By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Asco morphed into a loose band of artists, poets, punks and other bohemians who held readings and performances in and around downtown, East L.A., and up and down the state. Some refer to the period after Herrón and Valdez left as “Asco B.” Participants came and went. They were Chicanos and non-Chicanos, some of whom Diane Gamboa later described to me as people who “were left out of the books”: Max Benavidez, Eddie Ayala, Linda Gamboa (another Gamboa sibling), Marisela Norte, Joey Terrill, Bibbi Hansen (also known as the mother of rocker Beck), Consuelo Flores, Guillermo Estrada, Kevin Gunn, Maria Elena Gaitan, Armando Norte (Marisela’s brother), Jerry Dreva, John Valadez, Betty Salas, Daniel Villareal, Barbara Carrasco, Daniel J. Martinez, Therese Covarrubias, Juan Garza, Sean Carrillo and others.
They made “fotonovelas” and experimental films, with Harry Gamboa directing. In one, 1983’s Imperfecto, Humberto Sandoval plays a lunatic in search of “the truth” on the streets of L.A. He wanders around sites that are immediately recognizable but, in the 1980s video format, look magically vibrant and vintage: Bunker Hill, Broadway, Boyle Heights. Sandoval is dressed like a latter-day Echo Park hipster: electric-red pants, a baby-blue sports coat, and a red hankie wrapped around his neck. Along the way, he meets characters played by a who’s who of figures from the history of avant-garde Chicano art. But you would never be able to tell that behind-the-scenes Asco in the 1980s, or “Asco B,” had turned into a hotbed of competition and conflict.
I’m sitting with Diane Gamboa at Homegirl Café in Boyle Heights. She’s telling me her version of the Asco history, and it’s far less heroic and gratifying than the history as presented by her brother Harry. When she was around, Diane says, she merely watched as the men in Asco, her brother included, competed with one another.
At one point, a pretty young woman approaches our table and brightly asks Diane, “Excuse me, are you Harry Gamboa’s sister?”
Diane looks stunned. “Uh, I have a name,” she says. But the girl apparently doesn’t hear. She begins talking about the classes she’s taken at Cal State Northridge with Harry. When the girl leaves, Diane doesn’t project outrage so much as bitter amusement.
“There you go, that’s what I’m saying,” she says. “It walked right over. I love it.”
It is easy to see why she’d be bothered. While in “Asco B,” Diane was a serious creative force, making “paper fashions” for the group’s performances and honing her skills as a makeup artist. In her own work, Diane is a painter with a distinctive figurative style and a photographer known for her extensive collection of images documenting the early East L.A. punk scene. Her photos are thrilling, and you can tell a Diane Gamboa painting — with her tribal, ambisexual visual vocabulary — from across a room. But she’s struggled to attain the same kind of acclaim as her brother and others once affiliated with Asco. She says the curators putting together LACMA’s “Phantom Sightings” show visited her studio, but seemed interested only in her documentary photographs, not her art.
The awkward interruption rakes up some unpleasant memories.
She says her brother Harry made “false promises” to her about one day sharing his achievements. And she says that Daniel J. Martinez, her ex-boyfriend, “used me to wiggle himself into Asco and the whole scene.” Today, she’s not on speaking terms with either of them.
Which is a shame, because Diane’s glare and wit are as sharp as her brother’s.
“Let’s get real about it,” she says. “In any art collective throughout the ages, there’s always been pedo. And everyone you talk to is going to have a different perspective.”
Pedo is Spanish for “fart.” But in usage it connotes “conflict” or, in this context, melodramas among artists. Asco, Diane and others told me, is simply the East L.A. version of what should be a familiar story: Young and idealistic artists get together, form allegiances and then have monumental fallings-out. In Asco’s case, it is striking how those frayed relationships have lingered, more than 30 years after the movement began. Harry Gamboa, for instance, coolly refers to the new recruits in the “Asco B” days as “the new kids.”
“Most of them hadn’t experienced things that we had, such as the violence on the streets. Many of these people were also too young to have been drafted in the Vietnam War, so it wasn’t part of their makeup,” he says. “How should I put it? Like, it’s not a good idea to let everybody in your house, because they might walk away with things that don’t belong to them.”
In the game of writing history, the stakes are understandably high. Consider Marisela Norte.
Norte is an unofficial bard of East L.A., a poet and memoirist known for her infectious charm and wit. She was a key member of “Asco B” in the 1980s. At the time, she was also Harry Gamboa’s mistress.