Welcome dreamers, architects, and builders. We’re all here today to support Mi Vida and to empower ourselves in the process.
My name is Alice Bag. Some of you may know me, but for those of you who don’t, I was born and raised in East L.A., I’m an old punk rocker and I recently became an author.
Before we start talking about our present and future, I want to talk a little about the past.
I talk a lot about punk rock because I grew up with it and it shaped me. Let me tell you something you may not know about punk in this city.
Top: Dianne Chai, the Alleycats. bottom: Karla Maddog and the Controllers.
The early L.A. Punk scene was co-created by women, they were joined by gays, lesbians, bisexuals and people of color, people from all walks of life. People who in mainstream society might have identified as Other. It was a diverse scene and there were as many women driving it as men.
Top: Kira Roessler, Black Flag, bottom: Bags by Louis Jacinto
We were fearless, unafraid to fail, unafraid to takes risks because we knew we had a community that would catch us if we slipped. Because of that, I never worried whether there would be people at our shows, I knew they would be there. I never worried whether they would come back if I had a bad performance, they always did. I knew they would be there for me because we had a strong sense of community. We wanted the same things. We were dreaming the same dream.
We are dreamers here today. You dream of a city where the long time residents are not displaced so that someone can make a killing and raise the rents. You dream of a community where the art and culture of Chicanas is represented. You dream of Chicana owned businesses like this one, that thrive and expand and so do I, but that dream is just a beginning.
Top: Highland Park, photographer unknown, bottom: Mayra Ramirez by Art Meza
Does anyone here know what architects do?
They usually plan buildings and they design them with a purpose in mind. Sometimes they supervise the builders, making adjustments and refining the plans as needed. We are architects: planning, designing and refining who we are.
Many years ago when I was at Garfield High School, I remember walking up to a group of MeCHa students who let me know with their whispers and smirks that I was too much of a weirdo to be seriously interested in the struggle.
Me in 1974
They had a very narrow definition of what a Chicana could be or what she could look like. It took me years of punk rock to figure out that I could not only claim the term Chicana, I could design it and refine it. I would no longer allow anyone the power to exclude me from anything that was important to me. I believe that each woman must have the freedom to define the modern Chicana experience in her own uniquely personal terms. In fact, in doing so we expand the concept, strengthen our connection to it and extend its reach.
Top: Crystal Galindo, bottom: Butchlalis de Panochtitlan
We are architects, planning, designing and refining who are. When I think of refining something, I think of sandpaper that allows you to make small adjustments but I also think of larger changes that allow you to tweak your design to compensate for unexpected detours, whether they be advances or setbacks or just newly discovered information. We’re modern Chicanas in this room. And unlike the people I met at Garfield, we’re not here to burn bridges but to build them. We’re here to plan and build relationships. We’re here to plan and build communities and not just any community, I’m talking about this one right here, Highland Park. We want to make sure that women of color are front and center, key players, decision makers in this community. If we want to remain a vital part of this rapidly-changing community, it’s going to happen by design.
I want you to close your eyes and imagine the Highland Park you want to see. Please do this with me. Close your eyes and picture what the buildings look like. What do the people look like? What do they sound like? Is there a dominant culture or are multiple cultures represented? Is it safe to walk or ride your bike? Open your eyes. Can somebody call out something you saw while your eyes were closed.
Thanks for sharing with us. Now we have to design our future with that outcome in mind. The plan comes from the dream. You may think that it’s one thing to dream and plan but maybe you can’t actually see yourself building the community you imagined. The task may seem too big but It’s easier than you think.
Let me tell you one last story:
A few years ago I wrote a book. It was my first book and I was new to the whole book tour circuit. I have a small publisher who set up my book release party at The Soap Plant, and after that it was pretty much up to me. My punk rock allies came forward and helped me set up more readings. I had expected that support because as I said, punk is more than music, we have a strong sense of connection. But then something else happened that I didn’t expect, A woman contacted me from IMIX and invited me to come out and do a reading. I had never met her or any of the women at Mi Vida or IMIX but they were here for me. They invited me, they invited all their friends and family, they even invited the Ovarian Psycos…which is my favorite kind of psycho!
These women behaved like builders. They are builders. These Chicana businesswomen reached out to me and constructed an alliance. They shared my dream and they chose to support my efforts and in doing so, they formed a bond with me and with the other people who might have read my book and shared my values. I, in turn connected with people who knew them, who knew their store and shared their values. We extended and solidified our network of allies, we strengthened our community, we started building relationships. We started building a future.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that I was invited to read here because the owners wanted to support Chicana artists. Their actions were aligned with their dreams and plans. That’s integrity.
We design our lives everyday. Whether we know it or not. We make choices and we act and a lot of the time we do it without a blueprint. Your market list, to-do list, and calendar are not the kind of blueprint I’m talking about. That’s more of a road map. Remember when you were little and people asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, this is that sort of question but instead I’ll ask WHO do you want to be? What are the attributes that you value? Do you have them? If not, how do you develop them? Knowing what you want and taking the steps to get there is a type of blueprint. Following that blueprint is what’s known as having integrity. It’s when your actions match your goals, plans, and ethical standards. It’s behavior that makes you smile at yourself in the mirror. If you’re not smiling at yourself in the mirror you probably need to check that the life you’re building is aligned to the life you dreamed for yourself. And if you’re not dreaming, you need to start dreaming.
I want to ask you to support Mi Vida, not with a charitable donation but with an investment in our mutual dream. The commitment you make to act in accordance with your goals and dreams is a commitment to yourselves and to the future.