One day you’re invisible to society then by sheer “luck” the next day you make the local news or better yet you become the “decade of something” or other.
How does this happen?
That’s the question that drew me to write this particular post.
I’m not referring here to an individual making the news, rather I’m referring to communities that have been ignored for decades suddenly being “discovered” by Madison Avenue.
Every so often, Chicanas/os appear as a tiny blip on the radar of Euroamerican society and are somehow magically transported to the margins of Americana as the next big thing.
It never ceases to amaze me how Mexicans are always seen as the next so-called “immigrant” group patiently waiting its turn at the entrance of the gates of Democracy in order to fulfill the American Dream. Yet, tragically, after waiting and waiting for 165 years as it turns out the Dream is really a Nightmare.
Through the wonders of social media, principally Twitter, I have been able to dialogue with like-minded people about issues related to the Chicana/o community. We agree to disagree. It is something that I have expressed several times before.
Recently, a “talk” took place on Twitter about Los Chipsters and its significance to the Chicana/o community and the Movement. This talk evolved out of a Telemundo segment exploring Los Chipsters in Boyle Heights.
Chipster is a term that has been out in the community for awhile. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a badge of honor, but if you think about it, it sure makes for a perfect Madison Avenue marketing campaign.
If you been reading some of my previous posts, you’ll realize that nearly every piece in Notes From Aztlán is written within the prism of history. To make sense of the present and get a glimpse of the future, it is important to have an understanding of the past.
I believe that every moment in life is connected to the (in)actions of what occurred in the past. Nothing happens in isolation.
In particular, Chicanas/os are usually one giant step away from achieving political and economic parity, but as always falling short when the rug suddenly gets pulled out from under its feet by some tragic political event or an act of God.
Ay Pobre Raza: SO FAR FROM GOD, YET SO CLOSE TO THE UNITED STATES.
If you take a step back, you’ll also realize that there are no random historical acts or events in our modern world. For better or worse, there is always an economic motive behind everything that happens.
The best investment any capitalist can make is based on the idea of minimum expenditure while maximizing profit. It doesn’t matter that one day in 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold slavery then decades later in 1954 be forced to declare segregation unconstitutional.
Slavery and (de)segregation were motivated by money.
Crazy how these things happen, but it has nothing to do with any virtues of altruism on the part of the Establishment or their sudden realization that people are actually born with natural rights, rather it happens because it is no longer economically convenient for the Establishment to keep people in actual physical bondage or in complete segregation.
This is how the 1% is able to maintain its power; the ruling class is very adaptable to changing political conditions more so than the working-class.
The old refrain rings true for Chicanas/os: “El Futuro de Nuestra Gente Esta Basado en Nuestro Pasado.”
Indeed, the more we know about our history and culture, the better prepared we will be to respond to any form of injustice.
You’ll also realize that our experiences are not much different from earlier generations. Maybe we can learn something from the past as we forge ahead with new ideas.
And this is what led me to today’s commentary. It focuses on the so-called “counter-cultural” phenomenon that has managed to seep its way onto several already gentrified areas of Los Angeles’ eastside neighborhoods.
It is not a new phenomenon, to be sure, just a continuation of the past under a new guise. In particular, Boyle Heights has been a key site of the gentrification battles taking place since the 1990s.
This post isn’t specifically about gentrification but rather about Los Chipsters, this new Raza hybridity that can transcend and oscillate with ease between various multicultural worlds and multigenerational decades.
Suddenly, young Chicanas/os are being “discovered” and marketed as Los Chipsters. The term “Chipster” is a cross between Chicano and the Euroamerican term hipster.
I wanted to understand what, if any, economic motive is behind the creation of Los Chipsters. Isn’t there always an economic motive behind Capitalism?
For starters, what role does the multi-billion dollar marketing industry aimed primarily at the so-called “Pan-Hispanic” community play in the promotion of a Chipster identity?
Are mainstream media outlets and Hispanic entrepreneurs suddenly interested in the experiences of young Chicanas/os and improving barrio life or are they more concerned with exploiting the consumer habits of this young group to add to the conglomerate coffers of Euroamerican and Hispanic entrepreneurs of what is expected to be a “Hispanic” purchasing power of $1.5 trillion by 2015?
