Culture

13 Things You Should Know About Cholo Culture

Odds are if you grew up in the 90s you knew at least one cholo at your local high school. But did you know that the phrase “cholo” goes way back to 1609? Originally a derogatory term used by Spaniards for mixed-blood descendants of the Spanish Empire, the word seems to have evolved since then to have meaning outside of ethnic heritage. Having been reclaimed by Latinos of mixed heritage, the term has come to mean many more things. So for all you cholos, cholas, cholitas, and chongas out there, here are the 13 things you should know about cholo culture.

1. Why did they call us Cholos?

Credit: Wikipedia


So what is a Cholo? And where did the word even come from?

A Peruvian text dating back to 1609 features the first known use of the word. The writer, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, wrote the book in Spanish and it was called  Comentarios Reales de los Incas. 

“The child of a Black male and an Indian female, or of an Indian male and Black female, they call mulato and mulata. The children of these they call cholos. Cholo is a word from the Windward Islands; it means dog, not of the purebred variety, but of very disreputable origin; and the Spaniards use it for insult and vituperation”.

Credit: Wikipedia


Vega himself was the son of a Spaniard and a royal Incan mother and was one of the first Latin-American born Spanish writers to be widely read in Europe and enter the western canon. Vega may have been one of the first men to write down cholo, but it is heavily suggested the term predates him.

Later on, in Colonial Mexico, the terms cholo and coyote were used interchangeably to describe Mestizo and Amerindian ancestry.

2. Who let the Anglos learn about the term “Cholo” anyway?

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So by the 1700s, the term cholo is being thrown around in Latin America. So who let English-speakers know about cholos anyway?

You can blame Herman Melville for that.

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In the popular 1851 novel Moby-Dick,  Melville uses the term to describe a Spanish-speaking sailor.

The term showed up again in 1907 in the Los Angeles Express.  A headline read “Cleaning Up the Filthy Cholo Courts Has Begun in Earnest,” and the article repeatedly used the terms Mexican and cholo interchangeably. The term “cholo court” was used to refer to the poor areas where Latinos tended to live.

Credit: Wikipedia


Once the word was integrated into the English language, it caught on and was used to mean “Mexican” or “Latino” generally by those who would look down on them.

As Latino immigrants were recruited to work agricultural jobs in the early 20th century, their communities grew and white Americans grew to use the term “cholo” against them.

3. Zoot Suit Riot

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When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, the U.S. started deporting people of Mexican descent. Sources suggest that between 500,000 and 2 million Mexican people were expelled from the country, including 1.2 million U.S. citizens who were deported illegally. Mexican communities in the United States struggled to keep their homes and families together, and Latino youth began creating their own “Chicano” and “Cholo” subcultures, as they were referred to by American newspapers.

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Zoot suits – baggy clothes that would hide the shape of one’s body – became a staple of early cholo culture. Barrios were full of the iconic look, and white Americans noticed. Tensions exploded in June 1943 with the Zoot Suit Riots, a series of pogroms against Chicano youth where American military men and white civilians joined forces to attack and strip children, teens, and youths of their zoot suits.

Credit: Wikipedia

Police aided rioting servicemen and at the end fo the riots more than 150 Latinos had been injured, with 500 Latinos charged with rioting and vagrancy.

Cholo culture was forever to be tied from then on to insurgent behavior and criminality, justifying the attacks against Latino communities for years to come.

5. Chicano Pride

Credit: Wikipedia


Long before the modern image of the cholo with facial tattoos, was the idea of the political radical from the 1960s. Cholo culture took a page out of the Black Power movement and fought back against police brutality and repression. Again criminalized by the American government, the Chicano Pride movement sought to address negative ethnic stereotypes of Mexicans in mass media and the American consciousness. The term Chicano itself was used interchangeably with cholo as a derogatory term for Latinos, but the movement sought to change that.

READ: 20 Things Mexican Families Do That You Didn’t Realize Were Odd Until You Moved Out

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The movement was targeted, like other activist movements of the era, by COINTELPRO, the U.S. Counter Intelligence Program that largely aimed to surveil and disrupt leftist organizations.

