I remember in middle school everyone started forming their cliques. There were the rockers, the nerds, the chunti girls and the cholas, to name a few. During history class, the cholas wrote their name in chalk on the board when the teacher wasn’t looking or bumped their music on their MetroPCS phones. I remember watching fights happening in the girls locker rooms or Templeton Alley. I also remember the hairspray being sprayed after P.E. to hold their bangs and them doing each other’s eyebrows or giving each other piercings with a safety pin. These were Gage Middle School cholas, cholas from South East LA.
Just a few weeks ago week, social media users called out Bella Dona LA, a LA based clothing line, that had a white model: Breanna Mae Thomas. Her modeling website was spread all over tumblr with her ethnicity being stated as Eastern European and skin color white. This began online conversations about white girls who appropriate chola culture and eventually deeper critical thoughts centered around the idea of Latinas appropriating chola culture as well. This was more than “drama” as many bloggers tried to make it seem, but a call out for representation of darker and Afro-Latinxs in fashion and for a stop of appropriation of a subculture within our communities. Latina models were also asked about their light skin privilege taking up too much space in a clothing line that needs to have equal representation.
Colorism is a very big deal in the Latinx community; it seeps into our culture, the media, music, and clothing brands. Light skinned babies are always praised for their beauty and how lucky they are to be born light. Comments like “I don’t want to get black” are said when people don’t want to go out in the sun because they might tan, even those who already have brown skin. Darker skinned Latinxs get profiled faster than light skinned Latinxs and even the representation of light skinned people in the media further marginalizes darker skinned people, indigenous people and Afro-Latinxs. Representation in fashion always follows european standards of beauty, so when a clothing line for and by women of color hire white women and light skinned or white passing women, it further marginalized members of the Latinx community continue to be marginalized instead of uplifted.
Latinxs also do not share one similar experience. Cholas are part of a subculture within Latinxs and Chicanxs that was formed in the Southwest, as forms of resisting assimilation. During the Mexican Repatriation starting in 1929, during the time of the Zoot Suits and up until now with many communities still infested with criminalization and gentrification, cholas have been a part of rebelling against assimilation.
Subcultures like cholas and punks have formed out of resistance and DIY (do-it-yourself) to overcome struggles of class issues and capitalism. Chola aesthetic is not a fashion statement but rather an identity that needs to be respected for its bold and clear resistance against a society that pressure people into assimilating. This becomes more of a problem when people appropriate the culture, just because they are middle and upper class and can afford clothing lines that use that style. Cultural exploitation and criminalization for being part of the chola subculture has been happening since its beginning so to turn the subculture into a commodity and sell it in inaccessible prices, targeting higher income Latinxs and white people who “appreciate” Latinx culture turns the chola aesthetic into something that can be worn without dealing with the struggles of low income living.
The harm in perpetuating that culture is what has pushed low income communities of color out. Photo shoots in Echo Park glamorize the neighborhood and the clothing so that its something cool and hip while the raising living prices push people out and bring in those who can afford it. We are in a time and place where these conversations about colorism have to be addressed, because they are deeply rooted in anti-blackness and self hate. Without supporting one another and our struggles solidarity is compromised. Know your history and know when to use your privileges and challenge systems like white supremacy, because they are present in our day to day from television to fashion clothing lines. Bella Dona is only one example but not a unique case.
Read more on the folk feminist struggle here.