Laura Di Lorenzo (left) and Mimi Davila, creators of “Chongalicious” YouTube video. Picture from Miami New Times.
An everyday scene across a Miami street, regardless of the day or hour, includes cars rolling through, vibrating with loud reggaeton music. Mixing Latin and Caribbean styles of music, adolescents sing and rap along with Daddy Yankee, Zion y Lennox, and Farruko. However, although many first generation of Spanish speaking immigrants in Miami embrace it, 1.5 immigrants as well as second generation immigrants seem to dispel their association with the music. Several times in Miami when I was with friends and a reggaeton song would come on the radio, someone would inevitably ask to change it, explaining that it was too “chongalicious,” too “refee.” Although not explicitly trying to insult refugees, immigrants, or the music, such language reflects the implicitly racist and sexist attitudes prevalent against immigrants within the Latino communities in Miami and South Florida in general.
Possibly originating from “chusma,” the term chonga serves as a technique in which 1.5 or second generation immigrant youth distance themselves from newly arrived adolescents. In Jillian Hernandez’ article, “Miss, You Look Like a Bratz Doll”: On Chonga Girls and Sexual-Aesthetic Excess,” Jose Esteban Muñoz’s is quoted defining “chusma” as follows :
“Chusmeria is, to a large degree, linked to a stigmatized class identity. Within Cuban culture, for instance, being called chusma might be a technique for the middle class to distance itself from the working class; it may be a barely veiled racial slur suggesting that one is too black; it sometimes connotes gender nonconformity. In the United States, the epithet chusma also connotes recent immigration and a general lack of “Americanness,” as well as excessive nationalism—that one is somewhat over the top about her Cubanness. The sexuality of individuals described as chusmas is also implicated. The proto- typical chusma’s sexuality is deemed excessive and flagrant—again, subverting conventions.”
Similarly, chongas in Miami embody an overtly sexualized stereotype and society looks down upon them for excessive make-up, revealing clothing, violent attitudes, and a strong Spanish accent. In fact, the popularization of the term demonstrates a cultural reproduction within immigrant communities of not only the Cuban chusma, but the Chicana chola and pachuca.
Just as pachucas were often viewed as violent and sexually promiscuous, the lyrics to the YouTube song, Chongalicious, attribute the same negative connotations to chongas. In the video, two girls dress up as chongas, and in tight short dresses they sing about the chonga’s frugal spending and extensive beauty regiments. Claiming not to be promiscuous, the girls’ suggestive dancing may imply otherwise. Reflective of my own experience as a 1.5 immigrant youth in Miami, the Youtube video demonstrates how popular culture tries to dispel itself away from anything chonga. Intertwining stereotypes of race, gender, and socio-economic status, second generation or 1.5 youth in Miami assign negative connotations to chongas perhaps because they feel chonga’s are not American enough, and are failing to assimilate into mainstream society.
Even though popular culture in Miami celebrates Spanish and Latin music, youths today implicitly warn their peers of “acting too much like an immigrant.” Teenage girls in Miami receive the message not to talk or sing too loud, not to listen to certain artists, and not to dress or dance a certain way for fear of being mistaken for a chonga. Unfortunately, this recent phenomenon chonga youth culture has not attracted enough attention from scholars and many questions are left unanswered: How do teenage girls who identify as chongas view themselves? Do some girls who identify as chongas see it as a derogatory term? Do girls labeled as chongas actually behave in a manner aligned with stereotypes coming from popular culture? What is the message immigrant children receive in school and in media today that leads them to assign negative connotations to groups associated with newly arrived immigrant children?
Picture from Miami New Times.
I’m so glad someone chose to write about this. The negative attitude around new immigrants has persisted for far too long, and no matter what word is used (chonga and refee here, hick and campo elsewhere) it seems like there is never a positive relationship towards new immigrants. Why is this? And why are pereptions of Latinas always hyper-sexualized? This seems to be a problem across the nation regardless of the girls’ and women’s national origin. Ana the current manifestation of the misogynistic attitude in immigrant youth cultures could be an interesting digital project…
Along with the rejection of the “chonga” image, I wonder how immigrants who do not fall into this stereotype are affected. I myself am a Mexican-American who grew up in a predominantly latino community, but attended school with predominantly caucasian students. I grew up surrounded by the stereotype of mexican equivalent to the chonga- the “chola.” In my experience, anyone who did not fall into the “chola” category, was considered “white-washed.” This is a frustrating connection, because in a way it implies that those who do not fall under the chola category, are in some way rejecting the Mexican culture. For this reason, I actually came to despise the chola stereotype, as did many other people I knew. It’s very interesting, however, to consider the other side- the chola perspective. I never considered how those who do seem to fit this stereotype, feel about themselves or how they react to negative reactions from those who associate negative ideas with this image. I think that when it comes down to it, stereotypes about how any certain ethnicity should act creates tensions within that community.
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