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¿Soy Emo, Y Qué? Sad Kids, Punkera Dykes and the Latin@ Public Sphere

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 August 2012


In March and April of 2008, emo youth in Mexican and Latin American metropoles were vulnerable to violent, physical attacks, which the world witnessed, aghast, via YouTube. Journalists, pundits, and cultural commentators around the globe wondered, first, how to define “emo”; second, how to explain its presence in Mexico and Latin America; and third, whence such a violent reaction? This essay tackles those questions, and tries to think through emo to something more than the post-NAFTA angst to which it has been commonly ascribed in the US and Mexican media. Tracing a route from US Chicano punk and new wave, to Mexico's self-proclaimed emo youth, to Myriam Gurba's short fiction featuring southern California's Chicana dyke-punk communities, I ask how emo travels, and how these highly self-conscious and very public performances of affect speak to the intersections of race and gender in twenty-first-century Latin@ and Latin American youth culture.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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1 Footage from the Querétero riots (in Spanish) and from Televisa VJ Kristoff's anti-emo commentary (in Spanish, with English translation) can be found online at Spin Magazine ( Unedited amateur footage can be found easily on YouTube (, by searching for “anti-emo violence.”

2 Marianna Chávez, “Integrantes De ‘Tribus Urbanas’ Atacan a Jóvenes Emo En Querétaro,” La Jornada, 9 March 2008, available at, accessed 14 July 2008. The original Spanish reads, “su filosofía es actuar conforme a sus emociones y sentimientos” (all translations from the Spanish are my own; if no Spanish is provided the quote appeared originally in English).

3 Rosa Elvira Vargas and Emir Olivares, “Los Emos, Blanco Del Conservadurismo,” La Jornada, 21 March 2008, available at, accessed 14 July 2008. “Lo que veo es una connotación muy conservadora, el objetivo deliberado es dividirlos, porque no les pueden ofrecer expectativas de futuro.”

4 Ibid. “Al gobierno le conviene tener más jóvenes divididos que críticos y demandantes.”

5 Ibid. “un estilo juvenil que se caracteriza por una estética con mezclas de lo punk y lo dark, pero que al final son reapropiaciones de movimientos que se generaron en otro país.”

6 Victor Hernández Elías, “Emos Y Punkeros: Batalla Campal Frente a Seguridad Pública,” Milenio, 16 March 2008, available at, accessed 14 July 2008. “los quieren madrear porque no llevan una cultura misma, o sea, les roban las culturas a los punks, a todos.”

7 Ibid.: “es la forma de vestir que nos gusta, la forma de pensar también.”

8 Ibid. “Pues no sé, a veces tendemos a llevar nuestras emociones más arriba o hacerlas más dramáticas.”

9 Berlant, Lauren Gail, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 5, 2, 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Illouz, Eva, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 2Google Scholar.

11 Muschert, Glenn W., “Is Style Action or Agency? A Social Structural Essay on Hebdige's Subculture,” Quarterly Journal of Ideology, 31, 16 (2007), 2Google Scholar.

12 Berlant, 24.

13 Ibid., 27.

14 Illouz, 92.

16 Ibid., 95.

17 Mallott, Curry and Peña, Milagros, Punk Rockers’ Revolution (New York: Peter Lang, 2004), 12Google Scholar.

18 Jawbreaker, “Boxcar,” 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (San Francisco: Tupelo/Communion Records, 1994). Sound recording.

19 Greenwald's, AndyNothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2003)Google Scholar is the definitive study of emo to date, while Biran Cogan focusses specifically on emo's relation to punk rock in the Encyclopedia of Punk Music and Culture (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006).

20 Hebdige, Dick, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London: Routledge, 1988), 63Google Scholar.

21 Cogan, 69.

22 Greenwald, 5 (original italics).

23 Ibid., 56.

24 Berlant, 27.

25 Muschert, “Action or Agency?,” 2.

26 Cogan, 166.

27 James Spooner, dir., Afro-Punk (Image Entertainment, 2003). DVD.

28 Hebdige, 65. Tavi Nyong'o, in “Punk'd Theory,” Social Text, 23, 84–85 (2005), 19–34, 24, gives Hebdige a great deal of credit for reading “‘race’ into styles that conspicuously dismiss black style,” but takes him to task for his inability to account for punk rock's racialized homophobia. Nyong'o's excavation of “punk's” etymology as African American slang for male, homosexual sex offers a metacritical gloss to my investigation here of brown, queer, emo.

29 Hebdige 67.

30 Ibid., 64.

31 Cogan, 166.

32 Ibid., 258.

33 Sorrondeguy, Martin, dir. Beyond the Screams Mas Alla De Los Gritos: A U. S. Latino Hardcore Punk Documentary (Chicago: Lengua Armada: Video Data Bank, 1999)Google Scholar. Videorecording. Habell-Pallán, Michelle, Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2005)Google Scholar.

34 Habell-Pallán criticizes studies of punk, such as Hebdige's, that “present punk culture as a monolithic, white-boy-only fad” (173). She examines the rich and varied terrain of brown punk, ranging from Los Bros. Hernández's comic series Love and Rockets to the films of Jim Mendiola, and musical acts like the Brat, the Bags, Los Illegals, the Zeros, and the Plugz, who played all over Los Angeles, from the west side to the east side, in the 1970s.

35 Ibid., 153.

36 Elias, “Emos y punkeros.” “Nobody who listens to reggaeton music is going to call us fags” (anonymous riot participant).

