Hot Girl Somos

Latinas in Punk Have Been Rebelling Against Machismo for Ages

The perception of punk being quintessentially exclusive to British and U.S. white men in mohawks raging about anarchy is changing — and it’s increasingly resembling its originators: Latines.
While cynics have claimed that punk is dead, Latine punk has been alive and well for more than half a century. In fact, research has found that the genre was actually born in Latin America. More than a decade ago, journalist and punk aficionado Robert Rose journeyed around the world in search for underground music movements entrenched in activism and defiance. After wayfaring around Peru, he came back to New York City and regaled me about a hidden gem that preceded ‘70s-era U.K. punk … in Lima. There, the band Los Saicos, who aggressively riffed their guitars and shouted their vocals with gut-wrenching delivery, rioted in the South American country in the mid ‘60s before punk exploded. 
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Since then, I’ve worked to shine a light on the Latine roots of punk. In 2011, I commissioned Rose to write a report called “Peru…The Birthplace of Punk?” He followed up, further unpacking its vitality in places like Colombia and Cuba. A few years later, VICE ventured on a similar journey with a mini documentary titled “Was Punk Rock Born in Peru?” More recently, in March, Audible debuted the gripping podcast “Punk in Translation: Latinx Origins,” where musician and host Ceci Bastida walks listeners through the deep corners and crevices of that once-hidden history. But we didn’t have to leave the U.S. to see (or hear) Latines’ presence in the culture and sound. In the 1981 cult documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization,” viewers met Black Flag’s Ron Reyes and the beloved Chicana punkera Alice Bag who were shaking up the L.A. underground. 
Since then, numerous Latine punks have found freedom through the genre and subculture in multiple ways, whether that’s musically, stylistically, ideologically, or ethically. They’ve carved out a space in the public sphere for female representation and expression while never conforming to societal expectations, or simply, “selling out.” We spoke with seven Latina punk and punk-inspired artists who have subverted tradition and gendered expectations in Latine culture through the movement.

Alice Bag

Rising to notoriety in the early ‘80s Los Angeles punk scene, Alice Bag has been championing the defiant sound ever since. The world was introduced to the Latina godmother of punk in Penelope Spheeris’ documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization.” In the film, Bag makes an everlasting impression, where she rages about her consumption of excessive calories in a pink doo-wop dress and chola makeup. In a seemingly endless era for women needing to be lean to be desirable, “Gluttony,” the song she sang on film, was and still is a welcoming blow against those cultural norms. 
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The Chicana musician and educator formed part of the Bags, the Alice Bag Band, and the all-women groups Castration Squad and Cholita. “There were a lot of women who started making music when punk first emerged in Los Angeles,” she tells Refinery29 Somos. “Over half the bands in L.A. had at least one woman playing in the band, while others had female managers or roadies. Were these women present and visible? The answer is yes. Los Angeles is a diverse metropolis and the L.A. punk scene reflected that diversity.”
Although Bag has managed to leave an indelible mark on Latine punk, since the early ‘80s, she has also looked through the depths of her Mexican roots. “Pedro Infante and José Alfredo Jiménez taught me to pour my heart into a song, and Bessie [Smith] taught me to own my truth, my power, and my sexuality. Elton and Bowie taught me that a concert can be about more than just music, and Patti [Smith] taught me that intelligence is super sexy,” she says.
“Punk is always evolving. As the world around us changes, punk pivots to support what needs to be uplifted or challenge what needs to be contested. This was true of early punk, and it’s true today,” she continues. “Oftentimes [my songwriting] are social issues that get under my skin; sometimes they are more personal themes that spill out into my work. When we play a concert, the most important thing to me is that the audience and I can feel each other’s energy. I fuck up songs onstage all the time; I’ll sing the wrong lyrics or come in at the wrong time, but it never seems to matter as long as the energy that I’m putting out is real.”
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The punkera icon has been enjoying her solo career with three albums. Her latest song includes the goth rock-tinged  “Aviéntatae Ya” via In the Red Records. Earlier this year, Bag moved to Mexico City and started her own YouTube channel alongside her husband. 

