Mexico's Emo-Bashing Problem

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Alfredo Estrella / AFP / Getty

Mexican emos are being pounced upon, turning the band Fall Out Boy's tongue-in-cheek song "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" into something unfortunately too literal.

The trio of long-haired teenagers grasped the plaza wall to shield their bodies as hundreds of youths kicked and punched them while filming the beating on cell phone cameras. "Kill the emos," shouted the assailants, who had organized over the Internet to launch the attack in Mexico's central city of Queretaro. After police eventually steamed in and made arrests, the bloody victims lay sobbing on the concrete waiting for ambulances while the mob ran through the nearby streets laughing and cheering.

Mexican news footage of the attacks

The ugly scene, which was aired on TV news bulletins, is part of a new wave of violence against this urban tribe that has sprung up in Mexico in the last decade. The emo subculture probably existed in your high school before the term even bloomed, the latest movement on a continuum represented by goths in the '80s and alternative rockers in the '90s. In yearbooks, they're the kids who wear exaggerated haircuts and immerse themselves in moody music. In short: the kids jocks have been beating up for decades.

Emos are just one of the colorful youth cultures popular in the U.S. and Europe that have swept over the Rio Grande as the nation opens up its economy and politics and a new generation grows up with the Internet and cable TV. Punks, goths, rockabillies, rastas, breakdancers, skaters and metallers all now pace Mexican streets, adorn its plazas and spray paint its walls. But while most of the trends have met with a begrudging acceptance, emos have provoked a violent backlash. As well as running riot in Queretaro, a mob also attacked emos in the heart of Mexico City this month. Furthermore, emos complain they are being increasingly threatened and assaulted by smaller groups on the streets on a daily basis. "It's getting dangerous for us to go out now. We get shouted at and spat on. We get things thing thrown at us. There is so much hate out there," said Santino Bautista, a 16-year-old emo high school student sitting in a Mexico City plaza alongside other teenagers in tight black jeans and dark makeup.

The attackers, catalogued as "anti-emos," include some from other urban tribes such as punks, metallers and cholos but many are just ordinairy working-class teenagers and young men. They deride the emos for being posers who are overly sentimental and accuse them of robbing from other music genres. With roots in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s, emo bands play a style of rock that borrows much from punk and indie rock. They focus on exploring their emotions (hence the name) with a particular dwelling on typical teenage depression.

A snapshot of the emo scene in Mexico

Most of all, however, the assailants target the emos for dressing effeminately, still a provocative act for many in a macho Mexico. "At the core of this is the homophobic issue. The other arguments are just window dressing for that," said Victor Mendoza, a youth worker in Mexico City. "This is not a battle between music styles at all. It is the conservative side of Mexican society fighting against something different."

The emos make a soft target for the aggressors. The vast majority are teenagers, often just 15 or 16 years old. Most are from comfortable middle-class backgrounds with little experience of the street battles in Mexico's hardened barrios. And by its nature, the emo scene attracts followers who prefer intellectual indulgence to fistfights. In the lead-up the mob attacks, there was increasingly aggressive talk against emos in online forums and TV music shows. Blogs raved about "killing emos" and showed cartoon drawings of decapitated long-haired heads. Internet writers called on anti-emos to "take back" public spaces such as the Plaza de Armas in Queretaro, where the black-clothed teenagers sit around.

Kristoff, a music presenter on the popular TV channel Telehit, also launched scathing criticisms of emos. In a rant packed with curses, he said it was a worthless movement of pubescent girls who fancied the lead singers of bands. However, following the mob violence, he condemned the assailants for being cowardly and said his program was just aimed at having fun.

Newsreels of hundreds of assailants beating up a few skinny teenagers shocked many in the wider public. Commentators and city officials called for tolerance, comparing the prejudice to a Nazi persecution of minorities. "The danger is that hate is permeating more and more into Mexican society," wrote commentator Hugo Garcia in the Mexican daily Milenio. "We should not forget that intolerant violence leads to fascism."

However, many of the perpetrators appeared unrepentant, posting cell phone videos of the violence on the Internet alongside celebratory messages. "Hey emos. If you are so depressed than kill yourselves," it said alongside one video. "Queretaro is better without emos."