness, from the perspective of a mixed raced Chicana, and a subtle critique on punk rock. Ortiz calls for a “zine/alliance for la raza” where there are “no barriers of punk rock,” that is, where la raza can unite beyond the limiting assumptions of punk, and use it as a “platform to communicate and conspire,” and hold discussions about “identity, religion, racism, language, family, machismo” etc. Such critical perspectives contribute to how I read and analyze zines in my work, and inform my argument of how Chicana and Latina punks are immersed in a practice of theory and ‘self’ making in the production of zines. 

Receiving the Barnard Zine Library Research award was exciting, not only because I was given the opportunity to dedicate my summer to reading and researching zines, but also because I had never been to New York. As I spent most of my time going through boxes of zines during the day, I also had the opportunity to explore the city of New York in the evenings. While doing archival research I was simultaneously conducting ethnographic research at punk shows and venues at night. Although these ventures may seem unrelated, in one way or another, they connected me back to the zines at Barnard. On one occasion, after reading an issue of Greenzine, a zine by the Cuban American artist and punk musician Cristy C. Roads, that started off as fanzine for the punk band Green Day and later became an autobiographical manifesto of aqueer Latina punk; I got to see her later that night performing an acoustic set as the opening act to Brontez Purnell’s book reading of their new novel Since I Laid My Burden Down (2017). Coincidentally (or not), the next day, I read issue #3 of the Black queer punk zine Shotgun Seamstress by Osa Atoe, wherein I ran into an article by Purnell discussing their experience and fall out with the band Gravy Train. As I was making connections and noting the references and interconnections across zinesters in zines, I was also witness to them in real time. The Barnard Zine Library Research award offered me more than an opportunity to research rare archived zines, it gave me an experience fundamental to my dissertation.