It all started early last month, in the otherwise picturesque and conservative central city of Queretaro. On Friday, March 7, an estimated 800 kids poured into Queretaro’s historic center, hunting for emos to beat the crap out of. They found some, as footage that has circulated widely on the Internet shows. A few dozen emos, who customarily loiter around the Plaza de Armas on Friday nights, were severely outnumbered by the mobs, who chased the emos through the streets, striking them with blows and chanting, “Death to the emos!”
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In Mexico City, a fashion decision has repercussions.
The outpouring of mob violence was generated on the Internet, where for weeks before the March 7 incident, messages circulated on social-networking sites and message boards calling for the “rescue” of the Queretaro plaza from the emos, who had unofficially designated it their public social space.
“The emos don’t bother me. What bothers me is that they take a place as if it were theirs,” one anti-emo youth told a television newscast from the plaza that night. He added, rolling his eyes, “It also bothers me a bit that they look more like girls than boys.”
The people of Queretaro, and all of Mexico, were scandalized by the images. Calls were made for peace and tolerance. But innumerable Mexicans were apparently also turned on by the scenes of violence.
The following weekend, confrontations between emos and anti-emos were reported in other states with equally pristine social reputations, Durango and Colima. The circulated message that called for the elimination of Colima’s emos read: “Let us join forces with our compatriots in Queretaro. Let us clean up Mexico, clean up Colima, and make a better place for everyone. Association: Death to the emos.”
In Mexico City, emos faced off against anti-emo forces in the Glorieta de Insurgentes, a circular plaza above the Insurgentes metro station, which can adequately be described as the epicenter of emo social space for the whole of Mexico. Footage showed teenagers striking one another with belts, cursing, and knocking over emo girls. Although riot police were called to disperse the crowds, only a band of peace-loving Hare Krishnas who paraded and chanted through the plaza was able to quell the tensions.
The scenes have looked like they’re straight out of the infamous mods-vs.-rockers rumbles in Britain in the 1960s, or the cult New York gang flick The Warriors. “That’s the best way to put it,” said emo Jose Luis Hernandez, 17.
So what the hell is going on?
For one thing, the emo bashing wave that has swept Mexico is demonstrating to the world in the harshest terms possible what native Mexicans and expats have known for decades: that Mexican cities, particularly the capital, are complex and tough urban environments, where youth subcultures thrive far below the radar of the global eye.
Emo culture is relatively new to Mexico, taking off in about the past three years, emos said in interviews. They are drawn to the music of bands such as Dashboard Confessional, Hawthorne Heights and Alesana. They like the style — shaggy bangs, skintight jeans, studded belts, lots of black — and the loose ideology of getting “emotional” and, on occasion, practicing self-mutilation.
“We got it from the United States. The contexts that they live and we live are very different, so all we can do is use the style,” said Queretaro emo Samantha Becerra, 20. “Here, we didn’t have that music.”
Youth belonging to other Mexican “urban tribes” — the term used for strongly self-defined groups that include the punks, the rockabillies, the goths or darketos, and others — say that’s exactly the problem. The disdain for emos is rooted in the impression that they merely mimic styles from other subcultures and from MySpace and foreign music videos. Punks and darketos, groups that are practically indigenous to the urban landscape of modern Mexico, are especially indignant about the rise of the emos.
“We’re against the emos,” a punk told a newscast in Mexico City during the Insurgentes rumble. “They’re copying our styles.”
Other theories have floated in the media buzz and online chatter. Gay-rights organizations in Mexico are pegging the anti-emo movement as homophobic, because emo boys often appear androgynous or unopposed to male-on-male affection. Anibal Gamez, a sociologist in Queretaro, says that Mexico’s strident class rifts are also at play, as many emos belong to middle- or upper-class brackets, while anti-emos in Queretaro are chacos, or lower-class youth from the rougher suburban outskirts.
Meanwhile, emos in Mexico are fighting back. Pro-emo, pro-tolerance rallies and demonstrations have been staged in Queretaro, in Puebla and in the capital. Mexico City emos are targeting media giant Televisa''s fiery on-air personality named Kristoff, who spews anti-emo hate on an MTV-style program called Telehit. “Fucking bullshit,” Kristoff said of the emo movement last year, in piercing English. Even more strangely, some voices in the media and on the political left are suggesting that the anti-emo wave is part of a government conspiracy to divide the populace.
After the anti-emo spark in Queretaro, however, Kristoff went on the air to sharply chastise the emo bashers, essentially calling them cowards for chasing pacifist emos and not attempting to square off against, say, reggaetoneros or Mara Salvatrucha cells within Mexico.
Fat chance. The anti-emo players have so far been comfortable hiding behind mobs and anonymous monikers online. But their rage and thirst for blood is racking up real victims.
One Mexico City emo named Andres Sotomayor, 20, told of being jumped by a group of young men in Roma, the somewhat trendy Beaux Arts neighborhood, one Saturday afternoon. They held him down and chopped off chunks of his long hair, Andres said. Now, he’s totally bald.
“I felt impotent,” Sotomayor recalled during a pro-emo demonstration. “It seems like an injustice to me that there are these movements of social separation. We’re one country.”