La Liga zine, through interviews and intimate portraits, is shedding light on the diversity within the Latinx diaspora.
Alexia (Lexiquette) by Alexandra Butrón-Landivar
Is it better to have someone else tell your story or to not have it told at all? It's a question that eats at the collective conscious of many minority communities, and one that the badass team of young Latinas behind La Liga zine are refusing to see in black-and-white. Instead Mari Santa Cruz, Alexandra Butrón-Landivar, Ana Oritz Varela, Verónica von Rathonyi Gómez, Tiffany Rodriguez, and Mia Rodriguez — along with a small army of other collaborators scattered across the United States — are carving out a space of their own online to celebrate and nurture the Latinx creativity and diversity that mainstream media fails to reflect. La Liga started as fashion blog before morphing into its current state, which is powerful in its inability to be placed into tidy boxes — much like the artists, activists, musicians, and multimedia journalists found on its various web pages. A collage of video and written interviews coupled with intimate portraits, it eschews dangerous clichés to reflect the Latinx diaspora in all its non-uniform vibrancy.
"We want people to see that Latinxs come in all different shades from various countries, each with a different and unique culture," says La Liga's Mia Rodriguez. "Our experience as immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, is always fractured and filled with hauntings of a homeland we sometimes will never know. La Liga is an attempt to connect us but also to highlight our voices, achievements, and triumphs."
La Liga is part of a bold new wave of online platforms that give people of color the space and safety to share their ideas. It raises questions regarding social media's ability to give oppressed people a voice, but recognizes that systematic racism isn't just pervasive IRL. i-D caught up with Mari, Ale, Ana, Verónica, and Mia — all either current or post-grad students with side-hustles of the teaching and volunteering variety — to talk about style, social justice, and the irony of curating safe spaces.
How did the idea for La Liga come about?
Mari: The project has changed a lot. It started as a random idea I had for a street style blog showcasing Latinas. Eventually a lot more people became interested, and I talked to my friends, and we realized that we don't see too many online platforms or publications in general that showcase many Latina artists. So we decided to create a space where people could feel comfortable to talk about anything they want.
Ale: While Skyping Mari one day, I mentioned the fact that I wanted to be involved in a project that involved more than just aesthetics. What is aesthetic anyway? She mentioned that Ana and herself had always thought about creating a platform. I was in a passionate mood to create something and so I jumped right in it and we started the project. I quickly asked one of my childhood friends from Lima — Kaori Sakaguchi, she is Peruvian Nikkei, from the Japanese diaspora in Peru — to make us a logo and that's when it all started officially.
Ana: Mari and I met online because we were both interested in fashion while also being very much involved with matters of social justice. More than anything, it was our Latinidad that characterized, not only our friendship, but also the way we connected with U.S trends. I think this project was born out of a common interest to show other internet users that Latinx style can be just as influential, if not more prominent, than whatever Eurocentric fashion is out there.
Verónica: Projects like La Liga give opportunity to Latin American creatives and shed light on the diversity within this culturally rich and massive community. In this neo-colonialist era, it sets our voices "on blast" as we work our way into an expressive space that should be of equal opportunity to all. It is vital for fellow Latinx to know that they are valid and to encourage their creative endeavors. Simply doing what we love and expressing ourselves chip away at the problematic systemic structure of today's society. Our self-expression, coupled with intersectionality and solidarity — all of which are upheld by communities like La Liga — have already proven to have weakened the systemic structure.
Where are you all based?
Mari: I'm in Baltimore now because I go to school here. But we have people all over. Ale is from Toronto, and we have other people in California and Texas.
Ana: Having someone in Los Angeles (Tiffany), someone in Baltimore (Mari), someone in Toronto (Ale), someone in Austin (me), shows that Latinxs are very present across the whole U.S. and how that allows us to give more depth to our project by meeting Latinx creatives from more than just one place. I love that we are allowed to do work that benefits our communities. I love that Mari being Peruvian, and me being Mexican, and Tiffany being Chicana, we can all have both our individuality and a sense of connection through Latinidad.
Was there a reason you decided to do it online? Do you feel that minority experiences are diminished in this space in the same way they are in real life?
Mari: The major reason we decided to do it online was because the diaspora is all over the world, so it's an easier space to create community. But I think community building in person and online is very different. In person there's a more familiar connection you're able to find with people. Online it's a little more detached, so it does have its limitations, but it's still important because you're able to hear voices from people who are in more distant places. I think online and in real life are both important, and complement each other.
Ale: Being an online zine is very exciting because of the immediate response you get from people but it is also very hard. I sometimes get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again, the same discourse, the same scene, etc. Sometimes it feels as though the movement is being classified with only one particular style and it's rare to see other styles blossom for this reason. This troubles me because it can become elitist and thus not a safe and open space for everyone. That's why we try to not have a general aesthetic on our feeds. For instance, everything that is posted on the Instagram account is never mediated aesthetically. We try to showcase everyone who contacts us and we try to share news and projects from other collectives as well. We are slowly learning how to do this in better ways so feedback is always encouraged! "Curating" a beautiful feed for a platform that aims to be a safe space for people to speak would just be ironic.
Ana: Popularity on the internet has so much to do with whiteness, but what really inspired this project was the extent to which white people have to be pleased in order for something non-white to become popular. Deciding to create a space where the complete spotlight was to be put on the Latinx community came organically the more we discussed and learned the dimensions in which Latinidad exists and is limited.
Do you find it easy to connect with other parts of the diaspora online?
Mari: I think it's pretty easy now. There are a lot of other platforms for Latinas, like Latina Rebel — we contacted them and they helped us to reach out as well. We were able to find a lot of contributors from there. And whenever we have open calls, people have been very receptive. People are really willing to share their work because they can't find other outlets or they feel uncomfortable sharing their work in other outlets.
Ale: We try to translate every piece in Spanish for this matter, in order to reach more people and to give content that is familiar to us Spanish-speaking Latinxs. Something that Luna — one of the girls we connected with while on our trip to NYC — said to us was that she thought that as people of color and women we ought to reclaim our space in social media. I think it's so important that we create via these networks and show that our communities have a voice. If we don't do this, if we don't support these platforms, then social media might as well become another colonized space.
What's the most interesting place you have traveled to so far in your work with La Liga?
Mari: Ale and I are both Peruvian, and we both went back there over Christmas. We were looking at the art scene there because we weren't really familiar with it, and there's a lot going on there. Ale was able to interview street artists whose work is based off what people call chicha art — it's like popular Peruvian art. It was something we weren't really familiar with at first, but when we started researching online we were able to find a super vibrant art scene. I think that's something we want to share with people here in the United States.
Text Hannah Ongley
Images via La Liga