It was Halloween of 1998, I was 13 years old, and I decided to dress up as a bruja. Well, at least like the brujas in the movie The Craft. I was inspired by Nancy’s (played by Fairuza Balk) alternative fashion and dark side. I wore all black, painted my lips and nails a deep shade of purple, and wore my dark locks straight down. Not too long after, and I can’t recall exactly how, I discovered goth, a subculture made up of darkly-inclined souls that shared my fascination with all things macabre. I was hooked and did not waste a minute to dig deeper and learn everything I could about it. Before that, I had only felt a sense of belonging within the Latino community, but suddenly there was this other group that I identified with and felt was ingrained in my blood.
The year I went as a “witch,” I attended a private Catholic school that hosted an annual costume parade during the spooky season. I can only imagine what thoughts were racing through the nuns’ heads as they saw my shadow enter the playground. I was a quiet, introverted child, and had a difficult time feeling comfortable in my skin, but that day I felt oddly empowered. When I became aware of goth, I was in awe of how it embraced the darker side of life, and as I got older I realized my confidence that day sprung from being able to express a side of myself that was normally hidden behind a Catholic school girl uniform.
At its core, goth is a music-based subculture that splintered off from post-punk around the late 1970s/early 1980s in the United Kingdom. You can’t get too deep into a discussion about the genre without bringing up founding bands, such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and The Sisters of Mercy. But over the decades it has become so much more than the music. While fashion is an intrinsic part of it too (we do adore our black wardrobe), it has become enriched further by gothic literature, dark art, diverse spiritual beliefs, and by the diversity of its community.
Contrary to how mainstream media has portrayed goths over the years, we aren’t all white and we don’t all have pale complexions. I’ll admit that when I was first getting into the scene during the late 1990s, I didn’t see many Mexican-American goths, let alone any that identified as BIPOC. Not that they weren’t out there, but the small group of goths at my high school were predominantly Caucasian, and most models I saw in alternative magazines had very fair skin and were more on the thin and small side. Although it’s an appearance commonly associated with the community, it’s far from a true representation of the subculture, and I didn’t stress myself out thinking that I was somehow less goth because my skin wasn’t a match for the lightest foundation on the market.
Instead, I found my gothic side complimented my Mexican side. I didn’t ever feel I had to choose one identity over the other, and I believe this has to do with the way Latino culture embraces certain ideas considered taboo by mainstream society. Being Mexican, I grew up appreciating Dia de los Muertos and the significance behind it, and I find the holiday shares similar perspectives with how goths view death — we don’t fear it, we find the beauty in it. This philosophy is reflected in the music and aesthetic of the scene. Just as families set up ofrendas to honor passed loved ones and people paint their faces to resemble La Catrina, graveyards and skulls are revered by goths.
There’s also an appreciation for the otherworldly that I see reflected in my heritage and the subculture. As a child, I heard more than just stories about La Llorona. My mother shared how she, my grandmother, and several other family members had encounters with spirits. Seeking the aid of curanderos when someone was sick wasn’t anything unusual. I was raised Catholic, but was also exposed to spiritual practices rooted in indigenous traditions. From these experiences, I became fascinated with the supernatural side of life from a young age and loved how the goth community shared that curiosity.
Speaking of religion, I can’t overlook the influence that Catholicism, particularly Catholicism in Latino culture, has had on the goth aesthetic in Los Angeles, where I grew up. Many gothic rock bands have incorporated religious symbolism, from crucifixes to rosaries, into their performances to shock and push boundaries. As a teen, I began having a difficult time accepting the beliefs preached by the Catholic church and was conflicted with my faith. I felt it was being forced on me, and groups, such as Christian Death, expressed my frustration through their lyrics and sound. Not all goth music focuses on religion, but the fact that the bands I was discovering dared to explore darkness, be sacrilegious, and provocative resonated with me. The genre spoke to me on a deeper level.
I find that my Latino heritage enriches the goth subculture for me. Mystical Mexican folk traditions, gothic literature, horror, Halloween, and Day of the Dead, are just a few of the ways these worlds overlap. At the age of lucky 13, I realized that my authentic self was strange and unusual, and this epiphany gave me confidence and helped me connect with a community of like-minded individuals. When I launched my blog site Vamp Jenn’s Corner in 2018, I wanted to share my macabre side and adventures with others. I’ve met so many wonderful individuals in the scene along this journey, and as a goth, I hope more people recognize that there’s much beauty to be found in darkness.