Los Angeles is full of amazing stories, but all too often the positive stories from our communities of color get scrubbed from the cultural memory. Back in the late ’80s, the mainstream narrative was that gangs had taken over the working-class neighborhoods of East L.A. following white flight, a narrative that fed into larger issues of racial tension and violence in Los Angeles. Within those Chicano communities, however, there was also a thriving backyard DJ and party scene, which is now thankfully being archived and collected at Map Pointz Project by local artist Guadalupe Rosales.
I meet Rosales in Boyle Heights sometime in between immigration ban No. 1 and immigration ban No. 2. She’s in the process of moving, and her photographs, fliers, shirts and random ephemera dot the room in little piles.
“Both my parents migrated from Mexico in the mid-’70s,” she explains. “They met in Redwood City, where I was born, and then we moved to Boyle Heights. I can't remember exactly how it happened but my older siblings were already going out and then I remember the first time I actually saw a party, the neighbors were having one. I remember looking out the window because the music sounded so different.”
At one of these backyard daytime parties, you’d hear DJs playing anything from oldies, rap and freestyle to deep house, techno and hard house. Rosales remembers "seeing these kids battling each other, they’re breakdancing and like doing all these weird moves and just dressed completely different from what I knew about.”
She had stumbled onto the backyard "ditch party" scene, which was a network of parties being thrown in kids’ houses, often during the day while both parents were at work and the kids had snuck out of (i.e., ditched) school. Usually someone would be collecting a couple bucks at the door. Parties would go from around 2 until 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Party crews had names like Looney Tunes, Midnight Pleasure, Brown Authority, Ladies of Insanity, Kaotic Angels of Eagle Rock and Mind Crime. Rosales became a member of the Aztec Nation crew.
They would sport their logos and come up with crew chants. They were the de facto promoters and core organizational units of the scene. They would often engage in DJ battles and tagging wars. Occasionally the aggression would lead to fights and cross over with gang culture, but for the most part the parties were peaceful affairs, at least early on.
Rosales got busted by parents a few times, an occupational hazard if you were in a party crew. “I threw parties at my house, and my mom caught us a few times. But it was OK. We were willing to take that risk.”
The scene thrived for a few core years in the early ’90s and did so because of a rather clever and efficient system for avoiding detection by parents and authorities. “We never put the info on the flier," Rosales explains. "We used map points and voicemails, and people [would] call in maybe like an hour before going to the party.”
Once you called in, you’d hear a recording giving the location of the map point — often a gas station or parking lot — and find the point person who was there collecting a couple bucks. In exchange, you got the address — usually within a few blocks, but not too close to the map point. This buffering helped to deter unwanted elements, including gangbangers and cops.
The backyard scene would slowly start to fizzle out during the mid-’90s, even though its tendrils now extended through the ’burbs of Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley. As they got older, the first generation of ditch-party kids started going to clubs or raves instead. Unwelcome attention from the media (Fox News ran a scare piece on ditch parties in ’93) and neighborhood gangs made the parties riskier to host. But those few years when ditch parties were at their peak helped introduce a whole generation of young kids to house and techno music, and it influenced a swath of DJs, some of them still active and influential to this day, including Juan Mendez aka Silent Servant and Santiago Salazar among many others. (A recent article in dance music publication Resident Advisor delved deeper into the scene's history and interviewed several of its participants, including Mendez and Salazar.)
By the late ’90s, however, the violence in the community at large had gotten unbearable for Rosales. Incidents such as her cousin getting killed in front of her sister traumatized her, and she had to leave town. She landed in New York and fell into the art scene, finding a new community there. It was in New York that she realized she had to tell the story of the L.A. backyard party scene. So she returned to L.A. a year ago to make this the driving force in her creative and professional life.
Now she continues to assemble and chronicle the history of this colorful period with the help of hundreds of people who have been sending her artifacts, photos and fliers. There are plans for potential books and a documentary, among other media mutations. Rosales finds herself at the center of her scene in a way she never was back in the day. “I was like the quiet, shy person, just like hanging out and drinking or whatever,” she says.
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The fact that these East L.A. and NELA neighborhoods are still hyper-politicized battlegrounds for cultural and class warfare is not lost on her. Chicano communities continue to take advantage of their local spaces — parks, backyards, parking lots — for all sorts of gatherings, despite efforts to usurp these spaces. But if we want to preserve the future of these spaces, Rosales believes, it begins with understanding our communities’ pasts.
“This project is about preserving a history," Rosales says. "What motivated me to do this is because I was seeing that my neighborhood was changing a lot and I needed to do something about it, whatever that meant. That’s why I'm interested in collecting stories, material, and why I came back ... because I wanted to see the neighborhood before it changed. In terms of the issues that are going on in Boyle Heights, I think my part in serving is doing this project.”
You can follow the Map Pointz Project on Instagram: @map_pointz.