Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hialeah: Mythical Land of Churros and Chongas Part II

Part II
To refresh your memory on part one click here.

Very Funny.
A lot of people like to say “Relax. It’s just a joke.” Take for instance popular local drag queens Juleisy and Karla that tout sharpie lip liner and neon color Lycra and claim to live in Hialeah, the land of churros and chongas. The two have appeared in music videos, local television stations, and have even been featured in an article on the Huffington Post.These two men have built their entire act on the stereotype of a “typical Hialeah woman”. Funny, right? As a typical Hialeah woman, I do not think so...

I do not find it funny when a person makes automatic assumptions about me because of where I am from. I do not find it funny when I tell a person I just met that I am from Hialeah and a light in their eyes dims. I can feel them close off from me, not expecting much, their assumptions painting a pre-determined portrait of me. To put it into perspective for you, I get more shit about being from Hialeah than I do about my gay dads...

While, I understand that these men are doing this for exposure and their 15 minutes of fame, I think it is a shame that the only way they could do it was by perpetuating this damaging stereotype of not only Hialeah but of Hispanic American women in South Florida.  I feel the Juleisy and Karla act and the Chongalicious video are as damaging to the ethos of Cuban Americans as the Jersey Shore reality television show is to Italian Americans. Irreparable. 

The Damage
According to George Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory, people that are constantly exposed to stereotypical portrayals of minorities in the media, believe that those stereotypes are not only true but that they are true about everyone. This makes the negative portrayal of such stereotypes of minorities extremely damaging.

Suddenly, it was a bad thing to be from Hialeah. Suddenly, because I was from Hialeah, I was expected to be ill mannered, illiterate and promiscuous. Suddenly, because I was from Hialeah I was a chonga.

We need only to look at the early 19th century depictions of Jezebel and Mammy to see how minority women are stereotyped and demeaned in popular culture. Similar to the African American stereotypes of women Jezebel or Sapphire, the chonga is sexually promiscuous, uneducated and negatively perceived. The Hialeah chonga is the new Jezebel, a sexist and discriminating stereotype of Hispanic American women. Juleisy and Karla, this is what your “act” does... It perpetuates this stereotype and it tells the world that Hispanic American women act and dress this way.

Unfortunately the stereotyping didn't stop with the chonga. Derogatory internet memes of incorrectly spelled signs were circulating social media networks, claiming to be from Hialeah. Some of them where legitimate, some of them clearly photoshopped but all of them were equally damaging. Things as common as robberies (they happen everywhere) are automatically associated with Hialeah, often followed by the coined phrase “Only in Hialeah” even when said incidents did in fact NOT take place in Hialeah or have anything to do with the city.

Let's take a look at this popular internet meme as an example. It was widely circulated around email and social media and even the Miami New Times around December of last year. It reads "Welcome to Hialeah."

In fact, this picture was not taken in Hialeah but on an expressway and the man driving with a dead pig seat belted in his convertible is none other that Executive Chef Todd of the Front Porch Cafe in Miami Beach taking his purchase back to his restaurant. Yet, this photo is famously associated with Hialeah. See the picture of the cooked pig on The Front Porch Cafe's facebook.

Another disturbing example of this can be found below in definition five in the Urban Dictionary of Hialeah:

“A little suburb in Miami, Florida that contains wild beasts called Cubans.
They are loud, wild, and love to party.
They have very enormous breasts and their accents are to die for.
They can " Booty Dance " and they'll fer sure wet your panties !
Another word referred to them is this category called Chongas or Chongos.
Nickname for Hialeah : Chongaleah. “

What is even more disturbing is the 75 people that gave this lovely description a thumbs up. Congratulations. You are the scum of the Earth.

Yes, this caricature of a Hispanic American woman known as the chonga can be found in Hialeah. I am not denying she exists. She is found everywhere including Miami, Broward, the rest of South Florida, New York, and California. There is NO statistical evidence that the chonga personality is more prevalent in Hialeah than it is in neighboring cities. The fact that in South Florida she is immediately and directly associated with Hialeah speaks volumes of the massive stereotyping of the working class immigrants from the suburb as uncultured, uneducated and unable to speak English.

I am the first generation American child of Cuban immigrant parents. I was born in Hialeah Hospital, graduated from Hialeah High School (Go T-Breds!) and I work for the City of Hialeah. If there ever was a Hialeah girl, I am it. I am employed, educated, articulate, traveled and intelligent as are all of my friends and family. My name is Meghan Martinez and I am from Hialeah.

