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Chicas Rockeras: A rock camp for girls in southeast LA

Melissa Ramirez
Melissa Ramirez
Melissa Ramirez

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The rock-n-roll camp for girls movement had its start in Portland, Oregon almost 15 years ago. These day camps have spread all over the world — there are more than 55 now — including one right here in downtown Los Angeles.

But what about southeast Los Angeles?

It's a part of L.A. County between the 110, 105 and the 710 and 5 freeways, containing cities like Huntington Park, South Gate and Bell — a working class area that’s been off the radar of the arts and culture scene in L.A. But a punk rocker who goes simply by the name Marin has been trying to change that. Last year, she and other like-minded women kick-started Chicas Rockeras of Southeast Los Angeles.

“Why do folks have to go outside of southeast L.A. to access music, to access self-confidence, to be in an environment that's so positive? That's what really inspired me to bring it home,” she said.

Marin came up in South Gate and earned her punk rock chops drumming in an all-women-of-color band called Bruise Violet. She credits her participation in the punk scene with teaching her how to make things happen with whatever resources are available.

Marin and her fellow camp organizers came of age in the punk rock house party scene of South Central and Southeast L.A., and they apply their DIY approach to Chicas Rockeras in Huntington Park.

For both the campers and the volunteers, the idea behind rock camp has never been about professionalism in music. The goal is to encourage self-esteem and self-empowerment in young girls through music.

In just one week, girls ages 8 to 17 learn an instrument, form a band, write an original song and perform it at a concert in front of their families, friends and rock camp community. Most adult musicians don’t work this quickly. Campers also learn life skills and community-building through workshops, skits, guest speakers and performers.

“Girls are often made to feel small, to not be loud, to not take up space,” Marin said. “So imagine being 10, coming into camp, and being told ‘Yes you can’ over and over again, being celebrated for your mistakes, given a high-five, or even being encouraged to yell into a mic. Some girls, they have a breakdown, but they also have a breakthrough.”

The infectious energy of rock camp also has the power to change the lives of the adult volunteers, many of whom confess to learning a lot about themselves in the process. More often than not, they say they wish they’d had something encouraging and validating like rock camp growing up.

“If I had someone showing me or explaining to me what it is to be a person of color, what it is to be gender queer,” Marin said. “I would've been more comfortable in my skin. Instead, it took me so long to come out, because I didn't have these conversations with anybody.”

Every aspect of this camp is tailored to both confronting and embracing the realities of girls growing up in Southeast L.A. From the bilingual theme song and instruction to the separation of the campers into age-divided groups called the “Bidi Bidis” and the “Bom Boms,” this rock camp provides an accessible, affordable (100 percent sliding scale), safe space for girls to explore and express their identities.

The beauty, said Marin, is that these young girls can take the energy and pride generated from camp home to their own lives and communities. As Chicas Rockeras SELA wraps up their second year of summer camp, Marin shouts: “We’re trying to take over the world one rock camp at a time!”

You can catch Chicas Rockeras SELA’s public showcase concert of camper bands on Saturday, July 30, at Aspire Ollin University Prep, 2540 E. 58th St., Huntington Park, CA 90255. The show kicks off at 1pm. Click here for event details.