Cyberpunk Quinceañera

I recently had another great purikura session with the one and only professor Maya Chinchilla. We both donned animal headpieces purchased on 23rd street in the Mission and let loose of our inhibitions for a decolonial-post-Central-American-American-in exotic-exodus photo throwdown. Evidence of said hijinks are below:

Peace n’ Purikura,



Purikura Party!

Whew! This past Sunday I spent a whole day at Pika Pika in Japantown on a purikura marathon. I arrived at 1:00pm and stayed for six hours while artists, academics, and activists came in to create purikura portraits with me. It was an exciting and exhausting day of starbursts, cartoon cacas, jeweled flowers, and cute skulls.

I’m feeling very confident in my abilities to teach purikura techniques after this weekend. Not guiding aesthetics but navigating the Japanese menus, deciphering the decoration screens, and managing the pressure of the countdown clocks shadowing every decision. Like my other recent purikura sessions I soaked in as much as I could about how each collaborator approached their decoration aesthetic. Below are the spoils of the day and you can really see the spectrum of what is possible in purikura portraits.

Katynka Martinez
Tania Figueroa
Tania Figueroa
Audra Ponce
Audra Ponce
Jessica Martinez
Jessica Martinez & Katynka Martinez
Armand Emamdjomeh
Ana Teresa Fernandez

You can see a bunch of hi-res images from the day at my flickr album HERE. Below is my video documentation of the day set to M-flo’s Dopamine.



La Pura Cura Purikura

This past weekend I embarked on my second collaboration with the brilliant and loco por sure Guillermo Gomez-Peña (along with members of his performance troupe La Pocho Nostra). Our project is La Pura Cura Purikura. It’s an ongoing project of purikura photos costumed, performed, and decorated by Gomez-Pena, facilitated and decorated by myself.

For this first shoot we were joined by La Pocha member Kika Olsen (below).

Gomez-Peña had the idea to dress himself as a post-apocalyptic border-shaman. With that in mind we all packed up our costumes and props and traveled to Pikapika in Japantown for a purikura adventure. Suffice to say we turned a few heads while we took photos and as Guillermo and Kika got into their characters amongst confused Japanese teenagers.

Below is a sampling of the images we created together. There are more planned Purikura sessions on the way with La Pocha Nostra so stay tuned! For a full gallery of La Pura Cura Purikura CLICK HERE.




Slangy: Japanese Cholo Fashion

I think my mind has been officially blown. It all started when I read THIS POST by Patrick Macias about Japanese fashion line Slangy. In his post he shows images from the line (taken from the website of Shibuya-based shop Accel Spunky) that use the word Fuck in funny and nonsensical ways. I followed the links in his post and discovered not one but many clothing lines by Slangy that emulate Cholo style and fashion. Below are some highlights taken from THIS PAGE.

SLANGY Pistol cracker(グレー)
SLANGY Backdoor Dealings(グレー)
SLANGY Backdoor Dealings(グレー)
SLANGY Gang scouts(ブラック(ホワイト))
SLANGY Gang scouts(ブラック(ホワイト))
SLANGY Gang scouts(ブラック(ホワイト))
SLANGY Van Dammeタンクトップ(ホワイト)
DEADLY JESTER シャーリングエルボーチェックシャツ(レッド)
SLANGY Slush fund(グリーン)

More to come as it is discovered. What does everyone think?



Cholo imagery in jj’s Let Go

I think I just saw the damndest thing I’ve ever laid my Chicano eyes on. I’ve written about Swedish group jj before and my love of hybridity is well known but nothing could have prepared me for this.

At first I thought it was a straight up homage to 90’s era West-Coast thug life but a few visual tropes lean more towards Cholo culture. The basics are there: blunts, rags, and pouring one out but the pendleton shirt and the Christ-like tears of blood point it to Raza. Ultimately Catholic imagery separates mainstream West-Coast thuggin’ from Cholos and Cholas and this video certainly has it.

So what makes this a hybrid creation and not some act of fashionable cultural appropriation? The answer lies in the lyrical aesthetics of jj. While musically consistent, their three albums have this amazing quality of being able to seamlessly transition from folksy, dreamy, and wistful lyrics to referencing straight up gangster shit (a quality they share with fellow labelmates The Tough Alliance.) The best example of this is My Way, their collaboration with Lil’ Wayne that they released a couple of months ago. Lead singer Elin Kastlander singing “My hood so good, keep it pure like you knew I would” and “I’m sweet, I’m street” may not be 100% authentic but they come correct with their lyrical references. Give it a listen:

Download jj (feat. Lil’ Wayne) – My Way [save link as]

and while we’re at it

Download jj – Let Go [save link as]

So there you have it, jj’s Let Go. What does everyone think? Are Swedish Cholos and Cholas the way of the future? I feel their use of our aesthetics is at least consistent with the gangster quality of their music and not simply a thoughtless throwaway.

