• Chongas
  • Media
  • References and Additional Reading

Overview

A headshot of a Bratz doll with heavy makeup and jewelry.

Scholar Jillian Hernandez (2009) recalls being accused of looking like a Bratz doll, leading her to discuss how Latinas’ bodies are controlled in society. Photo credit: Jasmine (callme_crochet)

On April 1st, 2007, Miami teens Mimi Davila and Laura Di Lorenzo uploaded a video to YouTube; it was a parody of popstar Fergie’s song Fergilicious. Called Chongalicious, the girls looked and acted like “chongas” and, in light of the video’s popularity, helped to realize the chonga subculture in the mainstream. Within the Latin American communities of South Florida, people commonly use the word “chonga” as a derogatory term to mark young Latina women as promiscuous, uneducated, and poor. However in the years since Chongalicious, the chonga has experienced a kind of reclamation among young women hailing from Miami and Hialeah, and feminist and critical race scholars have assisted in reworking the symbols associated with her to empower, not restrain, Latina girls of all class backgrounds.

Chongalicious: Entering the Mainstream

To understand the chonga subculture and its situation in society, there is perhaps no better place to look than the viral video that introduced chonga to the mainstream. Linked below, Chongalicious is a parody music video of popstar Fergie’s song Fergilicious that high-schoolers Mimi Davila and Laura Di Lorenzo made for fun with their friends and uploaded to YouTube (Hernandez 2009). After going viral, the video helped the girls launched their entertainment careers as “The Chonga Girls,” garnering tens of thousands of followers on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. The Chonga Girls capitalize on common representations of “chonga-esque” women in pop culture: hypersexual Latinas that “[wear] ill-fitting clothes that were either too baggy or too tight, [apply] an excessive amount of gel to her hair, [don] large gold hoop earrings engraved with her name in cursive lettering, [and use] heavy eye and lip liner, and gaudy amounts of jewelry” (Hernandez 2009:74). Chongalicious emphasizes the girls’ characters through their outfits, their booty-shaking dance moves, and the overdubbed lyrics, which they recorded using thick Miami accents and Spanglish (a blend of English and Spanish, commonly spoken by Latin American immigrants and their children in South Florida). The lyrics themselves outline the chonga’s fashion cues and behaviors and “typify chongas as sexualized, antagonistic toward other girls, violent, and hypervisible (“You could see me, you could read me”)” (Hernandez 2009:69). Chongalicious offers a slice of Miami life in introducing the chonga to the world. This introduction, however, echoes the origins of the subculture as derogatory of young Latina women through the use of these stereotypes.

Chongalicious Music VIDEO (ORIGINAL) | CHONGA GIRLS

Where did “chonga” come from?

One woman stands in front of another adjusting her makeup.

While chongas and cholas are similar in name, style, and politics, they are distinct in their origins. Chola is primarily a Mexican American subculture, while Chonga is primarily Cuban American.

There is no concrete origin for the term “chonga,” though it shares similar spellings to other words that “point to gender and class inscriptions that are articulated and reproduced through everyday speech in Latina/o communities,” such as chola, chusma, and chocha (Hernandez 2009:67). Chonga, however, “appears to have stemmed from the Cuban-American community,” as the term seems to be used exclusively in South Florida (Hernandez 2009:68). This is echoed in scholar Jillian Hernandez’s findings on the representation of chongas in the mainstream, which she presents in “”Miss, You Look Like a Bratz Doll”: On Chonga Girls and Sexual-Aesthetic Excess” (2009). In response to a questionnaire she distributed, the thirty-one respondents she had, all of whom live in Miami-Dade County, regarded the term as Miami slang. Many of them also connected “chonga” to Afro-Cuban spiritual practices and Santeria, further implying a racial subtext. These associations, Hernandez notes, “suggest the status of the chonga as an “other” Cuban-American identity that is often disavowed by elite Cubans through its connection to marginalized subjects such as Afro-Cubans and African Americans via the chonga’s adoption of hip-hop culture” (2009:73).

