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By Fabiola Esqueda

In eccentric, gothic style, Mallory Alvarez turns the heads of fellow student concert-goers in Isla Vista. In bondage trousers, fishnets, and spike chokers, Alvarez rages the scene, never missing a night to see small, local bands rock out to their favorite tunes. Alvarez has found their community in punk music.

I first discovered this underground subculture when I happened upon a Snapchat video Alvarez posted from a recent event, complete with scenes of bloody and bruised people aggressively shoving each other to piercingly loud beats of unorthodox music.

“A lot of people gravitate towards different musical genres,” Alvarez said. “Punk music gave me a feeling of freedom where I can express myself freely.”

Alvarez identifies as transfemme Chicanx. They came out as queer their freshman year at UC Santa Barbara and began their trans journey in their sophomore year. Punk music became an innovative way for Alvarez to channel their anger towards a system that they believe was not built for them. So, when I told them about the art exhibit titled “Vexed: The East L.A. Chicano Punk Scene” displaying in the Multicultural Center, they enthusiastically showed interest in attending with me.

As we entered the art exhibit, images of Chicanx performers moshing, singing, and hanging out during the height of the Chicanx movement made me wonder why Alvarez took interest in punk music in the first place. I asked Alvarez about this interest and to my surprise they were originally drawn to the community because of the origins of punk music, not for the style or concerts.

During the 1970s Chicanx civil rights movement, many of the youth in East Los Angeles began to express their discontent toward government institutions by writing music that heavily criticized historical injustices. They criticized the Vietnam War draft, unfair education barriers, and racist treatment of Chicanx people.

Feelings of marginalization were common in songs. The Chicanx band, Los Illegals, from East Los Angeles wrote politically-driven lyrics. In one song titled “LA” the lyrics, originally sung in Spanish, read: “Y donde esta la liberta y la justicia? Es esto el precio que pagamos cuando llegamos a este lado? Trabajamos y pagamos impuestos, y la migra viene e nos dan fregadazo.”

Translated that means: “Where is the liberty and the justice? Is this the price we pay when we come to this side of the border? We work, we pay our taxes, and ICE comes and beats us up.”

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Political, edgy punk music forms a subculture that often attracts just a small audience. Its fan-base in Isla Vista is not large, but has devoted members that are very much a part of campus.  Art exhibits like the one in the Multicultural Center allow students like Alvarez to see the history of the music they love recognized in a university setting. 

Through punk music, Alvarez found a community to channel their own defiance against assimilating into mainstream, “normal” society. To people like Alvarez, avant-garde fashion and bold lyrics against repression helped them release their anger.

After walking through the exhibit with my unapologetic friend, I realized that punk culture is an explosive art form, essential to a community that often feels misplaced and misunderstood, for either their sexual orientation, non-binary identity, ethnicity, fashion choices or even simply because their taste in music is not mainstream.

Fabiola Esqueda is a third-year UC Santa Barbara student, majoring in Sociology.