Fea

Bolstered by their riot grrrl antics and unflinching approach, Fea resurrects the storied U.S. punk playbook with a big Chicana heart and loads of ferocity. One fateful Craigslist ad-posting ago, front singer-shouter Letty Martínez linked up with the founding members of Fea, and from that point and on, the four-piece has been wreaking havoc in San Antonino and beyond. “Punk to me is nonconformity, thinking and standing up for what's right,” Martínez tells Somos. “Equality, compassion, and inclusivity are at the top of the list. We touch on women and social issues, nonconformity, misogyny, mental health, homophobia, discrimination, and other stuff that we have experienced. Our intention is to connect and maybe make an impact on someone.”
Also composed of musicians Sofi Lopez and ex-Girl in a Coma members Phanie Diaz and Jenn Alva, Fea pulls from their roots to create something truly riveting. Just hear the rollicking punk with a Texas rodeo swing of “Feminazi” or their riotous cover of Gloria Trevi’s ‘90s classic “Pelo Suelto.” “Gloria Trevi was one of my first idols. I really liked how crazy she was on stage. I wanted to be like her and have her confidence,” Martínez says. “Kathleen Hanna, I still aspire to be as raw and honest as she is. Poly Styrene was so unique! Her vocals were amazing and her lyrics were ahead of their time. These three queens are my essentials.” 
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Martínez remembers feeling thrilled when discovering riot grrrl back in high school, but she says she still didn’t feel like her culture was represented. “It's important to hear from Latines, trans, non-binary, women of color with different backgrounds and cultures,” she says. “Punk will never stop evolving. I just hope it keeps heading in a positive direction. San Antonio has some awesome diverse artists, but we definitely need more women on stage in the punk scene.”
The band is currently putting together their third full-length album, a follow-up from 2019’s “No Novelties,” and they’re writing the music to Diana Burbano’s play “Fabulous Monsters.” Fea also welcomes newcomer Adrian Conner into the band, who also plays guitar for the all-female AC/DC tribute band Hells Bells. Martínez adds, “The four of us have great chemistry, so we are excited to see how this album turns out.” 

Teri Gender Bender 

“Cathartic feminism” is what Teri Gender Bender calls her idiosyncratic musical fury, and that’s spot-on. Building a solid rep as the frontwoman and guitarist of Le Butcherettes, the Guadalajara native, born Teresa Suarez, came to fame for her unapologetic antics on albums like “Kiss & Kill” and “Sin Sin Sin,” while occasionally carrying a bloody pig’s head, like any respectable butcher(ette). “Punk energy eventually molds itself into something empowering or disgusting,” Gender Bender tells Somos. “Hopefully inspiring some sort of positive contribution to humanity, or a grain of sand [of it].” 
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The genesis of her Mexican garage punk was born from her childhood obsession with grim fantasy, ballets, and opera, à la Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Valley” (“It was so overwhelming, emotional and powerful,” she recalls), "The Wizard of Oz," and 1977’s "The Hobbit." “I was rejected from the school of dance in Chiapas because I was born with flat feet, and I probably wasn’t a natural or graceful dancer,” she says. A blessing in disguise, Gender Bender, instead, plummeted into the theatrical world of opera to inspire her powerful and unconstrained performances on stage. 
A DIY artist who spins fantastical tales, Gender Bender draws from tragedy, escapism, and politics “to embrace the raw” in her craft — and to expel “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” she claims. For instance, 2019’s “bi/MENTAL” is polarity at its most maddening form, and her recent solo work, four EPs to date, are steeped in electronic rock strangeness. “You are not alone in your pain, your suffering, your happiness, your love, or your silence. We are not alone,” she attests. “It is insanely scary, but once you embrace the unknown, the weird, the uncomfortable, you undoubtedly feel a bit more grounded in the midst of the chaos.”
How does she envision punk’s future? “More self-awareness,” she offers. “Mental health and self-care are being taken into consideration to help the punk movement. Before, taking care of yourself was seen as being square. Right now, it is punk, unleashing your innermost secret feelings and emotions while picking up an instrument, be it the guitar or the pen.” In addition to her recent delightfully oddball solo project, Teri Gender Bender will also be supporting The Mars Volta on their upcoming fall tour. 
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Fryturama 