6. Cholos and Gangs

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With the rise of America’s criminalization of Latino organizing, Mexico and Central America saw a rise of deported Chicano youth returning to its streets in the 1970s. Groups that stuck together were not accustomed to life in Mexico and were largely viewed as American due to their appearances and language.

Credit: Wikipedia


Soon the groups came to be associated with gangs, mostly bringing together young boys and men between the ages of 13 and 25 years old. Many of the gangs from this era actually formed in the United States – like MS-13, Latin Kings, Norteños, Sureños, and the 18th Street Gang. The groups which were established in the U.S. continued in Latin America and cholos brought American street culture back with them. With few jobs and school opportunities available to them, the groups began to make alliances with local drug cartels based on particular regions and cities.

7. The Chola Fashion

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While cholo culture evolved in the 80s and 90s, it also became a part of the American fashion industry. Men moved away from the traditional zoot suits and towards loose-fitting khaki pants, white knee-high socks, creased jeans, and plaid or flannel shirts over white tank tops.

WATCH: Cholas Talk CHOLAS FASHION 

Credit: Hypebeast


Women, on the other hand, left a more lasting impression on American makeup and fashion with their signature pointed eyebrows, outlined lips, and heavy gold chains. The manicured black baby hair and slicked back ponytails were also iconic, referenced today in countless music videos and runway looks. Selena Gomez, FKA Twigs, Rihanna are just a few celebrities who have rocked the Chola look.

8. Cholo Music

Credit: Instagram @mrleanlikeacholo


Who didn’t love the 2007 hit,  Lean Like a Cholo? If you didn’t know what a Cholo was by then, odds are you were living under a rock. Down AKA Kilo slid into the top hit charts with his tune on the cholo lifestyle, but he was certainly not the first. Back in 1979, punk rock band The Dickies recorded “I’m a Chollo” for their album,  Dawn of the Dickies

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Oddly enough, cholo culture would be tied to American goth music and oldies. The connection isn’t entirely clear, but “Cholo Goth” is definitely still a thing.

9. Cholo Iconography & Tattoos

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Of course, we couldn’t have an article on cholos without mentioning tattoos! Some of the most iconic body art in the world rests on the backs of cholos and cholas worldwide. Though much of it is associated with Christian imagery (think the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and countless crucifixion scenes) and calligraphy, cholo tattoo culture has also evolved some of its own new imagery. 

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One of the most iconic of this new tattoo world is the “smile now, cry later” set of masks, normally associated with theater. The image pays homage to the pain and suffering many people living the cholo life experience – a short amount of joy sometimes for a lifetime of consequences.

10. The Cholo Lingo

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Along with a mixture of American and Latino culture came a mixture of the two languages: Spanish and English. Spanish words slid into the Cholo English lexicon, and words like vato, neta, wey, prieto, and jeta became standard in graffiti, tattoos, and other written corners of the cholo world.

Credit: Associated Press


What do those words mean? Well, vato is “dude,” wey is “dude,” prieto is “racist or uptight dude,” and jeta is “sour face.”

11. Cholos and Lowriders

Credit: Instagram @the_anti_gang


Back during the 40s and 50s, Los Angeles-based Mexican-American youth started redesigning cars, painting them and lowering them for aesthetic purposes. It became a cultural phenomenon and political statement, reinventing the American automobile for the Latino community.

credit: The San Diego Union-Tribune

California wasn’t having it, and in 1958 the state outlawed operating any car modified so that a part was lower than the bottoms of its wheel rims.

Credit: Instagram @houstonlowriders

Cholos were quick to circumnavigate the restrictions. A customizer named Ron Aguirre developed a way of bypassing the law in 1958 by using hydraulic pumps and valves that could change the height of a car at the flick of a switch. The next year, Chevrolet would introduce the Impala, which happened to have a frame excellently suited for lowering and modifying with hydraulics. The rest is history.

12. Cholo “Homies” Toys

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If you were a Latino kid in the late 90s or early 00’s you probably remember these little figurines, also known as Homies. The adorable characters were created by David Gonzalez and based on a comic strip that he created,  The Adventures of Chico Loco. The toys have become collectibles across the world and spawned dozens of imitations.

