Chicanas & The Lime Light
Comedian and actor George Lopez first caught my attention when I heard him in a stand up comedy show speaking in this ever so familiar Chicano dialect. It was unbelievably exciting to hear him talk. Finally, there was one person on television that genuinely expressed himself as we do. Unfortunately, Lopez is the only person in television today whose stories I can truly relate to when considering my experience growing up in Los Angeles as a Chicana. It is with a heavy heart that I can not say the same about a Chicana in television today.
Growing up in the barrio as a first generation Mexican-American, I acculturated into a bicultural world in which a tertiary culture was introduced: the Chicano culture. Chicanos in American barrios speak Calo, the Chicano dialect. Calo is the combination of archaic Spanish words, Hispanized English and Anglicized Spanish, originating from the fronteras (bordertowns) of Northern Mexico and the Southwest. Although Calo is not recognized as an official dialect, it is commonly known as pachuco slang, Spanglish or Tex-Mex and is widely used in the Mexican barrios of Los Angeles.
In the stereotypical context, Calo is synonymous with cholo/chola gangsters in society (as is the image of Chicanos), due to the over exposure of these images in the media and in films. Although frowned upon in mainstream society, it is still the lingo that connects us. It is the barrio-wide linguistic code and the common identifying marker of 'La Raza.'
In a country where Mexican-Americans now make up more than two-thirds of all Latinos in the United States, the underrepresentation of Chicanas in television is a social injustice. Chicanas in American television today are missing in action.
In my search for my ethnically relevant Chicana counterpart, I came across Constance. In all honesty, I could only think of Constance Marie (who speaks Mexican Spanish and was born in East L.A. to Mexican immigrant parents) because she plays George Lopez' wife on the George Lopez Show. Although Constance did play Selena's mother in the hit movie “Selena,” it was because of The George Lopez Show that I remembered her. Supporting roles are good but lets face it...we are yearning for a strong, leading Chicana in a girth heavy role and in the spot light who will not only inspire us but empower us!
Personally, I feel that the underrepresented group of Chicanas in television is largely due to cultural and societal factors. The media has a powerful influence on girls' and young women's socialization into society. For this reason, it is imperative that we observe and challenge those media representations that perpetuate the notion that Chicanas are not good enough except in the role of the gangster, jailed inmate, housekeeper and sex object.
Though I will always defend my people and my culture against fatuous statements, I refuse to buy into the cultural obstructions that cheat our women of individuation. I can start with gender as the primary focus but Chicana women experience multiple forms of oppression, domination and familial constraints which lends us the title of being a triple or posssibly quadruple minority in society. This experience as one grows often creates conflicting ideals and loyalties. Chicanas who challenge these structural and ideological ideas within the dominant culture are often ridiculed and labeled as “locas,” and suffer extreme devaluation within their families and communities. Chicanas, who break out of these gender role rules are prone to shame and depression.
The stigma attached to such labels makes us feel cut off, cramped and pushed into a small corner in which Chicanas learn to hide or tone down their ambitions and gifts in order to avoid such labels. I refer to this as the half-light syndrome. Eventually, the faded dim lights become the safe haven for Mejicanas who do not dare to live out loud, who often prefer the back and side stage to avoid stepping into the lime light. Although not everyone is meant for the spot light, it remains a travesty that a woman would delegate herself to such limits because they have been indoctrinated to believe they are unworthy of more.
To exasperate such matters, these toxic introjects of cultural oppression and concepts of normalcy spread like a virus among women who often feel the need to restrict other women into these subjective roles. The veneration of La Marianista, and the adherence to El Machista, still encourages women to impose a stricture on other women and form ridicule bands against the women who refuse to conform to these long lists of gender role rules and limitations.
It is time for the strong, genuine Chicana to make it into the lime light with her interpretations of Xicanisma and 'our' experience. La Chicana who is not afraid to speak her lingo and attest to her fight to be seen and heard. La Chicana who will show her true face in the midst of oppression and never stop for cultural convention.
~ Brenda Perez