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Racism 101 Asked And Answered: "What's The Deal With The Word 'Cholo'?"

Low riders are a common image associated with cholo culture. (via Pixelbay)
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  • We created Racism 101 to help our audience facilitate their own thought-provoking talks around race, with a conversation "starter kit," and extensive anti-racism resource guides to inform and educate. To field these questions, we assembled a panel of Angelenos willing to answer so folks didn't have to ask their friends, or even strangers.

We've solicited questions from our audience — awkward, tough-to-ask, even silly questions — that they've perhaps wanted to ask people unlike themselves but have been too shy, embarrassed or afraid to ask.


Q: "What's the deal with the term 'cholo?' How did it evolve, and who is allowed to say it?"

MTV Decoded, a weekly web series, breaks down the origins of the word cholo.

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Cholo can evoke many negative connotations and stereotypes. But there's a historical, cultural complexity enmeshed in those five letters.

Ari Taylor, a recent USC journalism master's program graduate, explored these intricacies in her capstone project. She summarizes them succinctly:

It's safe to say that cholo culture is more than riding down Sunset in a candy-coated Impala or going to Sephora in order to draw on the most perfect eyeliner wing. It's more than negative stereotypes of gangbanging on the blocks of East L.A.

It is history. It is a culture. It is resistance and activism.


Pat, a Latina from East L.A., had this to say:

"There are many differing explanations of the term cholo. You can look it up to find it described as a derogatory term for mestizos, who are the results of the indigeneous people and the European invaders. I am a mestiza. However, from my perspective, there are two ways to view the term: From the inside: a cholo is a member of a varrio. A cholo is ready to do battle with any external threats to the varrio. From the outside: a cholo is considered a gangmember and therefore a threat to be put away in prison at the earliest possible time. To those of us from the varrio, it is easy to spot a cholo but not so for others. Because of that, I say the term is not meant for use by those not from the varrio."

Note: Barrio is the agreed upon spelling by the vast majority of Spanish speakers. Varrio is Chicanoese - those of us in East Los Angeles, among other places, spell it with a "v."

Matthew, who describes himself as "multi-ethnic Afro-Indigenous" and the son of parents from Cuba and Honduras said this.

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Editor's Note: Ari Taylor was Dana Amihere's graduate student at USC in Spring 2020.