Comprised of Fryda Magaña and Arturo Tranquilino, Fryturama straddles between hypnotic sounds and explosive punk energy to create a spellbinding frenzy. With their recent full-length “Punk de Cuarto,” the two-piece display their thrill for grunge and experimentation in full force while being “guided by a message of rebirth.” Previously building a reputation for crafting kitchy dream-pop and shoegaze configurations (as heard on their 2019 debut “Transparente”), the global pandemic sparked something inside of them and lit up an inner ferocity. “After lockdown, our music became more aggressive, cathartic, and noisy,” Magaña, who can vocally navigate between a siren-like lure and a raging wail as if playing with fire, tells Somos. 
The Guadalajara native and former visual artist arrived in Mexico City where she discovered the engrossing rage of underground noise bands in spaces like Festival Nrmal and 316 Centro. With Tranquilino’s contributions on guitar and an arsenal of noise pedals, Fryturama was born. She took cues from the likes of Kim Gordon and inspiration from Mexican musicians Gibrana Cervantes and Tere Estrada. “I imagine a future with more punk bands led by women, and them having more presence at big festivals and in mainstream media,” she says. 
“Punk de Cuarto" was recorded in La Bestia Studios, where it was mixed by Mint Field’s Sebastián Neyra and mastered by Emi Bahamonde of Sexores. The pair is planning a Latin American and European tour. 

Downtown Boys 

Downtown Boys can pack in a mean punch in just 3:30 minutes. When Rhode Island’s fiery-yet-sweet troupe burst onto the scene in the 2010s, it was a refreshing moment for punk with purpose. Putting social politics front and center, the band — consisting of Victoria Ruiz, Joey “La Neve” DeFrancesco, Mary Regalado, Joe DeGeorge, and Joey Doubek — used their music to raise consciousness (and hell) while decolonizing our minds
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“We were really inspired by the protest movement and chants,” says Ruiz. She claims that the band didn’t expect their popularity to rise, as it was “more of an outlet to discuss issues of class, race, and gender.” DeFrancesco and Ruiz had been volunteering and organizing for labor unions for years, and Downtown Boys served as an extension to push for equality in the grander scheme of the workforce. Early material like the bilingual, combustible “Work” (2014) sees them revving for justice as they call out labor exploitation under capitalism. 
“Poverty either causes revolution or causes crime and incarceration. How much are we going to let them grind us down before we rise up?” she asks. “This isn't about pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps so we can continue to work for the white supremacy. No way! It’s about attacking that monster in our head.” “Monstro” is revolting. “She’s brown; she’s smart,” Ruiz shouts in the song as an urgent reminder for corporate U.S.A. 
The Providence gang invites listeners to rethink. “[Instead of] breaking boundaries or borders, never let them exist in our hearts and in our minds to begin with. It's about taking any kind of space and realizing how to use it in order to confront any power structure,” she adds, reiterating that there are a ton of non-binary musicians that deserve more focus. “There are a lot more of us than major publications want to make it seem. There always has been. Punk is a beautiful flower out of the tree, like rock ‘n’ roll, which, of course, was started by Black musicians, particularly Black female musicians.” 
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Currently, the members of Downtown Boys are pursuing other projects. Ruiz is now based in New York City, where she’s starting a career as a public defender.