37 Hernandez, Deborah Pacini, Fernández l'Hoeste, Héctor D., and Zolov, Eric, eds., Rockin’ Las Américas: The Global Politics of Rock in Latin/o America (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004), 6Google Scholar.

38 Eric Zolov, “La Onda Chicana: Mexico's Forgotten Rock Counterculture,” in Pacini Hernandez, Fernández l'Hoeste, and Zolov, 32.

39 On 2 October 1968, ten days before the opening of the 1968 Olympic Games, Mexican government forces opened fire on crowds of protestors assembled in the Plaza de Tres Culturas in Mexico City's Tlatelolco neighborhood, killing hundreds. Three years later, a few hours' drive from Mexico City, a music festival in Avandáro drew large, apolitical crowds to an event that has been largely forgotten in Mexican cultural history. Zolov.

40 Maritza Urteaga Castro-Pozo documents the emergence of Mexican punk scenes in the aftermath of Avandáro in Por Los Territorios Del Rock: Identidades Juveniles Y Rock Mexicano (Mexico D. F.: Causa Joven, 1998).

41 Zolov, 42.

42 InferNeko, ‘Emo Mexican,’, accessed 1 May 2012.

45 See Ioan Grillo, “Mexico's Emo-Bashing Problem,” Time, Thursday, 27 March 2008, available at,8599,1725839,00.html, accessed 16 July 2009, for further discussion of class politics and Mexican emo.

46 Olivares and Vargas, ‘Los Emos”: “no existe una ideología basada en la depresión, ésta es una enfermedad. No es sano cortarse por ser cool.”

47 Marion Lloyd. “In Mexico, ‘Emo’ Subculture Won't Be Subdued,” Houston Chronicle, 6 April 2008, available at, accessed July 11, 2008.

48 Berlant, Female Complaint, 3.

49 Elias, ‘Emos y punkeros”: “Son putos, se visten como mujeres.”

50 See Irwin, Robert McKee, McCaughan, Ed, and Rocío Nasser, Michelle, eds., The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico, c.1901 (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 “Cobertura Especial Sobre El Ataque a Emos Y Gays En La Glorieta De Insurgentes,” SerGay OnLine: El Magazine Nacional Gay de México, 16 March 2008, available at, accessed 14 July 2008. SerGay has dedicated a section of its website to tracking the attacks because of the ways in which the attackers have conflated emos with queers and how the attacks have come to include violence against queer-identified Mexicans. The attackers, the editors of SerGay write, “se reunieron en este lugar [Glorieta de Insurgentes] para atacar a emos y gays por igual” (met up here [Glorieta de Insurgentes, a public square in Mexico City] to attack emos and gays equally).

52 Elias: “No vamos a permitir que cualquier reaggetonero nos diga que somos putos, que nos discrimine o nos esté insultando.”

53 Greenwald, Nothing Feels Good, 45.

54 Jessica Hopper, “Emo: Where the Girls Aren't,” in Mickey Hart, ed., Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004: The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Pop, Country, & More (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004), 122–28, 124.

55 McRobbie, Angela, The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture, and Social Change (Los Angeles: Sage, 2009), 101Google Scholar.

56 Ibid., 101–2.

57 Ibid., 98.

58 Ibid., 94.

59 Ibid., 121.

60 Gurba, Myriam, Dahlia Season: Stories & a Novella (San Francisco: Manic D Press, 2007), 66Google Scholar; hereafter cited in the text as DS.

61 McRobbie, 94.

62 In Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, Hester Prynne is banished to the outskirts of her settlement and forced to wear a scarlet “A” when she refuses to name the father of her child, who is clearly not her absent husband.

63 Zolov, “La Onda Chicana,” 33.

64 See note 39 above.

65 Zolov, 35.

66 Vicente Fernández is a Mexican icon, a ranchera (Mexican ballad) singer who, while relatively unknown in Anglo America, has sold millions of albums worldwide and continues to fill stadiums with his live shows.

67 Halberstam, Judith, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 11Google Scholar.

68 Berlant, Female Complaint, 5.

69 José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 1.

71 Halberstam, 2.

72 Cole Haddon, “Make Like Morrissey: Passion Show,” Phoenix New Times, 31 May 2007, available at, accessed 10 Sept. 2008.

73 Lisa Chavez, “Emo Mexican,”, accessed 1 May 2012.

74 Berlant, 4.

76 Boym, Svetlana, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), xixGoogle Scholar.

77 Ibid., 2.

78 Ibid., 256.

79 Ibid., 252.

80 Ibid., 251.

81 Ibid., 252.

82 Ibid., 254.

83 On 1 January 1994 native Mexicans rose up in arms in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, against the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which they saw as exacerbating tensions and inequalities between them and wealthy ranching and agribusiness interests. In 1996 California voters passed Proposition 209, a ballot initiative designed to make the consideration of race in university admissions, state hiring, and the awarding of state contracts a crime. Proposition 209 built on the provisions of Proposition 187, which aimed to prohibit illegal immigrants from accessing state medical, educational, and other welfare services. Proposition 187 was approved by voters but later struck down in federal court as unconstitutional.

84 Sorrondeguy, Beyond the Screams.

86 Mexicali-based Nikki Clan is a studio creation of veteran Mexican producer Abelardo Vázquez, as Evan Gutierrexz notes at “Nikki Clan: Biography,”, accessed 1 May 2012.

87 Boym, 252.

88 Ibid., 251.

89 Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 11.