One more note, is the photography in this video beautiful or what?



Acciones Plásticas プリクラ

At long last my top-secret collaboration with artist Maya Escobar can be revealed. Our artist statement follows the images. Big ups to Carianne Noga for helping Maya and I get this project going.

Acciones Plásticas プリクラ is a collaboration between St. Louis based artist Maya Escobar and San Francisco based artist Rio Yañez.

Maya Escobar is a Guatemalan-Jewish digital media and performance artist, currently living in St. Louis.  Her work addresses issues of cultural hybridity, gender, placelessness, and the construction of identity. Rio Yañez is a Chicano curator, photographer, and graphic artist based out of San Francisco. His work utilizes and challenges Chicano mythology and visual iconography.

In Acciones Plásticas Escobar created a multi-faceted “doll” by assuming the role of designer and distributor, and even posing as the actual doll itself.  Each doll was a satirical characterization of some of the many roles that have been projected upon her, and into which she has, at points, inevitably fallen. In conjunction with these images, she developed a short series of low-definition youtube video blogs through which she inhabits the lives of “real women” who have each been visibly defined by societal constructs.

Recently, Yañez has been utilizing Japanese photobooths (known as Purikura or “print-club”) as an artist’s tool for creating portraits. These booths are much more common in Japan than their United States counterparts. As a catalyst for creative expression and social interaction they are used primarily by young urban Japanese girls. A standard feature in all Purikura booths allows the user to digitally decorate their portraits after they take them. The options are vast and include wild characters, excessive starbursts of light, pre-made phrases and the option to draw your own text directly on the image. Purikura gives the subjects near-divine powers of self-expression in crafting their own portraits.

The two artists who met over the web, decided to bring together Escobar’s highly charged and evocative Acciones Plásticas characters with Yanez’s notorious Chicano graphic-art style and new found obsession with Purikura images, as a way of addressing the construction of Latina identities.

Maya posed as The Latina Hipster: a bad-ass Morrissey-lovin’, tuff-girl sexy chica; The Latina Role Model: a diploma totin’ intellectual, sexy, social media goddess; and finally, The Homegirl: a hybridized version of Escobar’s Midwestern Chach (or Chachi Mama) and Yañez’s West Coast Chola, who sticks up her middle finger in what appears to be an act of defiance, but really is her protective shield.

Maya sent digital images to Rio, who in turn drew portraits of her as each of these constructed identities, approaching each portrait with a Purikura sensibility and decorating them each as the characters represented might accessorize themselves. The final series of portraits is the result of negotiating multiple identities and influences. Guatemalan, Jewish, and Chicano sensibilities reflected back through a Japanese Purikura aesthetic. Acciones Plásticas プリクラ challenge and question the thin line between archetype and stereotype. The Purikura elements present the novel signifiers of each social construct represented in the series.

This collaboration is the first of many to come as Maya and Rio explore the commonalities and differences of their cultural identities.

My Life with Godzilla

I came across this photo of my parents and I while helping my mom sort through some old CDs of digital files. My mom was quick to point out my Godzilla figure which managed to join our family portrait in the lower left hand corner. That Godzilla toy is my most treasured childhood possession. It is my Rosebud sled.

The figure has now found a permanent home in my mom’s kitchen atop her cabinets. It’s surrounded by other Godzilla figures and a giant Virgin of Guadalupe statue. A very telling sight of our cultural influences.


Godzilla movies have had a huge influence on my life. One of my only memories as a newborn is watching a Godzilla movie on television while being held in my mother’s arms. In the first five years of my life I went to see plenty of movies with my parents in theaters. The very first movie they took me to see because I wanted to see it was Godzilla 1985. It was playing at the Lumiere theater on California street and I’ll never forget the day we went. Sitting there in the cool dark theater watching Godzilla lay waste to Tokyo blew my five year old mind.

It was such an pivotal moment in my life. My childhood obsession with Godzilla heavily influenced the drawings I made at the time. I would draw ultraviolent landscapes with scenes of futuristic artillery battling giant monsters. Those drawings disturbed my mother so much that she made a series of artworks about them entitled Rio’s Room. I wish I had a scan of the drawings to share but the actual movie poster for Godzilla 1985 gives a good sense of what they encompassed.