Credit: Instagram @javiboys8


Homies became so popular the Los Angeles Police Department complained that the toys were promoting “gang life.” Some Latino advocacy groups, such as the Imagen Foundation, also felt the figurines promoted anti-Latino stereotypes. However, the fears turned out to be unsubstantiated – Homies have been shown to help American adolescents with their cultural identity and self-esteem. As the toy line has expanded, the various characters have also shown a greater range of lifestyle choices and possibilities.

13. Cholos Go Mainstream

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If you’ve ever played Grand Theft Auto, you’ve likely encountered cholo culture and characters. In fact, in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, there is a gang called “The Cholos” who dress and act exactly like, well, cholos!

Credit: Instagram @enchantedpopup


In this day and age, we’ve seen cholo fashion, art, lingo, and more go mainstream.

Napolean Dynamite featured two characters simply referred to as “Cholo No. 1” and “Cholo No. 2.”

Prayers, the cholo goth band founded in 2013, is fronted by the iconic Rafael Reyes, a.k.a. Leafar Seyer. Their lyrics explore the harsh realities of street life and cholo culture.

With cholo culture referenced at so many twists and turned in popular culture, it’s almost impossible to miss. Who is your favorite cholo?

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This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

Entertainment

This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

On a recent episode of ABC’s game show To Tell The Truth, three celebrity panelists were tasked to uncover the identity of a real mariachi singer.

Each contender embodied “non-traditional” attributes of mariachi culture either through physical appearance or language barriers, leaving the panelists stumped.

When it came time for the big reveal, with a humble smile 53-year-old Timoteo “El Charro Negro” stood up wowing everyone. Marveled by his talents, Timoteo was asked to perform unveiling his smooth baritone voice.

While not a household name in the U.S., his career spans over 25 years thriving on the catharsis of music.

Timoteo “El Charro Negro” performing “Chiquilla Linda” on Dante Night Show in 2017.

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Timoteo, born Timothy Pollard, moved to Long Beach, California with his family when he was eight years old. The move to California exposed Pollard to Latin culture, as the only Black family in a Mexican neighborhood.

As a child, he recalled watching Cantinflas because he reminded him of comedian Jerry Lewis, but musically he “got exposed to the legends by chance.”

“I was bombarded by all the 1960s, ’70s, and ’50s ranchera music,” Timoteo recalls to mitú.

The unequivocal passion mariachi artists like Javier Solis and Vicente Fernandez possessed heavily resonated with him.

“[The neighbors] always played nostalgic music, oldies but goodies, and that’s one thing I noticed about Mexicans,” Timoteo says. “They can be in their 20s but because they’ve grown up listening to the oldies it’s still very dear to them. That’s how they party.”

For as long as he can remember, Pollard “was born with the genetic disposition to love music,” knowing that his future would align with the arts.

After hearing Vicente Fernandez sing “Lástima Que Seas Ajena,” an awakening occurred in Pollard. While genres like hip-hop and rap were on the rise, Pollard’s passion for ranchera music grew. It was a moment when he realized that this genre best suited his big voice.

Enamored, Pollard began to pursue a career as a Spanish-language vocalist.

El Charro Negro
Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

At 28, Timoteo began learning Spanish by listening and singing along to those artists he adored in his youth.

“When I decided that I wanted to be a mariachi, I didn’t think it was fair to exploit the culture and not understand the language,” he says. “If I’m going to sing, I need to be able to communicate with my audience and engage with them. I need to understand what I’m saying because it was about honor and respect.”

Pollard began performing local gigs after picking up the language in a matter of months. He soon attracted the attention of “Big Boy” Radio that adorned him the name Timoteo “El Charro Negro.”

Embellishing his sound to highlight his Black heritage, Pollard included African instruments like congas and bongos in his orchestra. Faintly putting his own spin on a niche genre, Pollard avoided over-saturating the genre’s sound early in his career.

Embraced by his community as a beloved mariachi, “El Charro Negro” still encountered race-related obstacles as a Black man in the genre.

“There are those [in the industry] who are not in the least bit thrilled to this day. They won’t answer my phone calls, my emails, my text messages I’ve sent,” he says. “The public at large hasn’t a problem with it, but a lot of the time it’s those at the helm of decision making who want to keep [the genre] exclusively Mexican.”

“El Charro Negro” persisted, slowly attracting fans worldwide while promoting a message of harmony through his music.