Largely, the word “chonga” has been used as a derogatory term. The majority of Hernandez’s respondents regard the word as derisive and exclusionary, meant to show young Latina girls and women how not to behave (2009:73-74). In fact, the chonga “is framed as an identity antithetical to the efforts made by second and third generation Latina/o youth to assimilate to American culture” (Hernandez 2009:74). Individuals who disparage women as chongas see them as failures, whether it’s in regards to their education and grasp of English, the way they dress in public, or their projection of hip-hop-esque attitudes (Hernandez 2009:75). It is curious, then, how in recent years the chonga has experienced a revival, as many young Latina women from Miami, who were pre-teens and teenagers when the Chonga Girls debuted, now identify with their “chonga phase” and inner chonga selves.

Representations of Latina Women in Pop Culture

Pop star Jennifer Lopez stands on stage and points into the crowd.

Pop star Jennifer Lopez, also known as J-Lo, has been subject to scrutiny for her body as a Latina American. Photo credit: Kuala Lumpur, 03/12/2012.

While there is no hypervisible celebrity that explicitly touts a chonga identity, “the chonga figure warrants an examination as it is an emerging “icon” that is producing and circulating discourses about Latina young women” (Hernandez 2009:66). In “”Miss, You Look Like a Bratz Doll”: On Chonga Girls and Sexual-Aesthetic Excess” (2009), scholar Jillian Hernandez discusses the chonga subculture within the broader context of representations of Latina women in pop culture. Latina/o cultural and communications studies scholars, she describes, “demonstrate how representations of Latinas structure social relations in the United States by fashioning an exotic, “tropicalized” other in response to ongoing panic over Latina reproduction and immigration” (Hernandez 2009:65). Typically, these representations involve stereotypes regarding emotionality and sexuality. This can be seen in the Elián González immigration/custody case in 2000, where the media focused heavily on the Elián’s aunt, Marisleysis González, and her “public crying, long acrylic finger nails, and form-fitting clothes [that] marked her as a brown, unlawful body that did not fit the framework of “proper” U.S. subject” (Hernandez 2009:66; Molina Guzmán 2007).

The kind of policing done on poor, young, Latina women in Miami through the term “chonga” is reminiscent other similarly deployed derogatory terms. For example, theorist José Esteban Muñoz (1999) deconstructs chusmeria and what it means to be called chusma in Cuban culture. In essence, it “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” (Muñoz 1999:182). In the U.S., the term can even connote an excessive pride in Cuban national identity, seen as a lack of “Americanness” (Muñoz 1999:182). The hypersexualization of chongas also recalls “popular discourses surrounding Jennifer Lopez’s ass to more dated representations of voluptuous dancers balancing fruit on their heads” (Hernandez 2009:67; Barrera 2002; Mendible 2007). When we look at the contexts in which individuals accuse others of being a chonga, it is evident that this subculture works at the intersections of race/ethnicity, gender, and class. Jillian Hernandez recognizes this as the source of their marginalization within our culture; however rather than proposing that these young Latina women adopt new, less salacious cultural meanings and identifiers, Hernandez argues that the chonga’s existence signifies “a politics that undermines sexual policing and conveys indifference toward portraying an assimilated white bourgeois subjectivity” (2009:86). As such, we should reevaluate the meanings we ascribe to chonga-esque symbols and regard the cultural representations of chongas “as indexing ethnic pride, personal confidence, and non-normative sexuality” (Hernandez 2009:66).

Chongas Today

In her questionnaire regarding the origins of the chonga subculture, Jillian Hernandez points to a “connection articulated between exposure to the word “chonga” and the middle-school setting,” echoing “the negotiation of identity that often takes place in adolescence” (2009:72). Hernandez’s respondents “described how the function of the term was to identify, exclude, and deride “bad” subjects” (2009:72). When considering how chonga-esque symbols like clothing, makeup, mannerisms, and language are not exclusive to youth, Hernandez’s call for reconsidering how we value certain characteristics becomes a larger social project aimed to help all women.

Two palm trees stand next to the Florida State flag, the American flag, and the Miami City flag, with the Miami bay behind.

