African American Studies


Rebel Diaz

Rodrigo Venegas - "RodStarz" b. 19 November 1979; Churchsea, England

Gonzalo Venegas - "G1" b. 14 February 1985; Chicago, Illinois

Teresita Ayala - "Lah Tere" b. 24 September 1979; Chicago, Illinois

Rebel Diaz is a hip-hop group living and working out of the Bronx. The individuals making up Rebel Diaz come from politically active families in Chicago. The Venegas brothers are sons of Chilean "exiles." Their parents were student activists of El Movimento de Izquierda Revolucionaria. After the CIA military coup that placed Augusto Pinochet as head of state, their father was sent to jail and their mother was forced to hide. Eventually the couple relocated to England, where Rodrigo was born and where their father earned a PhD in Chemistry. Upon immigrating to the United States, the family lived first in Houston, TX before settling in Chicago. Rodrigo remembers the many political movements and immigrant communities contributing to the "politcally charged environment" of 1980s Chicago (3). He transitions into a discussion of his memories of the Chicago hip-hop scene with his brother Gonzalo. The subject continues with Gonzalo's discussion of the impact and influence of listening to the political La Nueva Cancion music as children.

Teresita discusses her life as a "first-generation American." Her father emigrated from Puerto Rico to Chicago in 1975 with a group of 75 teachers from a Catholic university to teach bilingual education in Humboldt Park. Previously married to a Norwegian immigrant, Teresita's mother, who immigrated to the United States in 1967, had two daughters when she married Teresita's father. The couple both taught at Humboldt Park High School. Teresita discusses the influence of the Puerto Rican organization, Afeda on her childhood and her relationship with her ancestry. While at Roberto Clemente High School, Teresita sang in the school's salsa band. She notes the musical influence of bomba y plena in her native Carolina, Puerto Rico, a predominately black area, in her own music and identity.

Rodrigo explains the importance of education in his family while discussing his parents' careers. He and Gonzalo continue with descriptions of how politics and the importance of education impacted their schooling experience. Rodrigo discusses how his break dancing helped him to escape gang membership. He continues with explanations on how the physical appearance was dictated by the gang culture. Teresita includes reflections on her own experiences attending a high school known for its prominent gang culture and her "free pass" because of her father's influence in the community. She remembers the importance of education, as influenced by her parents, and the expectation of a college degree.

Prompted by Dr. Naison, Teresita, Rodrigo and Gonzalo discuss Latin music, hip-hop, Latin freestyle and break dancing in their neighborhoods. Rodrigo remembers how his break dancing crew, Chicago Champions battled and won the use of Chicago in their name and discusses other Hip-Hop Props Award winners. Teresita recalls her experience and participation in ciphers in high school. Rodrigo discusses his transition from break dancing to rapping as influenced by his love of writing. He raps in both English and Spanish but started primarily in English. Teresita also sang in both English and Spanish in the salsa group.

Rodrigo and Teresita discuss how they met. Rodgrigo graduated from Lanston High School before attending University of Illinois. The two formally met at college, but Rodrigo remembers seeing Teresita being interviewed on the news about her high school's financial and political connects with the Puerto Rican independence movement. Rodrigo and Teresita recall the atmosphere of their college experience--dealing with racism on campus, while growing academically and musically and their participation in the Latino Cultural Center on campus. Music was a large part of their college experience through their extracurricular and social lives. Eventually Rodrigo and Teresita recorded a song together.

The conversation shifts to the start of Rebel Diaz and the influences on Gonzalo. He states his identification as a black expressing that he "had the least Latino influence." As a youth, Gonzalo's mother sent her son to family in Chile for about year during high school. In Chile, he lived with his grandparents between the neighborhoods of Peñalolén, Ñuñoa and La Reina in Santiago. Gonzalo provides commentary on his experience with poverty in these neighborhoods. He explains that the neighborhoods provided him with significant musical influence. During college Rodrigo also spent a year in Chile, after the experience, the brothers started to include the Spanish language into their music. Upon high school graduation (in Chile), Gonzalo entered the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University with a scholarship. Gonzalo and Rodrigo resided in Bushwick, in Brooklyn and Teresita lived in New Jersey.

Prompted by Dr. Naision, the group discusses their evolution into Rebel Diaz. Gonzalo is a member of Ill Descript, a group made up of his high school friends. Rodrigo, Gonzalo and Teresita performed and recorded together as RodStarz--the name associated with this and other recordings comes from Rodrigo's Chicago rap name. Rodrigo and Gonzalo made a mix tape called "Desde El Lago Hasta El Mar" which was mostly referred to as the Rodstarz mix tape. Known in the New York region as Rodstarz or Ill Descript, the Rodrigo and Gonzalo toured different colleges before Teresita moved to New York and joined the group. She got a job at "Mothers on the Move" and relocated to New York City in April 2006. As a group they performed as part of the 1 May 2006 "Day of Absence." At the time Rodrigo was living in the Bronx and working for "Youth Ministries of Peace and Justice."

The conversation transitions into a discussion of how living in the Bronx compares to living in Chicago. Teresita discusses her move to the Bronx. Prior to working at "Mothers on the Move," Teresita worked as an international organizer with SCIU. She notes the presence of prostitution in the neighborhood she settled in and the decreased presence of gangs.

Rodrigo discusses the power of social organization in the Bronx and his involvement with the community around him. Based on his recollections, it is clear he is a role model to the youth he encounters. Teresita includes how "spiritually" involved she is, stating, "This all about what I was sent to do, this is my purpose, this is my work" (47). Prompted by Dr. LaBennett, Teresita discusses women in hip-hop and her experience as a female hip-hop artist. The group discusses their commitment as organizers and the interview closes with mention of how they plan to continue as activists.

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