Making space for historically excluded communities is at the forefront of Marlen Rios-Hernandez’s work as an educator and organizer.
Rios-Hernandez is an assistant professor in the Chicana/o Studies department in her first year teaching at Cal State Fullerton. Her areas of expertise center on the punk subculture and its connection to the evolution of policing through the eyes of Black, Chicana, and Latina women and queer women.
Rios-Hernandez’s interest in punk music was sparked after 9/11 when his brother was deployed for two tours during the Iraq War.
“Being in a punk scene became a political commitment as much as a personal commitment to self-preservation,” Rios-Hernandez said.
Rios-Hernandez loved that punk reflected a connection between her mental health journeys and her identity as a queer first-generation Chicana student. She found a sense of belonging within the punk community, as it was made up of people who also felt excluded because of their identity.
“Punk is not easily reproduced twice. It exists very uniquely when heard live,” Rios-Hernandez said. “I find a lot of kinship with that kind of uniqueness.”
Rios-Hernandez was drawn to ethnic studies because of her personal experiences and the effect of the war in Iraq on herself and her self-education in politics.
According to her mother, Maria Elena Rios, Rios-Hernandez has always been an advocate for human rights. Rios said her daughter helped immigrant students who didn’t speak English when she was younger. Although she thought Rios-Hernandez would become a lawyer, Rios motivated her daughter to pursue her aspirations.
She linked her experience of the walkouts to protest the Iraq War to the walkouts during the Chicano movement, seeing it as part of a bloodline. At community college, she met feminists, queer people, and people of color who spoke a language she understood and listened to, and the music she loved.
“I live at a particular time where things feel directly impacted by politicians I’ve never met, who don’t look like me, and I just need to find some articulation of that frustration of why this is happening. and why the communities around me hurt the most,” Rios-Hernandez said.
His research focuses on the history of punk culture in Southern California from the 1970s to the 2000s after the end of the Counterintelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, an FBI program that attempted to discredit organizations like the Black Panther. Party. . Rios-Hernandez also researches police crackdowns on the punk scene in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s.
Rios-Hernandez said the goal of her research is to show there’s always room for people of color, Indigenous peoples, the LGBTQ community and women, even if they’re not represented in the books. of history or in the dominant consciousness.
Rios-Hernandez was earning her doctorate at UC Riverside when she founded PunkCon, a biannual college conference and backyard show that brings together diverse punk artists, musicians, activists, and scholars. She founded the conference with Susana Sepulveda, a graduate student in the doctoral program in gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona.
Sepulveda and Rios-Hernandez had similar goals of giving back to their communities and building a bridge between punk and their college life. They aimed to showcase their punk communities, especially people of color, women of color, and people who identify as LGBTQ.
“It was kind of like showcasing the communities that we’re part of that aren’t always seen as interdependent or interconnected, but for us, that’s our reality,” Sepulveda said. “So to really highlight our punk communities, especially people of color and women of color and queer people in punk that aren’t often highlighted in mainstream punk narratives and really create a space for them .”
They co-hosted the first PunkCon in the spring of 2019 when Rios-Hernandez was at UC Riverside and Sepulveda was in Tucson, Arizona. The event took place in person at UC Riverside. To make the event as accessible as possible and mitigate any accidental checks, they made attendance free and offered food. Several guest speakers involved in the punk scene appeared at the event, such as Alice Bag and two members of the band F—U Pay Us.
The second PunkCon was a roundtable held on Zoom last year with moderator Richard T. Rodriguez of UC Riverside and guest speaker Chrissy Martinez and others involved in the punk scene and academia. The third PunkCon will take place locally next spring.
Rios-Hernandez hopes other events like PunkCon will be replicated across multiple campuses, genres, and communities.
Rios-Hernandez is currently working on a book that will cover a historical arc from the 1970s to the 2000s. The book will include commentary on television portrayals of color punks, the horror genre and punk representation, as well as interviews with black and brown queer punks.
Alexandro J. Gradilla, associate professor in Chicana/o studies at CSUF, said Rios-Hernandez was an impressive addition to CSUF.
“Dr. Rios-Hernandez’s interest in music and alternative forms of everyday politics and resistance would attract many students because she based her knowledge and teaching on popular forms that students would recognize absolutely and with which they would connect,” said Gradilla.
The Chicana/o studies professor considers herself a resource for so-called “weird kids” on campus. Rios-Hernandez hopes to impress upon students that there is someone out there who understands the importance of alternative scenes and the importance of keeping this type of studies in the same weight as other fields that may be taken more seriously. serious.
“If you’re weird, I want to meet you,” Rios-Hernandez said. “Because you have a right to be here, and I want to be the person who reminds people that they have a place.”