[Drops mic and walks away]

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hialeah: The Mythical Land of Churros and Chongas Part I

Part I

Chonga is a Spanish-derived term used especially in South Florida, often to indicate a working-class, sexualized, aggressive, and emotionally expressive young woman.”

Chonga. Let me start off by saying this word is the bane of my existence. So much in fact, that I have decided to cover this topic in two posts in order to properly cover all the issues I have with it. If you are a South Florida resident, the sight of this word immediately brings to mind many associations. Bad grammar, lip liner, Lycra, hoop earrings, beaded Chinese slippers etc.

“While feminist scholarship on chongas is limited, early work by gender studies scholar Jillian Hernandez has suggested that the chonga identity is an "emerging icon", and that it can be empowering for working-class women.”

Clearly Jillian Hernandez does not live in South Florida. Otherwise, she would immediately see the negative connotations associated with the term chonga and how its association with Hialeah has completely destroyed its credibility as a working class suburb of immigrants. There is NOTHING empowering about it. 

Chonga is thought to come from the Spanish words chusma and chola, neither of which are flattering. Chusma is used in Spanish to describe someone of a lower class who is rude and talks loudly. Chola is used to describe a woman who is from the streets, gangster like, and often portrayed as promiscuous. If someone calls you a chonga, it is an insult. It is no more empowering than calling a woman a whore or stupid.

The Chonga Goes Viral

“Chongas became considerably more common in popular culture after the 2007 release of Chongalicious, a YouTube viral video.”

As a Hialeah resident, I had never even heard the term chonga until 2007. Two girls, who were in fact residents of Kendall, decided it would be funny to make their own version of the popular Fergie song Fergalicious and use it to portray the stereotype of a Hispanic American woman and call it Chongalicious. The “chonga version” of Fergie's song went viral on YouTube, completely blowing the chonga stereotype out of proportion and even worse, directly associating it with Hialeah.

Since then, social media, local television, and even local radio stations have been perpetuating this stereotype and associating it with Hialeah, creating its now infamous reputation in South Florida as the Land of Churros and Chongas. The term chonga and the City of Hialeah are synonymous till this day. 

Around that time, local radio station Y100 was having a discussion on the then popular Miami topic of chongas, and again they were making it seem as if ALL Hispanic American women in Hialeah fit this stereotype (and as if they were not found anywhere else Miami-Dade.) I called upset and determined to give them a piece of my mind and to my surprise I actually got through. (Yes, this ACTUALLY happened)

I bitched about how detrimental the popularization of this stereotype was for Hispanic American women and how unfair it was that this stereotype was being directly associated with Hialeah.

“This chonga thing with Hialeah is not funny anymore. I was born and raised in Hialeah and I am articulate and educated. I am not a chonga and I really resent this stereotype.”

I was met with laughter. They responded “I know it’s kind of unfair, right? Those girls from the Chongalicious video weren't even from Hialeah.”

“Exactly! So If you know this, why do you continue to fuel the fire?”

“It is what it is, honey.” More laughter.

It is what it is... 

Hialeah and the women in it were now the butt of every joke and everyone was laughing. Whether it was an accurate portrayal was irrelevant. It is what it is.

I’m going to stop here to avoid sounding like I'm on a soapbox with a megaphone. I can feel you rolling your eyes at me. lol

Tune in next week for Part II!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Conflicting Messages

In Hispanic culture, a fuller figure is considered much more desirable than the stick thin body type that is commonly portrayed as desirable in American media. It is not uncommon for young Hispanic American girls to receive a message about body image from the media that conflicts with the messages being sent by the community. Personally, while I was growing up, I found I never really knew if my body was supposed to look like Jennifer Lopez or Cameron Diaz.

While the size zero body type was being portrayed in the media as “ideal” my family and friends were always warning against being too thin. My boyfriend’s grandmother has always complained that I was too skinny. Recently, I have put on some weight from being stressed out by school and work. Despite how awkward and uncomfortable I feel in my own skin and my desire to resume my healthy eating habits, all my boyfriend’s grandmother does is tell me how pretty I am and how happy she is that I am not so thin anymore (I wasn't unusually thin to begin with).

I feel this stems from a big issue in the Hispanic community. A perfect example of this is when a small child is overweight, they equate it with being healthy because it is assumed that they are well fed. On the other hand, skinny children are viewed as unhealthy or malnourished. Some studies indicate that this cultural perception may be a factor in the rising number of obesity among Hispanics.

