essay helper

Being Latino on Google Plus

Lean like a cholo

by Nancy Sepulveda

Bald-headed, tattooed Latinos in baggy khakis. Bandanas on display. Aggressive swagger. This image of the ‘cholo’ spans pop culture, from Lil’ Homies figurines to the music video for Bruno Mars’ hit Grenade. And, of course, these stereotypical Mexican/Latino gang bangers can be found in popular films from Selena (“Seleeenaasss!”) to Bruce Almighty.

But the meaning of ‘cholo’ has evolved. It may derive from the Nahuatl (Aztec) ‘xolotl,’ meaning ‘dog or mutt.’ In the 1800s it was a derogatory term flung upon meztisos and meant to imply a lesser class, a hodgepodge of ragtag half-breeds. In the 1900s, the rise and fall of zoot-suiters gave way to the cholo heyday – a prime some have idealized and are still trying to recapture, decades later.

Growing up in the ‘90s in Albuquerque (a city where, I kid you not, feathered-mullet ‘dos and penciled-on eyebrows are still a relatively common sight), my teenage self romanticized all things gangsta: gold rims on dropped Monte Carlos, Lowrider Oldies CDs, and the infamous “mi vida loca” three-dot tat placed conspicuously on a brow bone or thumb. The thug scene in ‘Burque at the time was a blend of pop-hop (mainstream hip-hop and rap) and old-skool style. Master P and his No Limit soldiers were bass-bumped back-to-back with Tears of a Clown and I’m Your Puppet. Insanely baggy Jnco jeans were sported one day, classic Dickies and a white wife-beater the next. Fast-forward to 2011, and there are still OGs clutching a forty of Old English in one hand, a rucha in the other, reminiscing about their glory days before la pinta.

Why has the lifestyle endured? In some ways it hasn’t, and lingers in the collective American psyche as stereotypical fodder. But the cholo culture is still alive and well in certain communities. Part of it is simply ingrained in some neighborhoods, as children emulate older siblings, who emulate older cousins, who emulate older tios, etc. But it’s also representative of the underdog’s need for power and dominance. Cholo-style emerged, as a group repressed by mainstream America began to push back, to demand equal respect and eventually fear. The classic cholo stance calls for shoulders back, chin raised, confident gait. A walk that says, “Look me in the eyes, vato, because I ain’t lookin’ at the ground no more.” Cholos rejected the menial labor and acceptance of second-class status that some of their parents tolerated. Unionizing in the loosest sense of the word. But many also abandoned respect for the law and human life; they twisted the Latino commitment to familia into commitment to the pseudo-families of gangs. The cholo image twisted into handcuffed high-school dropouts with ridiculously accented vernacular, where it remains today.

Will we ever see a resurgence of cholo popularity? Unlikely. But Latinos should take a page (not a whole chapter!) from the Cholo Guide to Life: challenge the status quo, demand respeto, and have pride in who you are and where you come from.

Contributor, Nancy Sepulveda


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


facebook twitter youtube images


About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. eileenrivera says:

    I really enjoyed this. I learned something new. What do rucha and pinta mean?

  2. Searlejb says:

    I believe author meant “ruca” & if so, it’s a (arguably derogatory) a pun meaning for “girl”. I learned “albur” which is a way of speaking in which words are used as puns. I “learned” albur while living in el D.F. (Distrito Federal) back in early 80’s. Pinta…you got me there….?!

  3. La Pinta means the Pen or the penitentiary – jail.

  4. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thanks, Eileen! Glad you liked it. Ruca (I always saw the taggers use ‘rucha’ but they probably weren’t the best spelling guide LOL) does mean girl, and can be used as a synonym for “girlfriend’ or ‘my woman/chick.’ C is right, the pinta is basically any type of incarceration. Here’s some other fun cholo slang (spelling may be way off lol):

    firme = cool, smooth, good
    feria = money, cash
    trucha= chill out, relax, watch yourself
    frajo= cigarette
    quete= gun, piece
    simon= yes, for sure
    chale= no, hell no!
    heina= same as ruca
    chones= undies

  5. la chota: the police

  6. Nancy I love this article. Takes me back to days of parties my parents would through in our back yard and all the cholitos and cholitas dancing to “I’m your puppet” and “18 With a Bullet”, cholos with their elbows pointed out and their shoulders up, heads slightly down…lol. Man those were the days. I remember taking pictures with my cousin after my sister and her cousin had a make-over session with the two of us (us only 7 yrs old at the time). We were so proud to sport our large jncos and baby doll t’s, bandanas and large hair with brown penciled lips and flannel shirts with only the top button done. Thanks for the memories Nancy :)

  7. Melanica says:

    I love cholo’s! They remind me of black americans and “slang”. We have made what we have been force to conform to (cloth and english language) and have made it our own. Being a “cholo” and slang is both culturally, belonging to a certain culture. I love cholo’s its hard to be them becuz the police racially profiles but they still who they are: Gangstas! :)

Speak Your Mind