By Pedro Domínguez
When people think of punk rockers, they think mohawks, ripped jeans, tattoos and attitude –and all that may be true. However, one group in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles has a unique sense of what it means to be a punk.
Begun in February, the LA Backyard Brigade is a collective of punk activists committed to raising the consciousness of young people of color on the Eastside.
“We are able to just really connect to all the people that are there because we all have one common thing, which is either the music or the culture,” said Luz Catalina Mireles, a founding member of the LA Backyard Brigade.
The brigade works to spread awareness on political issues at backyard shows –small, underground concerts that have always been a part of the East Los Angeles punk scene.
“We know the importance of educating the youth, so one of our goals is to educate the backyard scene,” said Mireles. He added that the group is shaping how punks are seen and starting a conversation on how they can give back to their communities, beginning discussions on topics like homophobia, trans phobia and gentrification.
While most people think of punk as a rebellious form of music and culture that emerged in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1970s, few realize that a strong punk scene developed at the same time in East Los Angeles. Groups like Los Illegals and the all-female band, The Brat, performed socially conscious lyrics, denouncing important issues, such as the oppression of the Mexican-American community. Because Chicano punk bands couldn’t get to perform in clubs in the Westside and there were no venues available in the Eastside, they were forced to perform in backyard shows, which were often closed early by the police.
Taking a cue from the Chicano punk movement, the LA Backyard Brigade is made up of members of community organizations –such as East LA Brown Berets, Corazón del Pueblo, Proyecto Jardín, the Bus Riders Union and Fight for the Souls of the Cities– that work to improve living conditions in Boyle Heights and East L.A.
Rooster Cabrera, a former board member of Corazón del Pueblo, said politically charged performances at backyard shows inspired many members of the brigade
“Everybody on their own does different onda, but everyone comes back together because essentially [that’s] where we got our start, where we got started thinking about these problems that are about food injustice, environmental racism and police violence. When we saw it the first time was at a backyard show,” Cabrera said.
“Our common goal, you know, is bringing consciousness and awareness to the East L.A. punk scene, to let them know that there is more happening out there instead of just saying ‘f*** the police.’ You can actually go outside and do something about it.
One way the Brigade is trying to give back to the community is by publishing Do-It-Yourself punk-style magazines, known as zines, which are passed out at backyard shows. The zines address political and social issues that affect the youth of Boyle Heights and East L.A. The messages are also communicated through social media.
A recent zine focused on immigration, containing poetry, opinion pieces and art based on personal experiences. It also included helpful resources, such as a listing of shelters and contact information for attorneys.
“We inform through zines mostly. We usually pass them around at shows or tabling at events,” said Chela, a Brigade member who did not want to use her last name.
More than just punks, the brigade sees itself as a new generation of activists giving back to the community in Boyle Heights and East L.A.
“We want to empower everybody,” emphasizes Cabrera. “We were empowered in a way, so that is why we give back. A lot of us have experience, and we do work with community organizations already and we are using all of that knowledge [because we feel] it’s necessary.”
The collective meets every Wednesday, from 4 to 6 pm, at Little Casa, 2009 East 1st Street. Follow it on Instagram @LABackyardBrigade.
Photo above: Members of the LA Backyard Brigade distribute ‘zines’ at a local event. All photos by Ernesto Orozco