Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Chicana Punk Rocker in the 1970s: Alice Bag, Lead Singer for "The Bags" Tells Her Story

Before she was Alice Bag, her name was Alicia Armendariz, growing up in East L.A. It was the 1970s when Alicia was in high school, in love with music, with singing, and with all things artistic.  One memorable scene in Alice Bag's memoir, _Violence Girl:  East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story_,  is when she writes about an art class she had at Garfield High School.  Alicia Armendariz's art teacher noticed her talents and was not only able to get her into an advanced art class, Alice was one of three students asked to design one of the murals for a building on the school's campus.  Alice immediately began work designing an Egyptian pyramid.  In the end, the criticism she received was not because it wasn't drawn well.  Instead, the teacher wanted a pyramid like the ones in Mexico with the addition of cactus and eagles.  Alice writes:

      "For the rest of that afternoon, I found myself getting angry every time I thought about the mural.  I didn't understand why they would give me a wall if they didn't like what I'd done.  I didn't understand why Hispanics could only want to be around Mexican pyramid murals.  I didn't understand why this white art teacher was telling me what Mexicans like.  I love Mexico and Mexican culture, but I didn't want to do the same sort of murals that were everywhere in East L.A.
       I realized that I hadn't been chosen because they thought I was a good artist.  I'd been chosen because they thought I was a good copier.  I turned down the project the next day" (99).  

This scene beautifully illustrates a Chicana refusing to be stereotyped and, instead, committed to following her passion.  And one of those passions became punk music.  Alice then takes the reader on a journey through the 1970s music scene.  There are also important chapters interspersed regarding her working class family, her abusive father, the afflictions her father experiences with Diabetes, the attempts at protecting her mother from further abuse, and finally confronting her father.  

Alice Bag's memoir is not new.  It was published in 2011.  I didn't know about it until just recently when a friend from high school, Patricia (Rainone) Morrison, told me about it.  Patricia was also a member of the band, "The Bags."  Morrison played base. In fact, if you take a look at the back of the book, there is a picture of Patricia with her punk band name, "Trash Bag."  Patricia went on to be the bassist for "Sisters of Mercy," "Legal Weapon," "The Damned," and now lives in London.  Alice remains in Los Angeles, teaching and writing.  

More recently, Alice has published a book of diaries that recount her post-punk days--when she decided to live in Nicaragua in the 1980s.  The book is entitled, Pipe Bomb for the Soul (2015).  In the book, Bag gives us another example of a mujer/Chicana who dared to teach children whose lives were upended in the Nicaraguan/Sandinista war.  Of course, as in all travel, one learns more about oneself.  Alice comes face to face with her own capitalist, U.S.-raised self.  She writes in the epilogue:

     "My revolution happened from the inside out over a prolonged period of time.  It started with my visit to Nicaragua and continues every day of my life.  There's always a news story, a personal interaction, or a provocative idea that requires me to face the world as a teacher/student, that requires me to step outside my comfort zone and engage in praxis" (106).

Alice Bag (Alicia Armendariz) and her two published books illustrate the rich diversity within the Chicana and Chicano community: the "mezcla" of cultures, historical movements, family dynamics, social, psychological, and political struggles.  It seems repetitive to say this, but it is still necessary:  we are not about cactus, eagles, and Mayan pyramids.  Those images have been co-opted and used to define a group.  So gracias, Alice Bag!  Andale.  Keep on writing.   

And thank you to Patricia Morrison for this lead. You have and always will be quite the amiga!

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