bloggin' all things brownsville

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ode to the Chancla

Chanclas, or flip-flops, come in a variety of colors and styles and can be used to swat flies and obstinate children.

Yup. I'm re-posting (cut-and-pasting) this one from the San Antonio Express-News. It's a hilarious, must-read by Michael Quintanilla.


I love my chanclas.

I’ve got them by the bed. Under it, too. They’re outside my front and back doors. Chanclas are in my car and gym bag. I water my garden, walk my dogs, run errands, tromp through the mall and have been known to cha-cha in chanclas.

My what, you might wonder?

In English, they’re called flip-flops. In Latino San Antonio, we never called them that. They always were and always will be chanclas, ranking up there with other slang/lingo/street-isms I grew up with. For instance there’s “chones,” pronounced cho-nez, for underwear or “el cucuy,” pronounced coo-cooee, for the boogeyman. Sometimes, English doesn’t convey the affection we have for such things.

Yes, affection. After all, you’ve gotta love wearing chanclas, a summer style statement that never seems to go out of fashion, especially when it’s a third-degree scorcher outside. They are S.A.’s unofficial official shoe, and not just for beating the heat. They’re just about on everyone and everywhere: opening night at the Majestic Theatre, Spurs play-off games, casual Fridays at work. Fiesta wouldn’t be Fiesta without them. They’re even worn to church, the place where big hair is big because, as we say in Texas, the higher the hair, honey, the closer to God. But, in my book, chanclas will get you closer to Jesus, the man who practically invented them.

It is OK — isn’t it? — to profess such adoration for the simple footwear that announces you’re coming and going by sounding off with a cadenced whack-whack. That would be the spanking that chanclas produce on the underside of one’s feet.

And that brings back many memories, such as the occasional chancla thrashing, always executed with aplomb from Mom. C’mon now, all you chancla-wearing people out there know what I’m taking about.

Many a Latino comic has quipped about chastisement by chancla. New York’s Puerto Rican funnyman Bill Santiago suggests that the next edition of Funk and Wagnalls should include the word chancla that he defines as a “cheap sandal that doubles as a disciplinary device in Latino households.”

And then there are those “Don’t make me use my chancla” tees available from many a Web site. What Latino kid (or any other for that matter) in S.A. hasn’t been disciplined with one of momma’s chanclas?

Heaven help us if we got on her bad side — she’d send a chancla airborne like a mighty Olympian releasing a disc, a stealthy spanking waiting to happen because we knew if the left one didn’t get you, the right one always did.

Many a friend has regaled me with legendary chancla smack downs.

My favorite tall tale is the one about the indestructible chancla flung by a mom as if she had just hurled a bowling ball — at warp speed — with a mean left hook. So skilled was this mama with a chancla that the darn shoe knew how to turn corners, hide under chairs, linger in the hallway and hover — yes, like something out of Star Wars — longing to land its target.

With a snap of Mom’s fingers the thing had boomerang powers, too. A shoe that smart should be marketed as the “Turbo-Charged Achilles Chancla 10,000” — the ultimate disciplinarian that’s practically a toy.

For decades chanclas have been the perfect union of rubber and relief, reprimand and revolt. And totally utilitarian. Who hasn’t crushed a cockroach with one? Or swatted a fly? I’ve kicked a flat tire with one, which I wouldn’t recommend.

Chanclas are a part of my cultural upbringing as everlasting as the rubber soles of the style itself. The word itself has managed to morph into other meanings besides footwear. For instance, to say “¡Vamos a tirar chancla!” means” Let’s go dancing.” Or how about in Spanglish, “Man, you’re off the chancla!” which decodes into “Man, you’re crazy cool!”

San Antonio author Sandra Cisneros titled a chapter after them in her award-winning book “The House on Mango Street.” I’m sure her King William abode, the House Formerly Known as Purple, is also a Casa with Oodles of Chanclas, ready to instantly motor her around the hood.

These days, chanclas are also a chic fashion statement. Brides love ’em. So do designers from Alexander McQueen to Alexander Wang. Wang will introduce his first shoe collection for Spring 2009, aggressive styles that include a chancla influence: wicked platform sandals with a thong (the chancla strap that separates the big toe from the others) instead of doing an open-toe.

“The thong between your toes, it draws your attention to that area,” he told WWD, a daily fashion publication.

In designer speak, that means one sexy chancla.

The whole enchilada ... um, chancla ... is like wearing an almost invisible shoe that is the closest thing to being barefooted, which is why we love them, especially while going through airport security.

Last year I listed “100 reasons why we love Fiesta” (for an S.A. Life story) and No. 17 (wedged between “shouting ‘Show us your shoes!’” and “collecting beer cups at NIOSA,” was “stepping out in chanclas.”

In a similar list, “100 reasons why I love being Hispanic” (for another story about Hispanic Heritage Month), chanclas rated higher at No. 6, just after “images of the Virgin Mary on a tortilla.”

Sometime back I spoke with Eva Longoria Parker for yet another piece and asked: “What’s the last pair of shoes you picked up?” Her answer: “I only buy stilettos. Even my chanclas are stilettos.”

Spoken like a true Tejana.

Chanclas are not without controversy, either.

Remember the chancla debacle at the White House sometime back when several Northwestern University women wore the beach-like sandals to a presidential ceremony in their honor?

Were feet in barely-there footwear posing for photos at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. a fashion flub or absolutely fab?

With Prada offering its own summer version, I say “Viva la chancla!”

That’s one thing I’ll never flip-flop on.


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Anonymous Lupita M. said...

'With a snap of Mom’s fingers the thing had boomerang powers, too. A shoe that smart should be marketed as the “Turbo-Charged Achilles Chancla 10,000” — the ultimate disciplinarian that’s practically a toy.' mother would agree!


Sunday, August 31, 2008  

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