Stunning Photos Of What It Was Actually Like To Be In An L.A. Party Crew

Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
Growing up in the East Los Angeles neighborhood 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 realize or didn't know that this was a really important part of history," Rosales told Refinery29. If not for her Instagram, she adds, "I 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 centered 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 marginalized 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.
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
What does "veteranas and rucas" mean? And where does the term "chola" come from?
"I can only describe my Instagram name. A lot of people have different definitions for chola and cholo so I'll just describe 'Veteranas' and 'Rucas.' When I started @veteranas_and_rucas, I felt like I was just going to focus on the gang culture, so I named it 'Veteranas,' which means a woman who has put in a lot of work in gang culture and also who has experience in what we call the 'hood life.' 'Rucas' is a slang word that many of us used to call our female friends or girlfriends, just like saying my 'homegirl.'

"The other thing is, 'Veteranas' — the definition is different now because I feel like as women in general, we have our own struggles and our own challenges in the world, and the word has become not just 'putting in work' in gangs. It's also the work that we have done or things that we have experienced, just challenges as women. We're almost just these natural warriors. So I feel like that's what's happening with the word, like you may not be a 'Veterana' in gang culture but in the real world you could be."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
Tell us more about why you decided to start this Instagram archive.
"I had two motives. One was to reconnect with people who I lost touch with, because I was living in New York when I started the Instagram account, and the second reason was because every time I went online or did a basic Google search, I was looking for images that were very familiar to me or that I could relate to. Even at the starting point of, what do you look for when you do a Google search? I started [searching] with 'Chicana women L.A.' and there was a recreation of what existed then, but not the original images, like models dressed as cholas. Also, there weren't any [pictures] that were focusing on women or women of color. So I guess it was out of disappointment or out of necessity."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
Were you flooded with images when you started? And were people nostalgic or not interested in reliving that?
"It was really hard. I didn't think it was going to be possible, and it just happened really slowly, and then it just blew up out of nowhere...but the majority are really excited to see these photographs resurface."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
How old were you in the '90s and what were some of your experiences in party crews?
"I'm 35 now, so I was a teenager, between 12 and 19. I grew up in Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. I feel like back in those days, you couldn't really escape the gang violence or gang culture. And slowly, I guess through school, I got exposed to the party scene... People I went to school with...their brothers and sisters were part of the scene already's kind of this generation thing going on. Then I became part of a party crew. My sister was from a party crew, my brother was from a party crew. Then I also had cousins who were in gangs."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
What's the difference between being in a party crew and being in a gang? They were side by side but different?
"Yeah, the gang culture is something that existed since the '30s. Something that was created in a way to protect the community because the government wasn't doing it. When the rave subculture came, it was all music-driven, fashion-driven, also I guess an alternative to gangs. At the same time, we had warehouse parties.

"We have to remind ourselves: There was so much going on in the '90s. There was a lot of violence, the schools were removing classes that we were really interested in, so in a way, school wasn't really made for us. So we were creating places that felt really safe to us. My Instagram is not just the rave subculture or the chola; it's that both are happening. The reason why I'm talking about both and different types of history is because I feel like in order for one to exist, the other one had to. It's not just a linear history... All these things...inspired the subculture...but it was completely different... The purpose of being in a party crew was to throw parties. So lets say my party crew was Aztec Nation and we had 'clicks' — we were clicked with this other party crew called 'The Good Life,' and then we would throw parties together and invite other party crews."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
What are some of the typical style elements, brands, and music that defined party crews?
"So in terms of the party crews or rave scene, the music was mostly house music, techno, and drum and bass... We went through that phase of Jordana, that was a brand [of cosmetics], and burgundy lip liner or just wearing a lot of mousse or hairspray. That's a look that existed outside of cholas. I feel like everyone looked like that, even if you weren't from a gang. But also the ravers, when it first started, it wasn't all colorful — it was just mostly oversized jeans and big T-shirts and Adidas Superstars. We used those or Pumas and...really baggy denim pants, which was different from what the gangsters were wearing. The gangsters liked more creased-up Dickies or [Nike] Cortez [shoes], jersey sweatshirts, and the shaved head. The girls in the rave scene were wearing more of the Selena look, like the crop tops with the decorated bras."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
It's interesting because looking through your feed, it's mostly all women. So I thought it was such a specific female-driven subculture. Is that true?
"Well, the subculture was everyone. It was men and women, not just Mexican-Americans or Chicanos... I felt like I wanted to amplify the fact that Chicanos did listen to techno music and house music — that was kind of disregarded. But when you think about the history of house music, at least from what I know...a lot of it came out of the Chicago house scene; it was Frankie Knuckles and voguing. When people think about rave, they automatically think whiteness and drugs and EDM [electronic dance music]."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
Also, the women are super feminine but at the same time androgynous. Why was that the look?
"I feel like that was the style back in the day, for many of us. I guess we just used it differently or something. I feel like when we talk about gangs, women were dressing like men. I don't really know... I don't want to represent other people's reasons. For me, I think women just looked really tough and were taken more seriously... It shows almost their true colors, like, don't fuck with me because I'm a woman. I'm still as tough as any guy."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
Was the party crew subculture isolated just in Southern California?
"I think so. When you think about the space here, you have more space, you have backyards, you have nice weather. I think it would be completely different if it was somewhere else — in New York, for example. Maybe it would be called something different, I don't really know. And also I think the Mexican community or culture, let's say, in New York, is not as well rooted as it is in L.A. Here, we have generations and generations of Mexican-Americans or Latinos."
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Photo: Chicana Life Foto Archive
When you see the Chicano community represented in pop culture, what do you think?
"A lot of movies piss me off, to be honest with you. When we talk about cholos, I feel like it's been done. People have tried making movies, people have written about it, they existed in institutions. When we talk about party crews, there's nothing we can find out there, anything that's well documented. A lot of people do get upset — people are like, 'I wasn't from a gang; I was in a party crew.' I don't want those two things to mix, because they were different. That's why I feel really sensitive — to make sure it's really clear."

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