In 2007, 12 years into his career, Pollard received a golden ticket opportunity.

El Charro Negro
Pollard (left) seen with legendary Mexican artist Vicente Fernandez (right) in 2007. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In a by-chance encounter with a stagehand working on Fernandez’s tour, Pollard was offered the chance to perform onstage. The singer was skeptical that the offer was legit. After all, what are the chances?

The next day Pollard went to his day job at the time and said, “a voice in my head, which I believe was God said, ‘wear your blue velvet traje tonight.'”

That evening Pollard went to a sold-out Stockton Area where he met his idol. As he walked on the stage, Pollard recalls Fernandez insisting that he use his personal mic and band to perform “De Que Manera Te Olvido.”

“[Fernandez] said he did not even want to join me,” he recollects about the show. “He just was kind and generous enough to let me sing that song on his stage with his audience.”

The crowd applauded thunderously, which for Pollard was a sign of good things to come.

El Charro Negro
Timoteo “El Charro Negro” with Don Francisco on Don Francisco Presenta in 2011. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In 2010, he released his debut album “Me Regalo Contigo.” In perfect Spanish, Pollard sings with great conviction replicating the soft tones of old-school boleros.

Unraveling the rollercoaster of relationships, heart-wrenchingly beautiful ballads like “Me Regalo Contigo” and “Celos” are his most streamed songs. One hidden gem that has caught the listener’s attention is “El Medio Morir.”

As soon as the track begins it is unlike the others. Timoteo delivers a ’90s R&B love ballad in Spanish, singing with gumption as his riffs and belts encapsulate his unique sound and story.

Having appeared on shows like Sabado Gigante, Don Francisco Presenta, and Caso Cerrado in 2011, Timoteo’s career prospered.

Timoteo hasn’t released an album since 2010 but he keeps his passion alive. The singer has continued to perform, even during the Covid pandemic. He has high hopes for future success and original releases, choosing to not slow down from his destined musical journey.

“If God is with me, who can be against me? It may not happen in a quick period of time, but God will make my enemies my footstool,” he said.

“I’ve continued to be successful and do some of the things I want to do; maybe not in a particular way or in particular events, but I live in a very happy and fulfilled existence.”

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Exclusive: Luis Fonsi Talks Working with Rauw Alejandro, Christina Aguilera, and Demi Lovato

Entertainment

Exclusive: Luis Fonsi Talks Working with Rauw Alejandro, Christina Aguilera, and Demi Lovato

Luis Fonsi is kicking off 2021 with a new single. The Puerto Rican superstar premiered the music video for “Vacío” on Feb. 18 featuring rising Boricua singer Rauw Alejandro. The guys put a new spin on the classic “A Puro Dolor” by Son By Four.

Luis Fonsi throws it back to his románticas.

“I called Omar Alfanno, the writer of ‘A Puro Dolo,’ who is a dear friend,” Fonsi tells Latido Music. “I told him what my idea was [with ‘Vacío’] and he loved it. He gave me his blessing, so I wrote a new song around a few of those lines from ‘A Puro Dolor’ to bring back that nostalgia of those old romantic tunes that have been a part of my career as well. It’s a fresh production. It sounds like today, but it has that DNA of a true, old-school ballad.”

The world got to know Luis Fonsi through his global smash hit “Despacito” with Daddy Yankee in 2017. The remix with Canadian pop star Justin Bieber took the song to new heights. That was a big moment in Fonsi’s music career that spans over 20 years.

There’s more to Fonsi than “Despacito.”

Fonsi released his first album, the fittingly-titled Comenzaré, in 1998. While he was on the come-up, he got the opportunity of a lifetime to feature on Christina Aguilera’s debut Latin album Mi Reflejo in 2000. The two collaborated on “Si No Te Hubiera Conocido.” Luis Fonsi scored multiple Billboard Hot Latin Songs No. 1s in the years that followed and one of the biggest hits was “No Me Doy Por Vencido” in 2008. That was his career-defining romantic ballad.

“Despacito” remains the second most-viewed music video on YouTube with over 7.2 billion views. The hits did not stop there. Later in 2017, he teamed up with Demi Lovato for “Échame La Culpa,” which sits impressively with over 2 billion views.

He’s also appearing on The Voice next month.

