I first met We the Geeks of East L.A. at a Pokemon tournament at the defunct punk venue Pehrspace. Much like the space's other denizens, these Power Ranger cosplayers have a very DIY mentality — all it took was a camera, costumes and a few karate moves for them to rack up millions of views on YouTube. Along with the YouTube fame, this group of 10 or so geeks says they cosplay to uplift their community. Power Rangers TV shows are usually cast like a college brochure: There’ll be one Black ranger, one Asian ranger and three white rangers or similar. But that's not how the chips fall when a team of Power Rangers is from the 96.7 percent Latino neighborhood of East L.A. With their videos, We the Geeks reframe who gets to be a team of heroes just by being themselves. I caught up with club captains Marisol Ceja Godinez, her boyfriend Danny Castellanos and her cousin John Ceja to talk about Harley Quinn, family and crying into your Ranger helmet.
How did you guys get started doing videos?
Danny Castellanos: In 2013 there was a Nickelodeon SpongeBob contest to create your own SpongeBob short.
Marisol Ceja Godinez: You were supposed to re-create the feeling of SpongeBob. We didn’t win but it was fun. Then there was a Power Rangers video contest to re-create one of the episodes and we won first place. People started sharing that video like wildfire, and the rest is history.
Very few cosplay groups rep their neighborhoods. Why was it important to call yourselves We the Geeks of East L.A.?
MCG: Nerds and geeks — we’re everywhere. It was easier for people to feel comfortable being nerds knowing there were other people like them in their neighborhood.
John Ceja: It makes it easier for people in East L.A. to come out of their geek closet.
You guys do a lot of charity work?
MCG: We used to do children’s hospital visits as Power Rangers on our own, but now we work really closely with [the charitable organization] Kids Can Cosplay. We visit shelters and do home visits in costume. We did a Christmas visit in costume for a single mom who’d lost her job and the kids were so grateful — they were opening the presents we brought and their mom said, “If you guys hadn’t come, there would’ve been no Christmas.” The kids were hugging us and my Ranger helmet was fogging up because I was crying. I was thinking, “At least they can’t see me crying.” We grew up lower-class, so it’s nice to give back. When I was a kid I never saw people dressed up as our heroes. Disneyland was too expensive — we couldn’t always afford it. But these kids think we’re the real Power Rangers!
You also make videos against cosplay bullying?
MCG: We’ve experienced cosplay bullying ourselves. Our group has people with disabilities, different sizes [and] ethnicities. I’m straight-up Mexican; brown eyes, brown skin, brown hair. And someone told me that I shouldn’t cosplay as Harley Quinn because I’m not white. I was like, “Cool! Thanks for your opinion! I’m gonna do five different versions of Harley now!”
A video of one of your junior members morphing into the Megaforce Red Ranger has more than 40 million views. Why do you think you’re so popular?
MCG: People tell us it’s because we have heart. They can see we’re a family, and we love each other, and we’re doing this for the fun of it.
And I hear you've worked with actors from the TV show?
DC: We made a video with Brennan Mejia, the Red Dino Charge Ranger. I was working Comic-Con and I met him on the way to the restroom! I was actually cosplaying as him that day! I pitched him to be in one of our videos and he was like, “Let’s do it!”
It’s interesting that in your videos Danny plays the Red Ranger and Mari plays the Yellow Ranger. In the show, the Red Ranger is usually the leader and Yellow Rangers are …
MCG: The brain!
Yeah, the voice of reason. It seems you guys both fill those same roles of leader and brain outside the videos, so reality is a little blurred. It’s like you see yourselves as superheroes. John, who do you cosplay as?
DC: The monster that we beat up!
JC: I love to be the villain.
DC: He plays a bully in one of our videos. So now when people see him hanging out with us they say, “Wow, the bully’s hanging out with you guys!”
MCG: We converted him!
DC: There’s gonna be a video someday where we’re all gonna be in trouble and the bully is gonna change his ways, become the Black Ranger and save us.
Are you doing anything for the East L.A. Comic Con coming up on Saturday, May 20?
DC: It’s gonna be our first convention where we have a booth!
MCG: It’s nice to know that We the Geeks of East L.A.’s first booth is gonna be at the East L.A. Comic Con. The people running the con are really into giving back to the community and that’s what we’re about. I’m so hyped for it because in high school my friends and I would get made fun of for being nerds. Back then I would never think that there’d be a con in my backyard and people would be excited about it.
What do you think it is specifically about Power Rangers that’s kept you guys in it?
DC: Power Rangers is always a group of friends that just happen to be superheroes. They grow together as a family, and that’s us.
Meet We the Geeks of East L.A. at East L.A. Comic Con, El Gallo Plaza, 4545 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., East L.A.; Sat., May 20, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; free. eastlacomiccon.com.