Riot police have taken to the streets of several cities in Mexico to ... defend emo kids?
A series of attacks on dyed-hair, eye-makeup-wearing emo kids began in early March when several hundred people went on an emo-beating rampage in Querétaro, a town of 1.5 million about 160 miles north of Mexico City.
The next week, shaggy-haired emo teenagers were harassed again by punks and rockabillys in the capital, prompting police protection and a segment on the TV news. Most recently, a Mexican newspaper reported that metal heads and gangsters have warned Tijuana's emo kids to stay away from the town's fair next month.
But the so-called emos are organizing, too. Last week, they demonstrated against the violence, pictured above, and Wednesday some met with police in Mexico City.
Music-based subcultures have permeated Mexico's major cities for decades, fueled by constant migration from rural cities. But only in the past year have emos begun to make their presence felt in the streets. In response, many of the established so-called tribus urbanas like punks and metalheads are responding with violence. The emo-punk battles are reminiscent of earlier subculture fights among various factions, like the Hell's Angels fighting hippies at the Altamont Music Festival or the Mods taking on the Rockers.
But while videos of Mexican teenagers with pompadours advancing on equally baby-faced emo rockers seem like scenes from a south-of-the-border version of John Waters' Crybaby, there are ugly undercurrents to the story.
First, by some accounts, the emo subculture is identified with homosexuality in Mexico. As Mexico City youth worker Victor Mendoza told Time.com: "At the core of this is the homophobic issue. The other arguments are just window dressing for that."
Gustavo Arellano, the author of Ask a Mexican and an editor at OC Weekly, said that the sexual ambiguities cultivated by emo fashion helped set the group up for targeting by more macho groups.
"What do you do when you are confronted with a question mark about sexuality in Mexico?" Arellano said. "You beat it up."
Forum posts show similar sentiments. One person wrote on a government youth-website forum, "detesto a los emosexuales," which translates as "I hate emosexuals." Emosexual is an obvious play on homosexual, especially in Spanish, where the H is silent.
Many of the attacks have been planned, or at least fomented, on violently anti-emo websites like Movimiento Anti Emosexual, which features videos of physical violence sprinkled liberally with anti-gay sentiment. Last.fm's Anti Emo Death Squad group has almost 4,000 members.
But Arellano said he thought the riots could have a positive impact here in the US.
"It's a great clusterfuck for the American mind's idea of Mexico," Arellano said. "This teaches the rest of the world that Mexico is not just a bunch of cactuses and sombreros."
Photo: Mexican emo kids gather in response to anti-emo violence by metalheads and punk rockers.