[15 April 2008]
They listen to bands like My Chemical Romance and Panic at the Disco, as well as Panda and Allison. They wear their hair in pseudo-punk fashion, careful to let a large shock of it obscure part of their faces, and several piercings. For years they’ve been known in the United States and Europe as emos, and now they’re under attack in Mexico.
Around the end of March, a spate of violent incidents has occurred between emos and their detractors, groups known as punks, darks and rockabillies. Driven by Internet chat and networking sites, these groups have confronted and sometimes attacked emos in Mexico City, Tijuana and the central city of Queretaro. The incident in Mexico City occurred at the renowned punk rock flea market known as El Chopo, a stunning mecca of youth subcultures.
The attack in Queretaro resulted in the bloodying of several emos, while the confrontation in El Chopo featured sporadic pushing and shoving, eventually broken up by a squadron of Mexican police, as well as a humorous appearance by chanting Hare Krishna members.
The violence was supposedly ignited by a noisy diatribe by Televisa VJ/personality Kristoff, who, using several expletives, said the emo subculture was a “stupid, weak movement” that had “no ideas or music.” (He has since criticized the anti-emo attacks, saying that if the attackers were really brave, they’d go after the Salvadoran street gang Maratrucha or even “reggaetoneros.”)
With its origins in the “emotional hard core” of bands like Fugazi, emo music took off in the `90s with bands like Weezer and Jimmy Eat World. They are perceived as depressive and are sometimes linked with self-mutilation cults. In Mexico, its followers dress in variations of punk clothing with haircuts that seem inspired by the Cure and Japanese anime characters. Their growth on the Mexican scene has aided the ascent of bands like Panda and Allison, considered part of a new wave of Mexican rock.
The conflict sparked by emos echoes recent incidents in England and even Chile, where videos of attacks on the similar subculture pokEMOnes have surfaced. It symbolizes the tricky contradictions Mexican and other Latin American cultures face in an era of globalization.
Anti-emos have been accused of homophobia and intolerance of the way emo style blurs gender, something unacceptable in a macho society. Interviews with Mexican punks are filled with comments like “You can’t tell the boys and girls apart.”
On the other hand, some commentators, while repudiating the violence, object to the way previously popular, explicitly political bands have been overshadowed by a new wave of market-friendly bands. In an article in the influential newspaper La Jornada, experts from the National Autonomous University of Mexico assert that emos “simply obey market interest” and are not an authentic urban tribe.
Authentic or not, Mexican emos deserve tolerance, and continued violence against them would represent a sad chapter in that country’s long and fascinating history of youth subculture.