According to AHAA: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing, “Hispanics’ spending patterns already help to determine the success or failure of many youth-oriented products and services.”
So you can see where I’m headed with this. Nothing happens in isolation.
Other questions came to mind: Are young Chicanas/os being forced to internalize a trendy label that has no historical connection to the people, the land or the past? Why continue to confuse a community that already is inundated with several dozen identities? In fact, how does the term Chipster work to disempower the Chicana/o community?
While many self-identify as Chipster, and all power to them, but it should be noted that there is an entire Hispanic entrepreneurship on the verge of exploiting this new trendy “counter-culture.” It should also be acknowledged that Los Chipsters, to some degree, have one thing in common with the Euroamerican Hipster, namely access to money!
It is revealing that the term Chipster is a radical departure from the word Chicano, which forged its identity within the politics of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and traces its identity back to the Indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica.
The term Chipster, on the other hand, alludes to a tamer and trendier version of Hispanic with its suggestion of assimilation and consumerism at its core.
The term Chipster is fairly new but a closer look reveals that the idea behind it isn’t.
Chipster is another classic Euroamerican and Hispanic factorship (see my previous post: The Rise of the Hispanic Factorship & the Co-optation of the Chicano Movement) attempt to consolidate its political and economic control over the Chicana/o community by creating a false image of an autonomous yet fashionable identity.
If you follow the recommendations of Annette González-Malkin, VP at Hunter Public Relations, you’ll realize why Chipster is not some supposedly grass-roots self-identification term, but rather part of a wider marketing ploy of the so-called Hispanic Millenials: “Imagine the impact of effectively engaging the fastest growing segment of the population in addition to the general market. If you’re not investing resources to reach 20% of your consumer target, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your approach.”
As my friend and Chicano author and indie publisher, SJ Rivera, stated about the Hispanic Millenials: “This is exactly what is being discussed at board room meetings at corporations across AmeriKKKa. It’s all about marketing to that demographic now.”
Indeed, follow the money.
$1.5 trillion sure makes a lot of people wealthy, and if history is any indication that money will never find its way to any Chicana/o community in the near future.
While maintaining so-called independent thinking, progressive politics, and belonging to a new counter-culture, many Chipsters use the language of the Zapatista Movement (i.e. of making another world possible) while, ironically, engaging in petty bourgeois capitalism by profiting from our culture through the sale of cultural jewelry, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and through the creation of so-called “community-spaces” that ultimately end up gentrifying the very community they supposedly set out to empower and “liberate.”
In their attempt to fit into the “non-mainstream” with their eclectic tastes in music, fashionable styles of dress, and “expertise” in whatever trendy political theory is in vogue, Los Chipsters have completely disassociated themselves from the politics of the Chicano Movement.
The politics of the Chipster movement is akin to the old assimilationist strategies of LULAC, but with a younger and trendier look. The new Chipster movement might articulate calls for social justice, but they do so primarily through the creation of Facebook pages that ultimately have no impact in organizing Chicana/o communities for self-determination.
In the end, it doesn’t matter that you’re really not organizing, what matters most to Los Chipsters is that you are seen at the next “protest” or gig while making sure you wear the Emiliano Zapata t-shirt so that you can take a picture standing next to a Frida Kahlo painting and then be able to post it on Instagram.
There isn’t anything wrong with Los Chipsters, I suppose, I mean every generation goes through their own process of coming to terms with their personal and group identity, but to profit off the ideals of the Chicano Movement and the iconography of say, the Pachuco, is disingenuous to say the least.
Hunter Public Relations is not responsible for the creation of the term Chipster, of course, but the trendy nature of consumerism inherent in that term will continue to negate the power and radicalness behind the term Chicana/o.
The Chicana/o questions society about its racism, sexism, and classism through direct political action. A Chipster merely posts a Facebook page with an online petition to voice their concerns.
Follow the money. Los Chipsters fits perfectly well with the business strategy of Madison Avenue. It is a matter of time before Target begins selling Los Chipsters t-shirts. Los Chipsters will proudly proclaim their space, while Madison Avenue profits immensely from their need to fit in. Meanwhile, the Chicana/o will continue the struggle for self-determination.
– part of an ongoing series of essays on the Chicano Movement, the Brown Berets, and Chicano Studies as part of my thesis/dissertation.