They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters.Hatuey, Cacique of the Taino people, named the “first rebel of America” (1478-1512)
Discovering Victor Vegas’ Primer Rebelde de America brand through Instagram was a memorable experience for me. I stumbled upon the brand through either the Awake NY channel or through the founder Angelo Baque’s personal account. The eye-catching graphics featuring South-American historical references immediately caught my attention and transported me back to my childhood memories. My father migrated from Ecuador to Germany in the late 1960s, and our home was filled with Ecuadorian memorabilia, including a giant wooden Inti – the Incan sun god – hanging above our TV.
The brand’s Tumi graphics on the shirts reminded me of my lucky golden Tumi necklace, which I received nearly 20 years ago and still wear today, just like my brother who also never takes it off. Every garment I saw on Primer Rebelde de America’s Instagram page touched me on a personal level, reminding me of the stories I heard and read growing up as an Ecuadorian in a small German town. The brand not only brings back memories of my heritage, but also connects me to a larger community that shares a similar cultural background.
Primer Rebelde de America is a new and exciting brand founded by Victor Vegas, a former intern at the iconic NY-based label Awake. The brand is based in New York, on Munsee Lenape and Canarsie Land, as stated on their Instagram page. The name was used for the area that is now New York before the settlers arrived. Both Baque and Vegas, the founder of Awake, share a passion for streetwear and a common Ecuadorian heritage.
According to Vegas, Primer Rebelde de America was initially planned as an art project, using t-shirts as canvases to convey their message. What is the brand’s message? Their goal is to celebrate and preserve their cultural heritage through their designs, connecting people with their history and creating a sense of community. Whether you have a personal connection to South American culture or are just a fan of unique and meaningful fashion, Primer Rebelde de America is a brand to watch.
It can best be described as:
Know your Enemies. Know your Heroes.
I’ve previously mentioned the concept of “edutainment” when writing about Awake for Title. This term, a combination of the words education and entertainment, was coined by hiphop icon KRS-One and perfectly describes Primer Rebelde de America. The designs in the brand’s collections are not only inspired by the rich indigenous history of America, but also offer a fresh perspective on history beyond traditional textbooks.
Challenging the notion that the continent was discovered by illiterate pig farmers like Francisco Pizzaro or slave-owners such as Christopher Columbus, Primer Rebelde de America created the “Columbus Must Die” long sleeve, featuring a collage of important historical figures such as Hatuey, the Taino chief who earned the nickname “first rebel of America” for his resistance against Spanish colonizers and is the inspiration behind the brand’s name, Inca general Ruminahui, and the ancient city of Machu Picchu in Peru.
When the spaniards fueled by their greed for gold conquered “the new world“, they went by the occupier’s handbook and made sure to wipe out all existing culture, thereby reducing the rich culture of countless different people to one today still-used term – latino.
1: a native or inhabitant of Latin America
But what is Latin America and where does the name originate? The term itself is an insult and a straight continuation of the wildfire of extermination started by the conquistadores many centuries ago. Primer Rebelde de America took on the topic and released one of their most infamous garments, a shirt stating “INDIGENOUS. NOT LATINO. LATIONS ARE ANGLO EUROPEANS FROM ITALY. NOT HISPANIC. HISPANICS ARE ANGLO EUROPEANS FROM SPAIN.” also featuring the face of Ruminahui, the Inca warrior born in now-Ecuador, who led the rebellion against the Spaniards after Inca King Athahualpa was kidnaped and killed.
Accordingly the Burning Santa Maria tee was released displaying the Santa Maria – Christopher Columbus’ ship used on his first voyage to discover the new world – engulfing in flames. Unfortunately history did not play out that way, but I dig it. Just as every indigenous or honorable person would. Latinos might find it too radical.
In 2022 the brand released a t-shirt with bold lettering spelling out American Holocaust, a nod to historian David Stannards book American Holocaust – Columbus and the Conquest of the New World. The book details the history of the genocide on native people going back to 1492, when their choices where to give up their religion, their lands and culture or to suffer further punishment by the European colonizers.
The colonization of the Americas through European colonizers caused the death of around 56 million indigenous people. A trauma that still affects the continent until today.
Paz, Tierra, Justicia, Comida y Educación
Primer Rebelde de America is not only about hate against the oppressor. It’s about the love for its people and a continent that has been in the West’s stranglehold since the first Spanish feet touched the “new world’s” soil. Their recently released collab with Awake nails what the continent and its people are striving for – peace, land, justice, food, education, health, freedom, democracy, a home and equality.
In September of 2022 the brand also hosted a screening of 2010’s movie Tambien La Lluvia / Even the Rain, a movie set to the backdrop of the 1999/2000 Cochabamba Water War in Bolivia. Community events like this perfectly fit the brand.
Vegas stated that he has plans to extend the brand in the future and I personally hope to see Primer Rebelde de America soon in stores around the globe, but especially worn on the bodies of people transporting the rich history of a proud continent and the remembrance of millions of people killed and enslaved.
While writing this article a quote by Argentinian revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara come to my mind:
“Ningún pueblo de América Latina es débil, porque forma parte de una familia de doscientos millones de hermanos que padecen las mismas miserias, albergan los mismos sentimientos, tienen el mismo enemigo, sueñan todos un mismo mejor destino y cuentan con la solidaridad de todos los hombres y mujeres honrados del mundo.”
“No people in Latin America is weak, because it is part of a family of two hundred million brothers who suffer the same miseries, harbor the same feelings, have the same enemy, all dream of the same better destiny and count on the solidarity of all honorable men and women of the world.”Ernesto Che Guevara’s speech at the UN (1964)
Victor Vegas incorporated those feeling of suffering, misery, but also of pride and honor into his brand. A brand to identify with and to stand behind – wether you are living in Berlin or on Munsee Lenape and Canarsie Land.