“Family life has traditionally occupied a central place in Hispanic culture, and this has influenced dietary behaviors through home preparation of meals and the practice of families eating together.” Read more here.

Food is a BIG part of Hispanic culture. Most gatherings revolve around some sort of cooking or eating activities regardless if it is a holiday or not. Family = Food. For example, on Sundays, my family gathers at my mother’s house and cooks and eats dinner together. This makes it pretty difficult to not only maintain a healthy diet but to sort through the conflicting messages about an ideal body type and the influence of family blinded by a cultural perception that there is no harm in putting on a few more pounds.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dia de los Muertos

Yesterday, November 2nd, was what is called El Dia de los Muertos known here in the U.S. as Day of the Dead. Dia de los Muertos is a Hispanic holiday that usually celebrated from October 30th until November 2nd and it is believed that during this time, the dead come to visit the living. The living are expected to pay tribute to their ancestors by celebrating this holiday in remembrance of the dead.

While many Hispanic countries celebrate this holiday in one way or another, the country most known for its celebration of Dia de los Muertos is Mexico. Dia de los Muertos is a mix of Aztec and Catholic traditions where families visit the graves of their loved ones and leave them ofrendas or offerings. The offerings usually consist of flowers, bread, sugar skulls and even small toys for children and are a way to show the dead that they are respected, remembered, and loved. In order to maintain the tradition, children are sometimes told cautionary tales about angry ancestors tormenting those who forget to pay tribute to them. Families spend the night at the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried playing games and telling stories about their deceased relatives. The cemetery becomes lively with laughter, candlelight and music. In rural Mexico, Day of the Dead is still celebrated in this traditional way but In cities, processions and parades are also a common way to remember the dead.

In my home, growing up, Dia de los Muertos was usually celebrated with a very low key purchase of flowers and lighting of candles for relatives who have died. Because we are Cuban Americans the tradition stems from Catholic beliefs and differ from the more Aztec inspired Mexican traditions. This year, I wanted to do something a little different. I recently found out that Ft. Lauderdale hosts their very own Day of the Dead festival! Complete with a procession of hundreds of traditional skull face painted people, Mexican luchadores, amazing art and a giant Frida Kahlo skeleton puppet, this festival was something I had to see for myself!

I celebrated the memory of my relatives with friends, enjoyed some bad ass mariachi music and even had my first burrito ever! Yes, I know. Hard to believe but yes, it was the first time I had ever eaten a burrito. It was from the traditional Mexican food truck Taco Fresh and it was called El Matón. Believe me when I say it was so amazingly delicious it was practically a religious experience. I have always been more of a taco and quesadilla type of girl but by the third bite I swear I was in pulled pork pineapple heaven. Divine.  

My friend Raymet took this cool picture of me trying not to squish my feathers in the car on the way to the festival.

People holding puppets getting ready for the procession.

More people in costume for the procession.

Awesome photo of my friend Arturo and I taken by an event photographer.

Epic giant Frida Kahlo skeleton puppet

Raymet and Arturo waiting in line at the Taco Fresh food truck

The religious experience known as El Matón


My lovely friend Idalmis kind of sad that it was time to go.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Los Liberales

For a Hispanic American, my family is considered…progressive. Growing up, my friend’s parents used to call us “Los Liberales” which translates in English to “The Liberals.” How did we get this name you ask?

They couldn't understand how it was possible that my divorced parents and their new significant others got along so incredibly well. You see, my mother, her boyfriend, my father and his boyfriend are all very good friends. They really enjoy eating at different restaurants on the weekends and going to Barry Manilow concerts together.

“In 2012 for the first time, more Latinos said they favored same-sex marriage than opposed it (52% versus 34%) according to a Pew Hispanic Center survey.” Read more from this article here.

Attitudes about homosexuality among Hispanics and Hispanic Americans have been evolving, particularly in South Florida. Growing up, I always got a double take when I mentioned my father and his partner. That barely noticeable hesitation I get as a reaction has never bothered me and I actually have always found it a little funny.  

When one family member succeeds, it often reflects positively on the entire family. Many Latina/o families also believe the opposite to be true, and because there is bias against gays, that silences some LGBT Latinas/os, as well as relatives who might otherwise be supportive." Read the whole article here. 

