In the 1990s, Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles found themselves a surprising fanbase 5,000 miles away. Propelled by the international popularity of lowrider cars and movies like Selena, Mi Vida Loca and Cheech and Chong, a community of Japanese people in Nagoya fell hard for Chicano culture. Among them were women who found something appealing in the style of that scene: masculine workwear, big hoop earrings, bold makeup and lots of tattoos.
This is cultural appropriation — point blank. The Japanese chola look is based on stereotypes, generalisations and a Hollywood caricature of a very real group of people. But far from coming from a place of ignorance and disrespect, these Japanese women do their best to engage with, learn from and pay respect to (in the form of props and actual financial support) the culture they borrow from. This is an example of cultural appropriation that complicates how we think about who gets to participate in a culture, and for what reasons.
What’s more, Japanese chola style has something crucial to say about what Japanese society expects from its women. Far from being demure, submissive and feminine, these women use their clothing to protest against what they see as unfair gender norms.
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