Remembering Mia Zapata, a punk pioneer under The Sign of the Crab
The leader of The Gits was the victim of a sexist murder in 1993, but both her music and her legacy inspired women to use their throats and fists against their aggressors.
Ohio's Antioch College was considered in the heyday of the civil rights struggle, the golden '70s, one of the liberal arts schools that catalyzed legions of artists and youth activists.
Its revolutionary past preceded this institution. In the mid 80's Antioch was still breathing the air of freedom accompanied by the roar of the new movements, punk, and the nascent grunge.
Mia Zapata and the rest of the musical squad met in school and founded The Gits, a punk band that, as time went by and in another state, Washington, was to become the noisy soundtrack of the punk feminists with their amazing stage shows and the impetuous way in which the Mexican-American Zapata literally "devoured" the stage.
By then, Seattle had established itself as the city of reference for alternative rock and grunge, with a handful of disaffected young people of great musical talent who were shaking the foundations of tradition, among them Nirvana and Soundgarden.
Mia Zapata's presence on the scene was an extraordinary anomaly at the time: an uncomplicated Latina woman in an ocean of all-white bands. And while The Gits' songs, as columnist Sofia Andrade argues for Crimson, were not overtly feminist, the band began playing with other bands like 7 Years Bitch, who were.
The Gits' first studio album, Frenching The Bully, placed them at the epicenter of subversive Seattle music in the early 1990s and made them very popular thanks to the fact that their concerts were free. This is how the band started touring, with gigs all over the country and even in some European cities.
However, during the summer of 1993, as The Gits' second album, Enter: The Conquering Chicken, was about to become a reality, tragedy struck from Seattle's darkest alleys to its most public squares, shocking not only the music scene but an entire city.
That July night, Zapata had gone to celebrate the band's success with friends and was leaving a Seattle bar in the wee hours of the morning when she was horrifically abused and murdered by a man whose identity would not be known until decades later - according to some sources, Zapata was recognized by the coroner's deputy, who was a fan of The Gits.
While this was a setback for Seattle musicians, many friendly bands banded together to organize benefit concerts and hire a private investigator to shed light on Zapata's death. But something else happened...
After Mia's murder, many Seattle women who had known her began to come together to share their grief and anger, and many more experiences of abuse, whether in childhood, by strangers, or intimate partner abuse, emerged.
Seeing that all these forms of violence were connected, they founded Home Alive, an organization to teach self-defense to women in Seattle still operating today.
As Crimson columnist Andrade explains, the tragedy also impacted the Riot Grrrl movement and the underground and feminist punk of the third wave.
"The Riot Grrrl group 7 Year Bitch, for example, released their classic second album "¡Viva Zapata!" a year later in tribute to the singer, with many of the tracks directly commenting on her murder. In "M.I.A.," singer Selene Vigil calls for justice against the killer. Bikini Kill vocalist and Riot Grrrl activist Kathleen Hanna teamed up with rock star Joan Jett to write "Go Home," a song inspired by Zapata. The powerful music video shows a woman fighting back after being attacked late at night," she wrote.
Although Mia Zapata was not the first Latina in punk - ten years earlier Alice Bag, aka Violence Girl, was already taking East LA by storm - both inspired many Latina artists to kick stages with their melodic punk, such as Generacion Suicida, Destruye y Huye, Las Cochinas or the all-female Chicana band Fea.
Her legacy comes to us today, full of rage and guitar strumming through her songs...
You take me off the rollercoaster
Of your serial killing ways
I'm down the rollerpiece
You find my bowl that's it
You're always taking me back to the same place
I wonder if I'm here just to take the rap
The Gits, “Sign Of The Crab"