An LA Backyard Party In Mexico City? Angelenos Are Taking Their Culture Beyond LA
The smoke smell of carne asada sizzling on the grill greets you as you walk past a parked shimmering blue lowrider. Brenton Wood’s “Gimmie Little Sign” plays in the background, yellow lights hanging across the cement yard illuminating an eight- point-star rainbow piñata at the center. A castle bouncy house is located in the corner and a party table displays three cakes with quinceañera, wedding and baby shower toppers. A background collage features archive photographs celebrating L.A.’s family parties through the years.
This is what you would traditionally find in many of L.A.'s carne asadas or neighborhood get-togethers.
LAist contributor Frank Rojas reported this story from Mexico City, where "Family Party" was held.
But this particular party is more than 1,000 miles away from L.A. It is located in Mexico City's Roma neighborhood as part of an art installation for the art week celebrated in Mexico's capitol.
“Well, right now I feel like I'm at an L.A. backyard party. I grew up with the lowriders and the palm trees in the background. I just feel like I’m home and this setting is exactly like that,” said Eddie Lopez Bautista, a native of Highland Park.
This is the first of a series of the “Diaspora Dialogues” installations that is being curated by Anita Herrera, a creative producer and cultural consultant. Herrera grew up in Huntington Park and wanted to pay tribute to the culture and nostalgia of L.A.’s backyard parties.
Welcome to this family party.
From Huntington Park To Mexico City
Herrera is all smiles as she walks around the patio greeting guests. A forest green colored handbag pops against her black ensemble that includes a crop top paired with a high waisted pencil skirt that has reddish pink flowers imprinted on it. A silver-crystal belt buckle ties the look together as her Selena style half up, half down ponytail rests on the shoulders of her fuzzy black jacket. She is both dressy and simple, something that could probably best describe L.A.’s laid back style.
Herrera was raised in Huntington Park, which according to the Census Bureau is over 95% Latino. It is there where her interest in fashion started as she grew up walking down the fashion district that is Pacific Boulevard and visiting the Foot Hill Swap Meet in Azusa with her family.
She attended Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and soon made her way into the fashion industry, a process which she explains meant she had to work from the ground up, especially for a woman from South East L.A.
“It wasn't a common place for a girl from Huntington Park to be working in the fashion industry. The people I went to school with, their parents were either really wealthy or they already had connections in a creative industry,” said Herrera.
Herrera worked through internships and retail jobs and by the time she finished school she started working in fashion trade shows. She found work in public relations and ended up meeting Toy Selectah, a music producer from Monterrey, Mexico. Herrera credits Selectah as the reason for moving to Mexico City after trying to connect American brands with his Mexican artists.
But even after having found a creative job in Mexico City, Herrera was still faced with an uphill battle. Most of the American brands that she was trying to work with did not want to sell or buy from stores and brands in Mexico because of the stigma that Mexico was less.
This led Herrera to become a cultural consultant working with brand campaigns like Foot Locker, New Balance and Universal Music Latin Entertainment.
It was her work with Hennessy Cognac, however, that opened her eyes to large corporations' monolith treatment of Latinos living in the U.S.. Herrera had pitched a variety of ideas that encompassed working with and showcasing the complexities of first, second and third generation Latinos living in L.A.. Her work on the campaign felt superficial on some level, she says, and not as authentic as she wished it could have been.
“We are not a trend. These are our lives, our stories and we should be taking ownership. This installation was created by us. This event has nothing to do with anybody but us. And the money that I got for this is from our community who support this vision,” said Herrera.
We are not a trend. These are our lives, our stories and we should be taking ownership.
Creating The Family Party
Herrera wanted to create something that could create understanding and unite both sides of the border. That includes Mexicans from Mexico, Mexican Americans, Central Americans and other culturally diverse immigrant communities with roots in the U.S. — adding to the diaspora.
She started sketching out visuals and developing the idea in 2020 by surfacing things that reminded her of home and what makes L.A. culture unique.
In September 2021, Herrera spoke with friend and DJ, Chicano Playboy in length about an event that could celebrate their own collective culture in Mexico City.
Her family party was now in full development.