Not only is Fonsi working on his new album, but also he’s giving advice to music hopefuls for the new season of The Voice that’s premiering on March 1. Kelly Clarkson tapped him as her Battle Advisor. In an exclusive interview, Fonsi talked with us about “Vacío,” The Voice, and a few of his greatest hits.

What was the experience like to work with Rauw Alejandro for “Vacío”?

Rauw is cool. He’s got that fresh sound. Great artist. Very talented. Amazing onstage. He’s got that great tone and delivery. I thought he had the perfect voice to fit with my voice in this song. We had talked about working together for awhile and I thought that this was the perfect song. He really is such a star. What he’s done in the last couple of years has been amazing. I love what he brought to the table on this song.

Now I want to go through some of your greatest hits. Do you remember working with Christina Aguilera for her Spanish album?

How could you not remember working with her? She’s amazing. That was awhile back. That was like 1999 or something like that. We were both starting out and she was putting out her first Spanish album. I got to sing a beautiful ballad called “Si No Te Hubiera Conocido.” I got to work with her in the studio and see her sing in front of the mic, which was awesome. She’s great. One of the best voices out there still to this day.

What’s one of your favorite memories of “No Me Doy Por Vencido”?

“No Me Doy Por Vencido” is one of the biggest songs in my career. I think it’s tough to narrow it down just to one memory. I think in general the message of the song is what sticks with me. The song started out as a love song, but it turned into an anthem of hope. We’ve used the song for different important events and campaigns. To me, that song has such a powerful message. It’s bigger than just a love song. It’s bringing hope to people. It’s about not giving up. To be able to kind of give [people] hope through a song is a lot more powerful than I would’ve ever imagined. It’s a very special song.

I feel the message is very relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living through.

Oh yeah! I wrote that song a long time ago with Claudia Brant, and during the first or second month of the lockdown when we were all stuck at home, we did a virtual writing session and we rewrote “No Me Doy Por Vencido.” Changing the lyrics, kind of adjusting them to this situation that we’re living now. I haven’t recorded it. I’ll do something with it eventually. It’s really cool. It still talks about love. It talks about reuniting. Like the light at the end of the tunnel. It has the hope and love backbone, but it has to do a lot with what we’re going through now.

What do you think of the impact “Despacito” made on the industry?

It’s a blessing to be a part of something so big. Again, it’s just another song. We write these songs and the moment you write them, you don’t really know what’s going to happen with them. Or sometimes you run into these surprises like “Despacito” where it becomes a global phenomenon. It goes No. 1 in places where Spanish songs had never been played. I’m proud. I’m blessed. I’m grateful to have worked with amazing people like Daddy Yankee. Like Justin Bieber for the remix and everyone else involved in the song. My co-writer Erika Ender. The producers Mauricio Rengifo and Andrés Torres. It was really a team effort and it’s a song that obviously changed my career forever.

What was the experience like to work with Demi Lovato on “Echáme La Culpa”?

She’s awesome! One of the coolest recording sessions I’ve ever been a part of. She really wanted to sing in Spanish and she was so excited. We did the song in Spanish and English, but it was like she was more excited about the Spanish version. And she nailed it! She nailed it from the beginning. There was really not much for me to say to her. I probably corrected her once or twice in the pronunciation, but she came prepared and she brought it. She’s an amazing, amazing, amazing vocalist.

You’re going to be a battle advisor on The Voice. What was the experience like to work with Kelly Clarkson?

She’s awesome. What you see is what you get. She’s honest. She’s funny. She’s talented. She’s humble and she’s been very supportive of my career. She invited me to her show and it speaks a lot that she wanted me to be a part of her team as a Battle Advisor for the new season. She supports Latin music and I’m grateful for that. She’s everything you hope she would be. She’s the real deal, a true star, and just one of the coolest people on this planet.

What can we expect from you in 2021?

A lot of new music. Obviously, everything starts today with “Vacío.” This is literally the beginning of what this new album will be. I’ve done nothing but write and record during the last 10 months, so I have a bunch of songs. Great collaborations coming up. I really think the album will be out probably [in the] third or fourth quarter this year. The songs are there and I’m really eager for everybody to hear them.

Read: We Finally Have A Spanish-Language Song As The Most Streamed Song Of All Time

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