As a kid, my parents told me to slow down. I was growing up “too fast.” But I couldn’t help it. I wanted nothing more than to be like my mom and tías. So I tried to imitate their looks and lifestyles.
Let me introduce myself.
My name is Rose Barraza, and I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Van Nuys, to be exact. The valley is a region in Los Angeles with a melting pot of families, the majority being Latino. And in the 90s, I had a front-row seat to traditional Latina makeup.
These are the Latina beauty essentials I was exposed to in LA during the 80s and 90s.
My mom, Guadalupe “Lupe” Ramirez, was one of nine children. Six of them were girls, and they all had a unique beauty routine.
“Makeup made me feel powerful,” my mom told me. “I could get what I wanted with just a stare because my eyes were so alluring.”
My nana, Mary Lou, recalls her home looking like a sorority house. “Music played in the bathroom, and we’d always fight over the mirror,” my mom said. “Some of us would sit up on the counter to get a closer look.”
Whether it was a backyard party, Christmas, or a wedding, my mom and tías always got done up. They rocked big, teased hair (cue the Aquanet). Some Latinas could pull off bleached blonde hair, like Tía Kiki and Auntie Jet, but most stuck with jet Black or Burgandy colored hair. Black eyeliner, eyeshadow, and thick, dark mascara were necessary.
“Even if we were just hanging out at home on the weekend, we’d put makeup on,” my mom laughed. “You never knew who was going to stop by.”
And if a Latina was really feelin’ herself back then, she would switch up her look by adding winged eyeliner, blue mascara, or white around her eyes. “If you were going to kick back at the park, you’d add your warpaint, aka white eyeshadow or liner, around your eyes,” my mom said. “It made you look tough.”
My mom’s nina, Nellie, a Chicana from the 60s, used eyeliner to draw three dots next to her eye. Yes, just like Sad Girl’s tattoos in “Mi Vida Loca.” Nellie was outspoken, and that was her way of expressing it. And in terms of eyebrows, the thinner, the better. Most women overplucked their brows, but some took it a step further.
One day, my mom watched as her Tía Alice, a chola from Van Nuys, whom my mom adored, completely shaved her eyebrows off. Tía Alice then grabbed her lighter, lit her red Maybelline pencil, blew it out, and drew a thin line where her eyebrows used to be.
My mom stood there in awe.
She’d quickly learn that beauty came at a price.
These are the big makeup crimes committed in the 90s.
Following in her Tía’s footsteps, my mom, who was only 11-years-old, also shaved her eyebrows off. And she’s been drawing them on ever since. I remember my mom always asking me one crucial question during hot valley summers: “Rose, are my eyebrows still on?”
Her eyebrows never fully grew back, and when they did, it was in patches. My mom yelled at my sisters and me when we began overplucking our brows. But despite my mom’s beauty regrets, I look at her photos and still see the qualities I love most about her.
Still I saw invaluable Latina qualities in my mom.
I see my mom’s carefree spirit, her femininity, and her strength. That’s what their makeup meant to me. It represented my mom and tía’s womanhood. When they wore their makeup, they were fun, pretty, and powerful — all of the traits I wanted to be.
Through makeup, I adopted the look and lifestyle of my mom and tías.
Eventually, my sisters and older cousins adopted the same makeup routine. I, of course, followed behind them, starting in middle school.
I even stole my mom’s blue mascara once and applied it at school with the help of my friend Maria. (Sorry, mom.)
When I first wore makeup, I felt like I was finally stepping into my womanhood. And just like the generations before me, I felt fearless and unstoppable. I’ve carried that resiliency with me throughout my life.
I once read, “You’re your ancestors’ wildest dreams.” And to that, I say thank you. Thank you for awakening my inner feminism at such a young age. I’ll always push forward in life, and it’s all thanks to my confident mom and tías.
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