She drew from her own experiences of growing up in Huntington Park as references when she began to create the installation. Working with producer and designer, Eric Solis, the two put together a flyer that best encapsulated the essence and nostalgia of L.A.’s backyard parties.
“We wanted to find the most authentic photo of the front of a house as possible. It just automatically triggers those memories for people,” said Solis, who was born in Bellflower and has lived in different parts of Southern California. He now resides in Mexico City.
Solis edited the photo of the house by making it in black and white, adding some texture, and inserting a bouncy house as well as palm trees and a helicopter in the distance. The font was inspired by a lot of the handwriting that was featured in some of the art that hangs in Herrera’s apartment.
Their goal was to create an inviting space, especially to those who had never been to L.A. An important — and key — thing for this event was not to exploit the community and culture.
“We just want to drive home that sense of place in Los Angeles. And we found it important that in the image of that house, the gate was slightly open. So you feel like it's inviting you into that backyard space,” said Solis.
That sense of family and place was what Héctor and Jose Polio were trying to capture when creating the design for the official t-shirt of the event. The Salvadoran-American twin brothers, who are both models and designers from South L.A., launched a clothing line in 2020 — it’s called Gente Unida.
“Gente Unida is just like a people thing, instead of just a brand. And being able to do this pop-up with Anita is an opportunity for us to tap in and bring L.A. over to Mexico,” said Hector.
Graphic design artist Suede López helped the twins create the art for the tan t-shirt. The front features the brand's name in brown font at the center. The backside depicts an elaborate backyard party depicting different family and friends coming together to eat, dance and celebrate.
The words, “Family Party” are bold and capitalized with a message towards the bottom of the shirt. “Aquí eres familia.” Here you are family.
“We wanted to capture what a family party is in L.A.. It's all love from the kids, to the aunties and abuelos just laughing and having fun with music and food. It’s a strong presence that’s welcoming,” said José.
All these artists and creators have one thing in common: They’re children of L.A. There’s a pull from Mexico to understand tradition and history, yet Southern California is where they understood their culture.
The Diaspora And Embracing Of The Pocho
This culture clash is something unique and distinct to Southern California, and especially to L.A. because of their proximity to one another. The immigrant experience has strongly shaped and influenced L.A. and its communities.
In creating this installation, Herrera wanted to bring healing and empathy as she states. “This series is meant to create a conversation between Mexicans from Mexico and the diaspora in the United States, particularly those from Los Angeles,” she said.
This series is meant to create a conversation between Mexicans from Mexico and the diaspora in the United States, particularly those from Los Angeles.
While the celebration and existence of Mexico’s diaspora is nothing new to L.A., Mexican migration and the generational effects of it may come as a culture shock to some living in Mexico.
“The Mexican diaspora is really grounded in the displacement of many Mexicans,” said Dr. Grétel Vera-Rosas, a Chicana/o studies professor at Cal. State University Dominguez Hills.
“Mexican migration, for the most part, tends to be economical as the result of poverty. But more recently, it’s been pushed out because of certain forms of social violence. So the Mexican diaspora is an emergence out of different forms of displacement,” the professor said.
With migration into the U.S. and as generations grow, there is both a sense of push and pull when it comes to assimilation and holding onto one’s cultural roots. This is best seen through language where Latinos — and specifically Mexicans — who live in the U.S. don’t necessarily speak Spanish perfectly.
“I am from the diaspora and my Spanish is not perfect, and it's not it's not supposed to. I speak the way I speak because I come from Huntington Park and I'm proud of that,” said Herrera.
Historically, being pocho (a slang term for a Mexican-American and who tend to speak little to no Spanish while navigating between two cultures) has been seen as less than by some living in Mexico.
This hybrid of the two cultures has now grown overtime to be seen as its own identity.
“Pocho identifies language more than anything, but there's a cultural background as well. There are different practices that are not necessarily fully Mexican or fully American, like an in between identity of neither, from here or there,” said Vera-Rosas.
Pocho identifies language more than anything, but there's a cultural background as well. There are different practices that are not necessarily fully Mexican or fully American, like an in between identity of neither, from here or there.
