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For other uses, see Cholo (disambiguation).
"Chonger" redirects here. For the ancient Chinese ruler, see Duke Wen of Jin.

Cholo (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtʃolo]) is a loosely defined term that has had various meanings relating to the connotation of people of indigenous heritage, who in many cases have some Spanish blood (mestizos), or who have adopted elements of Spanish dress, language or culture.[1] Its use has migrated from the initial negative ethnic designation as originated by Hispanic criollos in the 16th century. In sociological literature, it is one of castas,[2] and refers to individuals of mixed or pure Native American ancestry, or other racially mixed origin (75% Indigenous and 25% European). The precise usage of "cholo" has varied widely in different times and places. In modern American usage, it most often applies to the low-rider sub-culture manner of dress.

Historical usage[edit]

An example of "cula de Castas" which classified people by their ancestry, admixture, and degree of admixture. Within this representation of Cholos during the Latin American colonial period one can read "De mestizo e india, sale coiote" (from Mestizo and Amerindian, begotten a Coyote).

The term's use is first recorded in a Peruvian book published in 1609 and 1616, the Comentarios Reales de los Incas by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. He writes (in Spanish) "The child of a Black male and an Indian female, or of an Indian male and Black female, they call mulato and mulata. The children of these they call cholo. Cholo is a word from the Windward Islands; it means dog, not of the purebred variety, but of very disreputable origin; and the Spaniards use it for insult and vituperation".[3]

In Colonial Mexico, the terms cholo and coyote co-existed, indicating mixed Mestizo and Amerindian ancestry. Under the casta system of colonial Latin America, cholo originally applied to the children resulting from the union of a Mestizo and an Amerindian; that is, someone of three quarters Amerindian and one quarter Spanish ancestry. Other terms (mestizo, castizo, etc.) were used to denote other ratios of smaller or greater Spanish-to-Amerindian ancestry.

Cholo as an English-language term dates at least to 1851 when it was used by Herman Melville in his novel Moby-Dick, referring to a Spanish speaking sailor, possibly derived from the Windward Islands reference mentioned above. Isela Alexsandra Garcia of the University of California at Berkeley writes that the term can be traced to Mexico, where in the early part of the last century it referred to "culturally marginal" mestizos and Native American origin.[4]

During the War of the Pacific (1879–1883) Peruvians were contemptuously referred to as "cholos" by Chilean officers.[5]

An article in the Los Angeles Express of April 2, 1907, headlined "Cleaning Up the Filthy Cholo Courts Has Begun in Earnest", uses the terms cholos and Mexicans interchangeably.[6] The term cholo courts was defined in The Journal of San Diego History as "sometimes little more than instant slums as shanties were strewn almost randomly around city lots in order to create cheap horizontal tenements."[7]

Modern usage[edit]

United States[edit]

Cholos, cholas and cholitas are used as informal slang terms in parts of the USA, to refer to people of Latin American descent, usually Mexican, who are low-income, "tough" and who may wear stereotypical clothes.[1] The origin is complex:

Racial and cultural status, along with social class are reflected in the term cholo itself, which was adopted in California in the 1960s by youth following the pachuco tradition, as a label for that identity (Cuellar 1982). In 1571, Fray Alonso de Molina, in his Nahuatl vocabulary (Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana y Mexicana Y Mexicana y Castellana), defined the word xolo as slave, servant, or waiter. The Porrúa Dictionary defines cholo, as used in the Americas, as a civilized Native American or a half-breed or mestizo of a European father and Native American mother. The word has historically been used along the borderland as a derogatory term to mean lower class Mexican migrants, and in the rest of Latin America to mean an acculturating Indian or peasant.[8]

Despite, or because of, its long history of denigrating semantics, the term Cholo was turned on its head and used as a symbol of pride in the context of the ethnic power movements of the 1960s.[9]

Fashion stereotypes[edit]

During the 1930s and 40s, Cholos and Chicanos were known as "pachucos" and were associated with the zoot suit and hep cat subcultures.[10] The press at the time accused the Cholos in the US of gang membership and petty criminality, leading to the Zoot Suit Riots.[11] Continuing until the early 1970s, the typical cholo and chicano hairstyle was a variant of the pompadour, piled high on the head and kept in place with large quantities of wet look gel.

In the 21st century, a cholo is stereotypically male, depicted as wearing loose fitting khaki pants or shorts, with white knee-high socks, creased jeans, so-called wifebeater white sleeveless athletic shirt, and button-front shirts, commonly plaid and flannel, often with just the top button buttoned. Are known for starching and pressing their pants and shirts.[citation needed] Cholos often wear military-style webbed belts.[citation needed] Cholos in the 1990s and 2000s frequently have their hair buzzed very short, though some continue to have the more traditional slicked-back hair, sometimes held in place by a hairnet or a bandana.

Footwear originally included Stacy Adams dress shoes, and "biscuits" (pointy toed dress shoes). Modern cholos tend to wear athletic shoes, such as Converse, Nike Cortez, Stan Smith brand Adidas, slip-on house shoes or Huarache sandals. Popular "Cholo" brands include Dickies, Ben Davis, Joker, Lowrider, and Bighouse.

