By Edgar Mendez Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Jan 22, 2024 at 4:01 PM

Born in Puebla, Mexico, but raised in Milwaukee, artist Carlos Herrada grew up with a deep appreciation for the cholo lifestyle that was evident in his South Side neighborhood.

“Seeing it as a kid I looked up to the culture,” said Herrada, 32, who is also a photographer and illustrator.

While the cholo culture is sometimes associated with gangs, it mainly relates to a style of dress, behaviors and other aspects of the Chicano experience.

Those characteristics, together in the form of a two-inch figurine, are what drew many, including Herrada, to become fans of the “The Homies.”

In 2020, Herrada was able to channel his appreciation for the figurines into what became the Milwaukee Homies project, which involves using photos submitted by fans to produce a digital Homie image for a fee.

Bringing back "The Homies" 

Created as an underground comic strip by California artist David Gonzales in the ‘90s and later sold as figurines out of gumball machines in Latinx neighborhoods across America, “The Homies” are a series of Chicano characters common to many Mexican Americans.

“Homies were huge back then,” recalled Herrada. “I would see them at the store and ask my parents for them.”

Herrada said his parents didn’t have the money for them and didn’t want him to idolize characters who went by names including Smiley, Pelon and Loco.

“My parents didn’t see them in the way I did,” he said.

"Everyone loves them"

Herrada said when he creates Homies, he tries to capture the essence of the people by including small details like hats, clothes or tattoos.

“Everyone loves them,” Herrada said. 

So far, he’s created more than 90 Milwaukee Homies, featuring homeboys and homegirls, lowriders, pets and other images.

He designed one recently for Anita G, who grew up with an appreciation for The Homies stickers and figurines.

“This was such a cool opportunity to have a Homie character made of me,” she said. “I can show my children and grandchildren: Look, that’s me.”  The original Milwaukee Homies image featured El Sebas and Cristo Paz, who together form the popular Milwaukee hip-hop duo Browns Crew

Herrada's debut image features the Browns Crew's Cristo Paz (brown hat) and El Sebas (beard and blue hat) as Homies.
Herrada's debut image features the Browns Crew's Cristo Paz (brown hat) and El Sebas (beard and blue hat) as Homies.

In 2020, El Sebas was supporting an organization he co-founded, Ayuda Mutua MKE, which provided food, clothes and hygiene products to the community during the pandemic.

Herrada designed hoodies and shirts featuring the Browns Crew as Homies to help raise funds for Ayuda Mutua MKE.

Both Herrada and El Sebas were blown away when they saw the final product.

“We grew up seeing Homies in the vending machines wanting to get them. So to be part of that legacy was really cool,” Cristo Paz said.

Precious memories

El Sebas recalled buying a Homie each time he went to El Campesino, a Mexican supermarket located at 635 W. Greenfield Ave., near Walker’s Point.

He said the popularity of the Milwaukee Homies project stems from a combination of nostalgia and representation.

“Many of us have memories associated with collecting homies, but people also like to see themselves reflected in culture,” he said.

Cristo Paz said he appreciates the diversity of characters in Milwaukee Homies, which draws parallels to a message conveyed in the duo’s song, “100 Mexicanos.”

“Like our song, (Herrada’s) project displays a wide range of people in our community with a wide range of influences,” Cristo Paz said.

Herrada said he hopes to create a mural on the South Side that features the Milwaukee Homies.

“People see murals all the time, but the cool thing would be being able to see yourself and all your homies on the wall,” he said.

Herrada said the project has helped him form deeper relationships.

“I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of really cool people working on this project,” he said. “They feel connected to it, and I feel connected to my community when I create them.”

Edgar Mendez Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Edgar Mendez is a beat reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, covering Clarke Square, the neighborhood in which he lives. Prior to joining the team at NNS he was a feature writer for El Conquistador Newspaper in Milwaukee, and a web writer/reporter for in Racine.

Mendez, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, graduated from UW-Milwaukee, with a double major in Journalism and Media Communications and Sociology. In 2008, he won a Society of Professional Journalists' regional award for social columns dealing with diverse issues such as poverty, homelessness and racism. Currently, he's a master's degree student at the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University.

His interests include scholastic research, social networking and the Green Bay Packers.