The Nostalgia Of Music
Night falls as a trio of DJs mix between genres and generations of music. The backyard is set to the music of Mary Wells’s 1962 classic, “Two Lovers,” to Sunny & The Sunglows’s 1965 Latin funk hit “Cariño Nuevo,” to even the 90’s hip hop ”Regulate” by West Coast rappers Warren G and Nate Dogg.
A crowd gathers as they start to dance to “Payaso de Rodeo,” a song inspired in American Country music by Mexican band Caballo Dorado. The song has a fast past choreography that can be difficult to keep up for some. Over the years, the song and dance have become a Latino party anthem.
“I think there's something really special about immigrant kids and these parties. There’s this nostalgia in these celebrations,” said Maryann Aguirre, who goes by her DJ name of Que Madre. “It’s also bridging these two worlds and showcases that music is more than just sounds, it's a way to connect folks.”
Aguirre is a Boyle Heights native and a member of Chulita Vinyl Club, a DJ collective that supports and empowers women of color.
On this night of spinning she is joined by fellow DJs Diego Fuego, whose real last name is Guerrero, and Chicano Playboy, whose real name is José Luis. They are curating rythms and sounds from L.A. and Mexico.
The music of Los Bukis brings you back to waking up to the smell of Fabuloso disinfectant products to clean the house on a Saturday morning. Chalino Sanchez is a reminder of sitting in your dad’s truck listening to L.A’s Regional Mexican music station La Qué Buena. Juan Gabriel’s romantic lyrics were an introduction to heartbreak for many first generation Latinos at a young age.
It all hits home.
But listening to this music isn’t just about celebrating the nostalgia of the past. It’s also about preserving a culture that exists between two borders, and coexists with other sounds and influences that make up L.A.
Guerrero was born in Mexico City and came to the U.S. without legal status with his family. He was raised between East L.A. and Long Beach. He has since gained citizenship. He spins anywhere and everywhere from 90s Hip Hop and R&B at The Normandie Club in Koreatown to Cumbia music at the Office Bar in Lincoln Heights.
Mixing between Rancheras and Hip Hop was something new for some Mexican residents who were in attendance. Nonetheless, this culture clash was being celebrated.
While the DJs took a break, attendees paired up with a partner to dance Norteño. A live group plays as pairs dance close together to “Flor de Capomo” a song made popular by Mexican duo Carlos y José.
The Family Party On Both Sides Of The Border
The night has progressed and more people have started to show up. It's difficult to spot who is from L.A. and who is from Mexico. Do you speak English or Spanish? None of that actually matters, as there seems to be mutual respect and understanding for those who live on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Ozmar Báez is enjoying the night as there are elements that are both familiar and new for him as he is both born and raised in Mexico City. “This is a beautiful opportunity to unite these two types of Mexicans on both sides of the border to create a family. I’m learning the traditions of my other family in L.A.,” said Báez in Spanish.
Herrera closed the night by shouting out various cities in L.A. of those who were in attendance, from South Central, to Montebello, Lincoln Heights and Long Beach. Home was miles away, but the pride of being from there was heartfelt.
“This event was for us, by us. It’s about creating more empathy with Mexicans from Mexico and Mexicans from the U.S.. It’s dedicated to all the immigrants and our families,” said Herrera in both English and Spanish.
A collage of old family pictures and a photo album are on display and are set on the main table by a white purple and pink cake. They are more than decorations, they are personal. Herrera featured some photographs from her own family collection while others who also helped organize the installation brought some of their own.
A teenage girl celebrates her transition into womanhood in a big silky blue quinceañera dress as she stands in the front yard surrounded by family and friends. A bride is all smiles as she poses in her white dress as the red Volkswagen she is in pulls up to a neighborhood. A black and white photograph features a family in the backyard clapping and waving an American flag with a gentleman in the center holding his U.S. Citizenship Certificate.
At its core L.A.’s backyard parties are about family and coming together it’s an opportunity to connect. This backyard party embraces a new family that exists on the other side of the border.
As the night comes to an end, this installation is a reminder of attending your own tia’s L.A. backyard party. The music, food, and late night celebrations, all for generations of tíos, cousins, and family coming together for just one night of belonging.