Chonga Manifesto by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez
(Presented at 4th Biennial Meeting of the BABEL conference in Toronto, October 2015)
I struggled with how I was supposed to write this. I struggled with how I was supposed to speak to a group of people who were unfamiliar with chongas, ABOUT chongas. You see chongas have been vastly misunderstood, within our cultures for various respectability/proximity to whiteness reasons. And outsiders misunderstand chongas, mainly because many are unfamiliar with the various subcultures of Latinx immigrants.
Yet one thing that rings true and true, all across the board: according to everyone (excluding chongas) chongas are:
Have bad attitudes
Our clothes are always tew tight
Speak with accented English
Speak “improper” Spanish
Wear too much make up
What is a chonga? A chonga is a Latina, usually first generation immigrant, from a working-poor context, who has adapted a tough exterior with an aesthetic to match. Also, chongas are primarily from south Florida. It is important to note that many chongas don’t regularly refer to themselves as chongas, because the term has become a bit of a slur, an insult.
And before I start, let’s get one thing straight: I have a decolonized perspective on chongas which means that I reclaim this racialized slur into what it really is when we take the layers of self-hatred and oppression away from this subculture. Chongas are beautiful, strong, assertive chingonas who will love as passionately as we will hate those who try to harm us or those around us.
I decided that trying to explain a chonga to someone who unfamiliar with our subculture, is hard. So instead, I decided to power to the truth that is our reality. I decided to write a manifesto, for this occasion. I wanted to speak in affirmatives, about our boldness, power, and resilience. Because this is not a disembodied documented, this document is reflexive of real women, real chingonas who on a daily basis embody their praxis of resisting assimilation and white-washing. We put our brown bodies on display to disrupt narratives of respectability. Our bodies are very much attached this document, my body is in this manifesto.
Chongas have this agility to maneuver violent situations. We are raised in working poor neighborhoods aka barrios, mine was pequeña Nicaragua, and we learn quickly that the police are quick to show up to our neighborhoods to arrest us but slow to come and protect us. We learn that our families are the only people who have our best interests in minds, Because while Latinxs are generally family-oriented, however nobody talks about why? It is because we have dealt with corruption in our motherlands and erasure in the land of the free, that we have come to know that everyone around us is trying to get a handle of their poverty through some sort of income redistribution that can look like what the system calls illegal but we call justice. When we get the torn up or nonexistent textbooks in our schools, food deserts in our neighborhoods, and dangerously unregulated housing situations – you learn that the system is not meant to protect you so you protect yourself. Chongas know how to fight and hell do we know how to redistribute that income of yours that you so closely clutch onto as you ride in our public transportations.
Chongas have sharp tongues. When your TFA teachers and counselors all tell you to stop dreaming because someone like you could never get into college, or dream of a different trajectory than the one that they have placed on your adolescent body – you learn to stick up for yourself. You learn to not let people tell you who you are but demand that they see you as you say you are. And if you doubt us, if you think you can make us feel inferior because the accents in our immigrant mouths are too easy of a target for you, we will show you otherwise. We know how to tear you up, piece by piece, with our quick words and sharp responses – we had to learn to be this sharp, the world is our sharpener and we have been chiseled into a weapon of self defense, because we have known people like you since we arrived into the land of the free and we will continue to run across people like you – so long as white supremacy reigns.
Chongas dress like goddesses. We see our femininity as a tool for our survival that was used by our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmother. And in this land of the free we intend on utilizing those tools to maneuver spaces that seem uninviting to us. My grandmother did her nails, hair, and put on her Sunday’s best to go to the grocery store – she did so because she did not want people to think she was there to steal. And because of that I understand that growing up poor meant that people distrusted me because of my aesthetics, so I learned a particular kind femininity, which bubbles to the surface as my class mobility. So when I wing my eyeliner, outline my lips, put on my mini skirt and crop top, I am adorning myself with my war paint and armor. Because to you, I am not human – but it’s okay because to me and to those who understand: I am a goddess.
Chongas oscillate between Spanish and English – Spanglish, with an ease that can only be described as brilliant. We are primarily immigrants, and success here usually means assimilating into white upper middle class embodiment and comportment, and accents are viewed as inferior. So when we ignore the insistent requests to get rid of any signs of our migration, we are pushed aside. But you see, this entire side of the world belonged to our ancestors before yours even arrived, so when we can speak your forced languages we will speak it however we please, you’re on conquered land anyways. So we may accent it, spit it out, speak it quickly, and speak it loudly – it is our resistance to you extended visit.
Chongas are everywhere. When a chonga is around you know it, we will make ourselves known. We are hypervisible so you will remember our names, what we wore, what we said, and how we said it. And in a land that tries to ignore our existence and push us into living as the least of these, our visibility is power because you cannot erase what you have no control over and you cannot control those who have never bowed down to your notions of a hegemonic America. We are loud, we are proud, and we do not back down. Ask anyone who has gone up against a chonga about their experience, they will teach you to see us as we are: DIVINAS.
And to any chongas who may be in highly inaccessible space, you matter and you do not have to shed your toughness to exist in any space – spaces are only elevated by your existence.
Originally published with the Huffington Post.
Listen to Prisca - una niña malcriada con muchos sentimientos
More on Prisca:
A chonga Mujerista, Prisca recently graduated with her Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt University, and is looking to take some much needed time off to refresh. She is also the founder of Latina Rebels. Her interests are within biopolitics within Latina embodiment, specifically concerning models of conquerable flesh as it relates to narratives of naturalization for immigrant women of color. Thus her work is around reclaiming and upholding embodied resistance, particularly within chonga and chola subcultures. Que viva la mujer!
From Managua, Nicaragua and currently based in Miami, FL.