Maricón Art and DJ Collective Celebrates Queer Chicano Culture

Carlos Morales, left, Michael Rodriguez, Rudy Bleu and Manuel Paul
Carlos Morales, left, Michael Rodriguez, Rudy Bleu and Manuel Paul
Photo by Danny Liao

Maricón is Spanish for "faggot." It is not a pretty word, especially not for anyone who grew up gay or queer in a Latino family.

Maricón Collective is made up of four queer men — Rudy Bleu, Carlos Morales, Manuel Paul and Michael Rodriguez — all in their 30s and from east of the L.A. River, who are flipping that negative connotation. They adopted the word to represent their art and DJ collective, a group that hosts dance parties, picnics and brunches throughout L.A.

"Growing up, I never wanted to be [called maricón]; I didn't want to relate to it," Rodriguez says. "We grew up in very machismo families and it was always looked down upon."

Morales and Bleu have been friends since their teen years, when they came up in the punk scene together. Bleu originally met Rodriguez and Paul through Tumblr, where Paul was posting his original artwork alongside cult images from print magazines such as Teen Angels, a Chicano culture zine, and Homeboy Beautiful, a zine published by queer Chicano artist Joey Terrill in the 1970s.

Bleu, Rodriguez and Paul met for the first time at a coffee shop in Montebello and talked for hours, soon realizing they needed to build something out of their shared passions for Chicano-inspired queer art and music.

They hosted the first Maricón Collective party last April at Akbar in Silver Lake. Bleu and Morales spun records, Paul designed the flyer and Rodriguez handled all social media.

That event attracted such a large following that "we spent the summer unintentionally having a party almost every weekend," Bleu says.

Maricón Collective turned into something the group wasn't seeing anywhere else: a throwback to the "Backyard Boogie" parties of their childhoods, where they watched older relatives drink "jungle juice" and dance to the high-energy disco and funk music of the '70s.

That familial, friendly feeling is important to the four friends, who also draw inspiration from the trips they took as children to the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet. There, every weekend after church, folks would dress up to go shopping as if it was a party.

As their parties got bigger, the collective approached Alice Bag, lead singer of first-wave punk band The Bags, and Martin Sorrondeguy of influential Latino punks Los Crudos and queercore band Limp Wrist, to ask their new band The Shhh to perform at a Maricón event. That led to Rudy Bleu co-directing The Shhh's first video, "Take," starring Bag and Sorrondeguy's drag alter ego, Garlika Stanx.

In December, Maricón Collective hosted a release party for "Take" at 356 Mission, a gallery in the industrial zone between Boyle Heights and the downtown Arts District. A punked-out crowd of 200-plus filled up the event space, drinking Tecate and eating Twizzlers.

Before and after the video screening, Bleu and Morales entertained the attendees with a mix of Latin freestyle, cumbia, oldies and what they grew up calling "cha cha disco": The Cover Girls, Trinere, Teena Marie, plus Mexican backyard party staples such as "El Sonidito," with its infectious cumbia beat and "beep-beep" hook.

Maricón's ambitions go beyond throwing parties. At the "Take" premiere, they debuted volume one of a new zine featuring art from their first six months as a collective. They're also collaborating with Joey Terrill to reissue his Homeboy Beautiful zine, which has been long out of print. Limited-edition runs of the zine's first two issues will debut at the L.A. Art Book Fair at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA on Jan. 30.

The collective's own zine is designed in the style of Teen Angels, the Chicano art and culture zine they saw their aunts thumbing through when they were kids. The crudely drawn "lowbrow" aesthetic of Teen Angels appeals to the collective — especially to Manuel Paul, the one responsible for the art on Maricón's merch and Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook feeds.

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Paul's art takes nostalgic icons from the past and blends them with mainstream trends. One of his T-shirt designs recasts Hello Kitty characters in the style of the Homie figurines popular in the late '90s; another shows Betty Boop dressed in Selena's iconic purple jumpsuit and reads "Bidi Bidi Boop Boop," a play on one of the Tejano pop star's biggest hits.

One of Paul's Instagram drawings went viral: a fake paleta, or popsicle, made to look like Selena. The drawing, originally done as a joke, became so popular online that a company approached the collective to see if they wanted to produce the paleta in the real world. (They didn't, but Paul and Rodriguez now push a paleta cart around at their events to sell merch.)

By far their most ambitious undertaking is an oral history project, collecting stories of growing up queer and Latino in Southern California. Says Rudy Bleu, "When I was coming out, I was trying to find people that were like me, and whenever stuff was written, a lot of times it wasn't written by Chicanos or Latinos — it was written in an academic way. But I think it'd be neat to have our stories archived and told by our people."

To many, Maricón may seem like a provocative name for such a laid-back group. But the four friends see it as an invitation to flip a word that struck fear in them as queer teenagers, and use it instead as a term of empowerment.

Alice Bag says that, when Bleu first approached her, she was drawn by the collective's controversial name and "by the idea of taking words that are used to taunt and disparage and redefining them in a powerful context."

One of the collective's most recognizable pieces of merch is a black T-shirt with the word "Maricón" across the front in large white letters. Wearing it out to events is normal for them — but sometimes, when they go out to grab a bite to eat afterward, they forget the word is emblazoned on their chests. Until they notice the random odd stare.

Although they're comfortable sharing their efforts with friends, some in the group say their parents are largely unaware of the collective. It's a generational thing; their parents are less comfortable talking about sexuality in general, queer or straight.

"It's like being back in the closet again," Paul says of not mentioning the group to his family. "But that's preferable to the awkwardness of telling your parents you've been spending your time drawing pictures of huge dicks."

Bleu agrees, pointing to his Maricón T-shirt and adding, "I wouldn't wear [this] to my mom's house."


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