Some cholos, particularly older cholos (veteranos) or cholos wishing to adopt a more traditional look, wear formal wear inspired by zoot suit fashion, including dress shirts with suspenders, and fedora hats, but may still retain cholo elements such as a bandana or hair net. In South Texas, cholos are sometimes referred to as chucs or chukes. This term is short for pachucos. Tejano cholos typically make heavy use of starch on their pants but so do traditional Tejanos.

This designation may also be associated with black ink tattoos, commonly involving calligraphy and art. A cholo might also stereotypically own a lowrider. Another staple of cholo fashion is long hair tied into braids as depicted by actor Danny Trejo.

Cholo image in media[edit]

  • In the FOX TV series American Dad! episode, "Brains, Brains and Automobiles" (September 27, 2009), Roger gets his own apartment in a low-income neighborhood, and when Stan and Francine come to visit, he complains that a group of cholos robbed him. He says he keeps a box of "Chocodiles" in the freezer in case they come back.
  • In Sons of Anarchy (season 6), Tara leaves prison with a new haircut, about which she says, "All the cholas are wearing it".


Typical dress of a chola cuencana

In Bolivia, "cholo" refers to people with various amounts of Amerindian racial ancestry.[1] In Bolivia, cholitas have overcome former prejudice and discrimination, and are now seen as fashion icons.[1]


The cholo gangs started from the U.S. in the mid to late 1970s.[15] Cholo groups in Mexico were well established at least by the early 1980s along the US-Mexico border, in Zacatecas and Chihuahua.[16] These were called by various names, such as “barrios,” “clickas” and “gangas,” and typically seen as American Hispanics, not as Mexicans because of their dress and appearance, which has never been traditional to Mexico. Many of these groups were formed by youths who had spent time in the United States and who returned with a different identity picked up in U.S. street life.[17] Most cholos are youths between 13 and 25 years old who generally do not finish school beyond the eighth grade.[15] These groups mimic the organization of gangs found in the United States, especially California. Cholos have their own style of dress and speech. They are known for hand signals, tattoos and graffiti. Groups of cholos control various territories in the city. Most of the violence among these groups is over territory.[17]

El Salvador[edit]

The term Cholo is used as an adjective to describe someone who looks buff/tuff.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "The rise of the 'cholitas'". BBC News. 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  2. ^ Sonia G. Benson, ed. (2003). The Hispanic American Almanac: A Reference Work on Hispanics in the United States. (Third ed.). Thompson Gale. p. 14. ISBN 0-7876-2518-3 
  3. ^ de la Vega, Garcilaso, Inca, (1609). Los Comentarios Reales de los Incas. pp. ME. Aqui el escribe "Al hijo de negro y de india, o de indio y de negra, dicen mulato y mulata. A los hijos de éstos llaman cholo; es vocablo de la isla de Barlovento; quiere decir perro, no de los castizos (raza pura), sino de los muy bellacos gozcones; y los españoles usan de él por infamia y vituperio." 
  4. ^ Vigil, James Diego (1988). Barrio Gangs: Street Life and Identity in Southern California. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-71119-0. 
  5. ^ Vergara, Jorge Iván; Gundermann, Hans (2012). "Constitution and internal dynamics of the regional identitary in Tarapacá and Los Lagos, Chile". Chungara (in Spanish) (University of Tarapacá) 44 (1): 115–134. doi:10.4067/s0717-73562012000100009. 
  6. ^ Author unknown. "Cleaning Up the Filthy Cholo Courts Has Begun in Earnest", Los Angeles Express, April 2, 1907.
  7. ^ Curtis, James R. and Ford, Larry. "Bungalow Courts in San Diego: Monitoring a Sense of Place". The Journal of San Diego History. Spring 1988, Volume 34,
  8. ^ Cuellar, J. (1982-09-21). The Rise and Spread of Cholismo as a Border Youth Subculture. Southwest Border Regional Conference's Third Annual Binational Border Governors' Conference, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico: Unpublished manuscript. 
  9. ^ Cummings, Laura L. (2003). "Cloth-Wrapped People, Trouble, and Power: Pachuco Culture in the Greater Southwest". Journal of the Southwest 45 (3): 329–48. JSTOR 40170329. 
  10. ^ LA Almanac
  11. ^ Zoot suit riots media
  12. ^ Beale, Lewis (6 August 2006). "The young stars of an award-winning new film reflect on their Mexican roots". USA Retrieved 11 Jan 2009. [dead link]
  13. ^ Vineyard, Jennifer (2006-07-12). "Black Eyed Peas' Fergie Gets Rough And Regal In First Video From Solo LP - Music, Celebrity, Artist News". MTV. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  14. ^ Vineyard, Jennifer (2006-07-12). "Black Eyed Peas' Fergie Gets Rough And Regal In First Video From Solo LP - Music, Celebrity, Artist News". MTV. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  15. ^ a b López Peña, Susana. "Los cholos de 'Nezayork'" [The cholos of "Neza York"]. Noticieros Televisa (in Spanish) (Mexico City). Retrieved 18 January 2010. 
  16. ^ Pachucas and Pachucos in Tucson: Situated Border Lives (Southwest Center Series). University of Arizona Press. 2009. 
  17. ^ a b Sánchez Lemus, Saúl. "La vida loca" [The Crazy Life]. Noticieros Televisa (in Spanish) (Mexico City). Retrieved 18 January 2010. 

External links[edit]

The Folk Feminist Struggle Behind the Chola Fashion Trend an article describing Chola history from Vice Magazine