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Spanish Ethnic Labels: Cholo



I knew Joan Corominas at the University of Chicago when he was working on this authoritative, four-volume etymological dictionary of Spanish. Is anyone carrying on his work? If so, much could be learned from our exchange. As for "sudaca," John Wonder finds it in 1966 Salamanca dictionary and in the 1998 Diccionario de Argot Español. However, it is the word "cholo" which has attracted most attention. Mario Augusto Gutiérrez says it is a common derogatory term in Peru and Ecuador, but not in Colombia, where "indio" (Indian) is used, referring to people like thieves. Linda Nyquist says in Mexico it suggests someone who has gang connections. Cholo is a softer type of gang member, usually. Sort of a street punk who gets into things, as opposed to more hardcore and extremely violent gangs, which have other nomenclature. I'm sure the terms get crossed, but I believe that the "cholo lifestyle" is one of petty crime and delinquency, as opposed to something like the Crips and Bloods. This is confirmed by Steve Jones, who has found the most detailed account in <
http://www.csun.edu/~hcchs006/18.html>. He also found this reference: Francine García- Hallcom, The Urban Ethnography of Latino Street <http://www.csun.edu/~hcchs006/table.html>. Note again the use of "latino" as an invariable "English" adjective.

"What Moore has called the "cholo, or street-oriented family " is one in which family members are engaged in illicit activity. (Moore,1994:1117) This "cholo" style family, as it were, generally fails to exercise very much control over its children. Instead, "cholo" parents teach them to hustle and to operate like con-artists whenever the opportunity to swindle someone out of money or goods presents itself. Children are often instructed to lie to social workers, law enforcement representatives, teachers and other authorities to cover for their wayward parents who know next to nothing about parenting. These parents even dress their toddlers in gang attire, and doom their babies before they have so much as learned their first words!

In the traditional Mexican culture, it is undesirable but certainly more acceptable for boys to be out roaming the streets; it is never appropriate behavior for females. Therefore, Latinas who either join a gang or in any way affiliate themselves with the cholo lifestyle, are subsequently stigmatized by the more traditional Mexican community (Moore l994:1117). The current study concurs. In the present field investigation, parents and members of extended family who were interviewed had nothing but negative remarks concerning the "Cholas"--the gang girls.

On the other hand, the young women had completely rejected the hardworking ethic, the good wife and mother role model so common among Hispanic women for the Cholo lifestyle. They, in turn, had nothing positive to say about the more traditional women either. The term "Cholo," which also refers to a fashion selection and make-up style, is used by the community members to refer to a type of Latina who more than likely is directly or indirectly affiliated with a gang or gang members."

Ronald Hilton - 1/21/01


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