'we are still here' captures l.a.'s vibrant chicanx youth
Photographer Devyn Galindo shares portraits from her outstanding debut book, which documents the communities and cultural connections forged by a new generation of Mexican-Americans.
Though Devyn Galindo has lived all over the United States — "Missouri, Illinois, New York; I went to high school in Texas," she explains — the photographer will always call California home. Specifically, East Los Angeles, the city's historic Mexican-American hub. It's where, Galindo explains, a particular horn sound instantly signals to an entire block that the corn man is on his way with fresh elote. It's also where urgent underground youth movements are bubbling up, from punk bands like TRAP GIRL to spoken word poets who perform at all-inclusive spaces like La Conxa in Boyle Heights.
Galindo's recently released photobook, We Are Still Here, enshrines both facets of her neighborhood — its firmly rooted cultural traditions and its open-minded youth in flux. Galindo achieves this duality by spotlighting a new generation of Mexican-American women who celebrate their shared history, but seek to broaden contemporary Chicanx identity through creativity and social activism. Galindo connected with punks, poets, skaters, and students in East L.A., capturing them in moments of protest and quiet reflection. Taken together, the book is a document of today's Chicanx youth unlike any other.
"I don't feel like there are a lot of images that document the radical movements that are happening in Los Angeles right now, or the Chicanx experience in general — and especially not from a queer-inclusive point of view," Galindo explains. "I felt I might as well take it upon myself to make it happen, to reclaim that space." Here, Galindo shares portraits from the project, as well as her thoughts on collaboration, community, and what it means to be Chicanx today.
Tell us about yourself, where you're from and what you were into growing up.
I'm originally from California, but I've kind of lived everywhere. And because I moved so much, I leaned on exploring new places with my camera, which opened new worlds. I was less shy going up to someone to take their photo; it felt like a more natural way to make friends and community.
Having lived in so many places, do you feel California and L.A. specifically influence the pictures that you make?
For sure, especially this book project. There's so much about Los Angeles that is underground or under the radar, and I'm obsessed with documenting those communities that I love and that need to have light shed on them. My family is from East L.A., New Mexico, and the whole Southwest. There are a lot of roots that date back four of five hundred years, and exploring that has become an obsession of mine.
What motivated you to begin making these portraits?
When I was leaving New York, I did a road trip back to California and stopped on the border towns between Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas, where my grandparents and great grandparents are from. I felt a lot of that story was untold, and when I got back to L.A., it was all I wanted to focus on — a desire to document the existence of the Chicanx community. I think there's a conversation happening right now in America about immigration, who's allowed to be here, and who's not. And even a lot of people who are Chicanx, who are Mexican-American, don't necessarily know their history. I felt like it was important to create a book that my little cousins could see and feel proud of where they come from. Being young and Chicanx, it can feel like: "there's no one else like me out there making things that I can relate to, so maybe my thoughts in art aren't valid." It's not that these thoughts aren't valid, they're just not documented.
How did you connect with the girls you photographed?
When I was in New York, I got super homesick, and I started following a few poets on Instagram. I told myself that when I came back to L.A., I really want to go to some of these spoken word nights. La Conxa in Boyle Heights throws lots of cool punk shows, fundraisers, spoken word nights, and the space is always really inclusive, which makes it feel safe. I met some of the girls there, and we just started hanging out and taking photos. I met a couple more on Instagram, and we all started inviting each other to different events and meet-ups. And as we'd meet new people who identified as Chicanx, we'd add them into the mix until we had a really rad group that made up the book. It happened super organically over the course of the year.
There's also a zine in the book with quotes and poems by some of the girls you photographed. How was this project a collaborative effort, and is collaboration an important element of the practice for you?
For sure. All the girls are super talented, and have their own ways of expressing themselves. Esperanza and Alma are poets that write, make their own zines, and perform spoken word. Alex and Claire are photographers. Everyone had their own special voice and their own special talent, and everyone else is so supportive of it. There's zero competitiveness; it's pure love and appreciation, which I feel is so rare to find. Everyone wanted to share all the resources and help each other out. They're all so young and full of light and good energy. It's natural we all wanted to be around each other!
This book was released a few days after Donald Trump's election, and the launch event you organized in L.A. involved video projections, poetry, and DJ sets from some of the people involved. What was that energy like?
I feel like everyone was in a state of shock and a little bit of a depression before the event, and I think we were all looking forward to it as a place where we could come together and just spread joy. Even though what's happening with Trump is awful, it's not the first time that we as a community have had to face adversity. And if we're gonna get through it, we have to get through it together. So it was really a magical night because it was the first time I think we all felt safe again. There's still a lot of work to be done, especially with the undocumented community, and only time will tell what's going to happen. But it was all love that night. We were all able to be there for one another in a raw and real way that I'll never forget.
Having spent so much time with people from a younger generation, what are some of the most exciting aspects you see in it?
Back in the day, I couldn't really relate to having long hair, dark lipstick, and winged eyeliner. Now, I see way more faces in the Chicanx community I can identify with — be they more queer or more art-oriented. I think that's the most exciting thing I've seen in this generation; they're a lot more free. They appreciate and draw from their culture and history in a brand new way that a lot of people have been waiting for. And they're so hyper-aware of everything — they're in-tune with their conscious selves. I love the idea of honoring our past and celebrating what's to come. I'm excited for more people to take up space with new ideas, and I'm excited to see what happens from here.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Devyn Galindo