by E.M. Markoff
The importance of racial and cultural representation in mainstream media is much discussed these days, as any number of essays, YouTube videos, and social media controversies would show. One thing that I have not often seen discussed, however, is the importance of representation in less mainstream places — in counterculture, in surreal media, in the dark.
Hollywood, unsurprisingly, does not have a great reputation for diverse, accurate representation. As a Mexican-American growing up in deep south Texas, I got used to seeing people like me represented in mainstream media as “the help,” the “comedic sidekick,” the “homewrecker,” the “Latin lover,” or the “narco.” Fortunately, I was able to see myself represented in Mexican media channels, which offered more than the tropes and stereotypes common in Hollywood. Of course, this is not to say that there haven’t been great Mexican and Mexican-American actors in Hollywood that I admired growing up: Anthony Quinn, Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz, Ricardo Montalbán, Cantinflas, and Katy Jurado, to name a few. Even still, in Anthony Quinn’s case, it would have been great to see him play the title role of Emiliano Zapata—an important Mexican revolutionary—in 1952’s Viva Zapata! instead of Marlon Brando.
That type of miscasting is slowly changing thanks to the efforts of BIPOC artists and activists, who have been fighting for decades to make their voices heard. Not that Mexican media doesn’t have its own issues: Colorism and racism against the native indigenous peoples of Mexico are very present, both in media portrayals and in reality. That’s what being colonized does; it tears your identity apart and leaves wounds that only temporarily scab over.
But as blessed as I was to have access to Mexican media and music, very little of it spoke to me on a personal or spiritual level. Without realizing it, a part of me longed to see myself represented in the things I loved, and I love Horror.
I love the surreal.
I love the dark.
I don’t remember when I first saw David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but I remember the feeling of hot tears burning my eyes and the llanto, the cry welling in my chest at Rebekah Del Rio’s performance in the Club Silencio scene. Through the character of Rita—played by Mexican-American actress Laura Herring—that moment became personal to me. It allowed me to see myself represented in a film that encapsulated what my heart had always longed to see—a Mexican-American actress in a starring role that was not a stereotype, cast in a surreal film by a director that I admire. Rebekah Del Rio’s powerful performance was the icing on the cake: She was not there as a token element, she was there to further the story by bringing emotion, and damn did she bring it. When Rita cried, I cried. Seeing yourself represented in what you love holds power.
On the music front, I love industrial and aggrotech, a genre that tends to be very white and European. Or so I thought until I picked up Hocico’s 2004 album Wrack and Ruin. Hocico is an aggrotech/dark-electro Mexican duo hailing from Mexico City. Formed in 1993 by lead singer Erk Aicrag (Erik Garcia) and Racso Agroyam (Oscar Mayorga), they fused the dark, harsh sounds of industrial—along with its rejection of the mainstream—with the danceable beats of electronic to create a sound and an aesthetic that was uniquely their own. Their music videos and live performances often showcase elements (from mariachi to Dia de los Muertos, to Danza Azteca) that are part of their culture—my culture.
Here was a band that was part of the music scene I loved, yet still were unapologetically Mexican. They had succeeded by being themselves. They showed me that you can be part of a counterculture and still be proud and loud of your culture and who you are. It meant so much to me because I don’t care much for the music some might say I’m “supposed” to be listening to (the exception being música ranchera, which I LOVE!), and sometimes I’ve even been shamed or made to feel guilty for not being “Mexican enough.”
Back in 2011, I had the privilege of being able to see Hocico perform live in Germany and even had an opportunity to chat with them. Those two Mexican bastards (as they call themselves) are one of my biggest inspirations, and their generosity will always have a special place in my heart; it can be very isolating not seeing yourself reflected in what you love. Being able to see them on a huge stage, in a foreign land, surrounded by foreigners singing along in broken Spanish will always be a powerful moment for me.
So yeah, I really believe it does make a difference in a person’s life to see themselves reflected in what they love. It’s part of why I’ve made a conscious effort to subtly incorporate elements of Mexican culture into my own writing. Representation is important, but it can’t be limited to the mainstream, because the mainstream doesn’t speak to everyone. We also need representation in the dark.
About the Author:
Latinx author and publisher E.M. Markoff writes about damaged heroes and imperfect villains. Works include The Deadbringer, To Nurture & Kill, and “Leaving the #9.” Under her imprint Tomes & Coffee Press, she published Tales for the Camp Fire, a charity anthology to raise money for California wildfire recovery and relief efforts. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and is mostly made up of coffee, cat hair, and whiskey.
You can find her books in print and ebook on Amazon.