San Cha

San Cha’s striking vocal chops and powerful stage command are a force to be reckoned with. With an iconoclastic spirit and a love of rancheras, the Los Angeles-by-way-of-the-Bay Area performer gives punk a compelling, captivating spin by “subverting the tropes of popular culture from her Mexican roots to make something new,” as she describes in her bio. Her presence alludes to the fierce-yet-enticing temperament of María Felix while in dramatic drag makeup and an industrial goth touch. 
Reared in a strict Catholic household, the queer singer set off for college in San Francisco, became a regular in the Castro district, and met her drag mother who first gave her a stage to perform on. After a shady deal with that mentor after going viral with a song, the artist secluded herself to a Mexican farm and immersed herself in the wondrous world of música regional. “Whatever you were doing is not your calling. Singing rancheras will bring you wealth and prosperity,” her tía advised her. With her former church-guitar-playing skills and her more recent synth skills, she created a mariachi-goth concoction on the clapback “Capricho del Diablo” and “La Luz de la Esperanza,” where she sings her heart out about experiencing alienation, discontent, and rising up from the ashes. 
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“The music I make is mostly about my inner turmoil. The inner turmoil has also been political, from colonization to whiteness and how it plays a role in our lives. But it’s also personal with every relationship, and how we’re taught that we own people with ‘that man is mine’ kind of shit,” she declares. “The whole reason why I’m San Cha is because monogamy is a reality, and because it has a double meaning with the saints. In Catholicism, we have this thing called monotheistic, but we have all these saints that we might actually pray more to. It's very polysiastic in nature. In my music, I like to explore all of those themes like erasure and the reality of these relationships.”  
San Cha is currently busy churning out a series of double singles called “Prosessions,” where she expands her sonic palette with modern corridos, a hint of cumbia, and a good dose of electronic experimentation. The next one drops in the fall.

Tijuana No! 

Raising a ruckus in the early ‘90s, the beloved Tijuana punks have left a legacy for the ages. As one of Latin America’s most innovative Latine punk bands, the rowdy crew — consisting of Ceci Bastida, Julieta Venegas, Luis Güereña, Teca García, Jorge Velázquez, Jorge Jiménez, and Alejandro Zúñiga — became spokespeople for outcasts, Latine rebels, and border dwellers alike. Their combative lyrics tackled social issues, mocked the U.S. border patrol for their often inhumane treatment against immigrants, and chronicled life in between the first and developing nations. They are hometown heroes and a musical benchmark for the punk and Latin rock big book. 
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Tijuana No! further propelled their ska-punk madness as the so-called rock en español explosion of the ‘80s and ‘90s took off. Inspired by The Clash and two-tone ska legends The Specials, these fronterizxs revamped the concept of U.K. punk and made it entirely their own, while mixing in Mexican Indigenous melodies. “Pobre de Ti” became a timeless punk rock anthem, charged with urgent guitar upstrokes, and their uncanny Clash cover “Spanish Bombs” is a reimagined punk tune with a kitschy flair. 
Ceci Bastida, who lent her vocals and played keys in the band, told Somos, “One of the members who knew I played keys asked if I wanted to hang out and jam with a bunch of friends. I said yes. I was about to turn 15 at the time. I was not connecting with some of my peers at school, so I just started hanging out with [Tijuana No!] all summer. All of a sudden, I felt like I completely fit in — I found people that I connected with musically, but also on ideas about the world.”
She continues: “My connection to Tijuana No! was talking about social justice issues, the political situation in Mexico, but also trying to be aware about what was happening around the world. That’s something that I carry with me, and that I owe to my years of being with Tijuana No! The focus was trying to do your own thing, your own way, not paying attention to the quote-on-quote rules that exist in music, talking about what you consider to be unfair and unjust in this world, and being very vocal and loud about it.”
Like any respectable punk artist, Bastida never focused on trends while creating music. “I enjoy mainstream pop, but I just want to do my own thing. I do what comes naturally and organically. The struggle of an independent artist that wants to do something honest can be hard because you’re not hitting people with music that is more digestible.” The Tijuana native has always fought the good cause, even in her solo works. She has become a voice of solidarity for immigrant justice while calling out political corruption, as evinced in her 2022 single “Dale” and in the seminal 2014 full-length “La Edad de la Violencia.” 
Bastida is the host of Audible's 2022 podcast “Punk in Translation: Latinx Origins” and is working on a new album to be released later this year.
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