Hispanics are big on family identity, so every time someone new learns this about my family it is kind of like I am coming out too. I am a proud little closet monster who loves jumping out and surprising people, if only momentarily. [Insert evil grin here] Thankfully, I have never really felt I was stigmatized or made fun of while I was growing up like I have heard is common in other situations for different people. 

When my father and his partner visit their native country, they are radically different than they are at home in Miami, far more conservative in how they present their relationship. The way they introduce each other as “roommates” to their friends and family speaks volumes. I can immediately tell that homosexual relationships are not as accepted and a front is expected to be put up in order to disguise the blatantly obvious. Thankfully, in rainbow friendly Miami which we call home, the roommate title is so 90’s.

“According to the National Survey of Latinos, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally is highest among Latino adults with no religious affiliation (71%), Latinos ages 18 to 29 (68%), Latinos who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (60%) and Latinos with some college education or more (63%).” See a more developed picture of the overall numbers here.

I’m not saying that there’s no discrimination in South Florida against gays in the Hispanic community. But I can definitely see a progression where there wasn't before.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What's Cooking?

When it comes to what is on the dinner table, for many Hispanic Americans, traditional recipes are a favorite. But lately with different health and fitness trends like going organic, paleo, or vegan coupled with exercise like Crossfit, abuelita’s cooking just isn't cutting it. For health conscious Hispanic Americans, when it comes to cooking at home, many are trading their seriously fattening white rice for brown rice, some scrapping it from their diets altogether. In an effort to fight obesity and adopt a more healthy lifestyle, traditional recipes are being altered by substituting traditional ingredients for healthier options.

Another thing to take into consideration about dietary changes in the Hispanic American community is the fact that second and third generations are learning to cook online. In the past, recipes for Hispanic dishes have been traditionally passed down in the kitchen at home from generation to generation by mothers, fathers and grandparents to children and grandchildren. Today, more and more people are going online to websites such as Pinterest and cooking sites like and allrecipes for dinner ideas. These websites are host to a community of people from all kinds of backgrounds that want to share their recipes with others.The end result is less time spent by second and third generation Hispanic Americans learning traditional Hispanic recipes, and more time online for culturally varied dishes at the dinner table. In the past, it may have been rare to see something like stir fry or fettuccine alfredo on a Hispanic dinner table, now it is the norm.

I like to think I have found a way to balance healthy eating habits and preserving the traditional recipes of my Hispanic American culture. I still occasionally make all of the traditional dishes but use as many organic and locally grown ingredients as possible. I also try to incorporate more vegetables like cauliflower, zucchini, and broccoli in addition to the ones Cubans traditionally use like beans, yucca, and  tomato. Even though, I believe tomato is technically a fruit... We are totally in denial.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sh*t Miamians Say

There’s no place like Miami. Anyone who has been here knows that even though we are a part of the U.S. it still feels like you should need a passport to come here. Among the varieties of culture and year round beach weather, Miami is also beginning to be known for something else. Miami now has its own dialect.

I remember the first time I realized I had a “Miami accent.” I was at a mall in Broward County and a man at the register asked me if I was from Miami. “Yes. How did you know?” I asked. He smiled as if there was a joke I wasn’t getting and replied “I can tell from your accent.”

I have an accent?

But... I’m American.

Turns out what I have isn't just an accent. Apparently my Miami twang is also accompanied by the Miami dialect. Want to know more about the difference between an accent and a dialect? Read this post by Ben Trawick-Smith on Dialect Blog. The basic difference is that an accent is what someone who is foreign born has when they speak English because English is not their first language. [Insert joke about Miami being foreign here] A dialect is something that native born speakers adopt when English is their first language.

I have a friend who is a Lebanese American and has lived in Miami his whole life. We went to high school together and I’d always assumed that somehow, like everyone else I went to school with, he was part Hispanic. Similar to native Miamians, his words were devoid of any long nasal vowels. Because of this, I always assumed he knew and spoke Spanish. Then, one day, he asked me to translate something on a menu for him that happened to be written in Spanish. I laughed at him.

“Dude, you can speak Spanish and not read it?”
“I don’t speak Spanish.”

Mind blown. For a minute I actually tried to argue that of course he spoke Spanish. I mean, he sounded like he spoke Spanish. That was when he broke the news that he actually had no Hispanic origins and didn't speak a word of Spanish. Oh.

The Miami accent strikes again.

Great articles exploring this phenomenon here.