When I spotted these adorable and hilarious Selena-themed plush toys for sale at Pachanga Latino Music Festival on Saturday, I had no idea I’d stumbled onto a concerted effort to educate the populace on the history of the Latino experience in America. The items from Austin-based trio Puro Chingón Collective — Claudia Zapata, Claudia Aparicio-Gamundi and James Huizar — were created for a recent performing arts event that aimed to entertain attendees while teaching them a little Latino art history. I spoke with Claudia Zapata, who is working on a Ph.D. at Southern Methodist University in the Rhetorics of Art, Space and Culture Program in Art History (ay, chingado!), about the idea behind the event and the merchandise that came out of it.
At an April performing arts festival in Austin called Fusebox Festival, Puro Chingon Collective held a screening of the film Selena where they provided props that allowed the audience to interact with the movie, á la Rocky Horror Picture Show. “It’s very fun to have movie nights and things like that,” Zapata told me, “but the real goal is for some sort of education in terms of the history of Latino figures.”
The collective has produced a line of toys since 2014 under the name Chingolandia, so the trio decided to create some stuffed plush figures to go with the Fusebox event. The items that were left over are now available online. Sales will help fund future events, Zapata says.
Although the merchandise may seem apolitical, Zapata says a lot of thought goes into each piece. Selena represents what it’s like to be in this pathway, Zapata says, between the Americas, between Mexico and popular culture in the United States.
To the collective, telling Selena’s story is crucial because the usual storytellers in the art world are located in California and New York. That leaves Texas's history sorely underrepresented.
“Texas really is the portal to understanding the entire continent. It’s the connecting tissue to the Americas. It’s the portal to Mexico, which is the portal to South America. California and LA are connected to Mexico through tradition, but it’s not right there," Zapata says. "The real portal is Texas.”
While the Selena plush dolls are classic, I am partial to the “Anything for Salinas” car bumper, also a screen-printed, stuffed canvas item. Fans of the movie Selena will recall the scene in which Selena and her siblings take the family tour bus, “Big Bertha,” out for a joy ride and brother A.B., who’s driving, manages to get Bertha stuck in a ditch on the side of the road. Two cholos happen by in a convertible Chevy Impala. When they realize what they’ve stumbled upon, (“That ruca looks just like Salinas!”), they enthusiastically offer to tow the bus out of the ditch. Of course, Bertha is too heavy and the attempt results in the Impala’s bumper getting torn off the car. “We’ll buy you a new one,” A.B. promises. “Are you kidding?” The cholo asks. “This bumper is going on my wall,” he says. Following up with the classic line, “I mean, anything for Salinas.”
“We also did the bumper because that is one of the most quoted parts of the film, and that is the tagline that we used for most of the merchandise,” Zapata told me.
You can see all the Selena-inspired merchandise at Puro Chingon’s website, where they also have a Selena issue of their Chingozine available for purchase. Chingozine is also archived in several libraries in Texas and New York. For a list of current museum exhibits featuring Puro Chingon’s work, visit their official website.