In my life as an adult, I’ve only manged to incorporate Godzilla once into my artwork. He popped up in a comic strip I did in 2007 entitled True Story. It brings together Godzilla and another icon of my, Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN.

Okay, now that I’ve pretty much forsaken any sex appeal I might have had in talking about my nerd passion for Godzilla I’ll leave you with something I discovered recently that made my day. There hasn’t been a proper Godzilla movie since 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars but a recent comedy film from Toho (the studio that has produced all of the Godzilla films) has him in a cameo appearance. 2008’s Always Sunset on Third Street 2 features an incredible sequence that presents him completely in computer animation.

I have to say, the production values on this short sequence top anything that’s ever been done with Godzilla before. I still like the rubber suits but nothing has been as cinematic or well produced as this clip. There are no new Godzilla films planned on the horizon but this definitely gives a look into what might be to come.



Holla at my Hebrew Hybrids!


Shouts to Maya Escobar! A recent post on her blog schooled me to the genius of Vanessa Hidary aka The Hebrew Mamita. As The Hebrew Mamita Hidary performs in the style of a homegirl both visually and vocally. Hidary’s persona is not a case of brown-face but a unique hybrid of two cultures; she comes correct.

Hidary’s ability to discuss her Jewish identity and experiences while talkin’ hella mad shit is amazing. She’s a kindred spirit to my Ghetto Frida project. After watching the videos on her youtube page I didn’t hesitate for a minute to head over to the official Hebrew Mamita online store and purchase her CD. She describes the album as “not appropriate for young children but spectacular for adults with flava!” a line I’m kicking myself for not coming up with.

El Rio’s got The Hebrew Mamita’s back in the Bay Area, f’sho!



The Difficulties of Being a Latina Hipster

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m officially declaring my love of Holly Valentine from Hyper Crush. I’m bummed that I missed their show last night in San Francisco. This video illustrates the difficulty of being a Latina hipster. No matter how much of an ironic hipster you are, being bilingual and code-switching is still a novelty that will get you mocked. You can see the look of inner-turmoil on Holly’s face as Preston and Donny clown her, it’s burning with angst and conflict.

Seriously though, I love Hyper Crush. I can’t front either, I mess with Mariela all the time when she speaks Spanish on the phone (especially with her mom). She and Holly both can code-switch like seasoned pros; I am merely a humble pocho.

Hyper Crush are also leading the charge in reclaiming the animated gif. Someone on their team has amazing gif making skills, the second one will give you a seizure:



Latino Images in Fast and Furious

Yesterday Mariela and I went to see Fast and Furious. She’s a huge fan of Vin Diesel and I wasn’t about to miss any opportunity to see my homegirl Jordana Brewster on the silver screen (I fell madly in love with her after seeing her as international supercriminal Lucy Diamond in the movie D.E.B.S.). After seeing the film my mind was left spinning, there were so many images of Latinos to digest in Fast and Furious. I could write a book on the subject but I’m just going to break you off with something short and digestible.

The last Vin Diesel movie I saw was A Man Apart and after seeing Fast and Furious I can’t help but wonder if any other actor has been responsible for more on screen deaths of Mexicans than he. Both films have record bodycounts of snarreling Mexican drug dealers and anonymous thugs. Is there anyone who has murdered more Mexicans in their film career?

"I studied at Julliard to land this role as a cholo. The joke's on me!"

Fast and Furious portrays a fascinating swath of Latino images and quickly establishes what are “good” and “bad” Latinos. The “good” Latinos can be found in scenes taking place in the Dominican Republic and Panama. The music, language dialects, landscapes, and women of those countries are fetishized, objectified, and held up as an example of what is ideal and somewhat innocent.

On the other end of the spectrum are Mexicans, both in the United States and Mexico. They are the “bad” side of Latinos, corrupt, ruthless, back-stabbing, and dirty drug dealers. From the unnamed cholo that Paul Walker hunts down and brutalizes in the beginning of the film to the Mexican main villain and his gang of generically evil and greasy henchmen. The audience is pumped-up to cheer every evil Mexican that dies in a fiery car crash or at the end of a bullet fired by Paul Walker.

Personally, the most heartbreaking element of Fast and Furious is that it’s directed by Justin Lin. In the interviews I’ve read with him he has spoken with much self-awareness and acuity on his experiences as an Asian in the film industry. He was a participant in the documentary The Slanted Screen which critically analyzed images of Asian-American men in Hollywood. He even graduated with his masters from UCLA for crying out loud! If there would be anyone who should know better it’s Justin Lin. Fuck!

Shit is racist,