The Folk Feminist Struggle Behind the Chola Fashion Trend

by Barbara Calderón-Douglass

The transition of a predominant pachuca style to a more gang-inspired chola look happened in the 60s and 70s. The chola, the female counterpart of the cholo, was a “working-class, young Mexican American female from the barrios of the southwest with a very distinct aesthetic, style, and attitude,” according to Hellabreezy, an Oakland-based model and modern-day chola, who spent a part of her youth in the projects of LA. “But to me, a chola is the epitome of beauty, style, and pride with a badass, take-no-shit, ‘look at me but don’t fuck with me’ attitude. She is a strong and proud woman who holds it down for her family and hood.”

The term cholo (the masculine form of chola) first entered the popular lexicon in the 60s and 70s in Southern California, although it has been documented in casta paintings as early as the 16th century. According to Latin American dictionaries, it simply means “mestizo,” or a person of mixed Amerindian or Andean indigenous and European lineages. However, on the streets in the 60s and 70s, the word became slang for the Mexican American or Chicano gang-affiliated men in Southern California who wore a combination of khaki pants, Pendleton plaid shirts over a white tee, and Locs sunglasses. At this time, gangs were prevalent in barrio life. They offered a sense of family, pride, identity, self-esteem, and belonging—things Chicanos did not receive from the dominant society. (Gang members were not all men; LA has had Latina girl gangs since at least the 1930s.)

The chola aesthetic is the result of impoverished women making a lot out of the little things their families could afford. Many of the early cholos and cholas were the sons and daughters of farmworkers, a group of people exploited at high rates because of their lack of education and their vulnerability as undocumented people. In 1965, the United Farm Workers organization was fighting for a mere $1.25 hourly wage, so expensive brands were not a part of this style. Instead the girls wore cheap stuff like wife-beaters over baggy pants by brands like Dickies, a workwear label sold for cheap at local supermarkets. The style also evolved from sharing clothes with brothers and feminizing the cholo gangster look. Cholas wore their eyebrows thin, their eyeliner thick and black, and their hair teased or feathered, sometimes with tall bangs made stiff with hairspray. They also accessorized with gold jewelry: door-knocker earrings and nameplates or chain necklaces.

Events such as Style as Resistance actively honor the Chicano history of pachucos and pachucas in light of gentrification and the loss of Chicano cultural hubs in cities like Los Angeles and the Mission District of San Francisco. This is especially important because Chicano history is in danger of being pushed to the margins of the mainstream—we’ve recently seen the banning of Mexican American and general ethnic studies in Arizona and the attempted erasure of Cesar Chavez from textbooks. This whitewashing of Mexican American history makes the disassociation of the chola aesthetic from its political roots seem particularly malignant. Being a chola is more than perfect eyeliner, gold accessories, or Dickies. It’s an identity forged out of struggle to assert culture and history, a struggle that continues—just look at the racist “show me your papers” laws popping up in states all over the country, from Arizona to Indiana, and racist Mexican-themed fraternity parties in which frat boys dress not only in ponchos and sombreros but as construction workers and border patrol agents.

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“Back in the day, we were mocked for looking different. Now, so many young girls want to emulate the look and have no idea of the cultural background or street politics associated with it,” says Hellabreezy. “It’s easy for young privileged girls to want to have the look, but when they are done dressing up in their 'chola costume,’ they don’t have to go back home to the hood and deal with discrimination, violence, and poverty… We can’t just brush the Aquanet off our hair, take our hoops off, and go back to normal suburban life like they can because this is our reality. We live this every day.”

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“Today, I will greet the sun as my relative and give the morning my full attention.

I will say “I love you” into the mirror
and draw my eyeliner extra straight.

I will not call myself fat
because everything in my closet will look good on me.

I will rock my huge Latina hips
like the blessing they are.

Watch out! 
I might even wear heels.

Today, I will not hand out one unnecessary apology.

Today, I will be Chingona!”

-Yreina Flores Ortiz

Molcajete: a traditional mexican stone bowl that is used to grind food in. #molcajete #chicano #chicana #mexican #salsa #poem #poetry #chicanopoetry #instapoem #instapoetry #instaquote #fears #writersofinstagram #poetryofinstagram #spilledink #inspiration #motivation #love #quote

For the Young Chicanas Thinking of Pursuing a PhD.

The essence of Chicana feminisms is speaking out—not being submissive.
You don’t bite your tongue.
Don’t you dare bite your tongue. 
Your tongue is your weapon. 
It guides the words which free you from the chains that have held you back for so long. 
Don’t you dare apologize for speaking your mind, Chicanita. 
They’ll convince you of your arrogance, rather than applauding your honesty. 
Pero, don’t you dare change, 
You are a warrior, fighting with words. 
Your voice matters. 
The institution will try to break you down.
But mi Chicanita, 
You let that wild tongue run free.

(x)