Cookie Paloma and Renee De Jesus were in middle school in the Bay Area, California in the 1990s, a time when the schools they attended and neighborhoods they hung out in were predominantly low income, Latino and overflowing with gang culture. Both Cookie and Renee were repeatedly harassed and threatened for being a “Gringa.” As youth they were afraid and angry. “I’m no Gringa!” Cookie recalls yelling angrily at throngs of gangsters. But words were not enough. The best way Cookie and Renee could survive was to make their Latina heritages visible, which in this time and place translated into becoming gangsters. Becoming what they self describe as “gangsters” was not only a strategy for survival but it was also a way for them to visually represent Latina, to assert family history, in Cookie’s case a history that involves migrant Mexican farmers struggling to survive and cultural assimilation that came in the form of embodied white-washing. Today Cookie and Renee no longer regularly identify as gangsters but rather they are both successful working professionals, but their relationships to their formative teenage years spent as Cholas are still integral to who they are. Through Gangsters Revisited they explore the gangster parts of themselves from a safe distance.
This collaborative work is one part performance and one part authentic reenactment it points to the failures of photographs to ever present unmediated truth while also relying of pictures to point to the surface of identity performances and the relation between identity and aesthetics. Picturing Cookie and Renee as Gangsters now is about a remove from the authenticity of their earlier lives. To reflect this they pose in the natural landscape (rather than an urban setting where they would have typically been found in their youth), this also subtly gestures toward the fabrication of the picture. Picturing Cookie and Renee in the landscape also points to the way their personal histories are reflective of the history of the landscape of California, a landscape that used to be Mexico and that speaks to manifest destiny, colonization, racial inequity, queerness and the American Dream.