The chonga subculture is unique to Miami and the Latin American people that live there.

In an effort to reconnote chonga symbols and representations, “the artists of GisMo (Jessica Gispert and Crystal Molinary), who identified with chongas in their youth)” held an exhibition in 2007 called Miss, You Look Like a Bratz Doll (Hernandez 2009:79). The exhibition featured drawings made by girls at the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) of “fictional characters with accompanying narratives” over “paper-doll style images” of the artists themselves (Hernandez 2009:82). Some of the characters were dressed scantily, some modestly. The girls gave them names, personalities, and even attitude. This project served as an opportunity for these girls in the JDC to express themselves, to create representations of Latina women in which they can see themselves, regardless of society’s norms and values. With a focus on friendship, art, and Miami, “GisMo’s project can serve to complicate stock representations of girls of color through the articulation of their specific, contingent, and varying subjectivities” (Hernandez 2009:85).

As demonstrated in Hernandez’s findings and in GisMo’s identification, it is common for young Latina women to reflect on the “chonga” phase in their teenage years (Hernandez 2009). This retrospective form of identification also has the potential for redefining racial and gendered norms, as it is typically performed with nostalgia and fondness. In the video “Women Transform Into Chongas” by Pero Like, an offshoot of the social news and entertainment company Buzzfeed, the participants of this makeover reflect on the fashion choices they made in adolescence and have fun dressing up like chongas again. With Latina women from Miami reclaiming the chonga identity and putting a positive spin on the term, we can all work towards reforming harmful and restrictive norms and values in our society.

Women Transform Into Chongas

Additional Media

The Chonga Girls YouTube Channel

“Chongas!” by Tamara Lush | Miami New Times, June 14th, 2007

“21 Signs You Went Through a Chonga Phase” by Arielle Calderon | Buzzfeed, November 18th, 2013

“Why Some Latinas are Reclaiming the Term ‘Chonga’” by Raquel Reichard | Latina, February 24th, 2015

“Too Loud, Too Sexy: The ‘Chonga’ Woman Isn’t About Fitting in” by Stephanie Buck | Timeline, October 6th, 2016

Chonga Girls CBS Interview

  • A CBS 4 interview with The Chonga Girls in 2009.

Diary of a Reformed Chonga Vol. 1

  • A video of interpretive movement by Miami artist Rosie Herrera.

LA GOONY CHONGA FT SICKBOYRARI – TIRA TIRA OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO

  • A music video by La Goony Chonga, a chonga hip-hop artist from Miami.

References and Additional Reading

Hernandez, Jillian. 2009. ““Miss, You Look Like a Bratz Doll”: On Chonga Girls and Sexual-Aesthetic Excess.” NWSA Journal 21(3): 63-90.

Aparicio, Frances R., and Susana Chávez-Silverman. 1997. Tropicalizations: Trans-cultural Representations of Latinidad. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College and University Press of New England.The front cover for "Tropicalizations: Trans-cultural Representations of Latinidad."

The front cover for "Women without Class: Girls, Race, and Identity."Bettie, Julie. 2003. Women without Class: Girls, Race, and Identity. Berkeley:University of California Press.

Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.The front cover of "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity."

The front cover of "Sexualities in History: A Reader."

Barrera, Magdalena. 2002. “Hottentot 2000: Jennifer Lopez and Her Butt.” In Sexualities in History: A Reader, eds. Kim M. Phillips and Barry Reay, 407-20. New York: Routledge.

 

The front cover for "From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture."

Mendible, Myra, ed. 2007. From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Molina Guzmán, Isabel. 2007. “Disorderly Bodies and Discourses of Latinidad in the Elián González Story.” In From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture, ed. Myra Mendible, 219-41. Austin: University of Texas Press.

The front cover for "Disidentifications: Queers of color and the performance of politics."Muñoz, José Esteban. 1999. Disidentifications: Queers of color and the performance of politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

The front cover of "Urban Girls Revisted: Building Strengths."Ross Leadbeater, Bonnie J., and Niobe Way, eds. 2007. Urban Girls Revisted: Building Strengths. New York: New York University Press.