La vida loca or a simple kind of life?

Dear Gwen,

I’ve written an open letter to you before. That was all about your music and I wasn’t annoyed or offended by any of your creative work. I’m generally against censorship, but this situation makes me want to bend the rules of the First Amendment. I can’t make you do anything, but I can suggest it. I’ll just put it simply:

Stop! I’ve had it up to here.

I rarely watch videos, partly because I don’t have cable TV and mainly because I just don’t care. I probably would have missed your “Luxurious (remix)” video if I hadn’t stopped by Mujerista’s blog last night. I almost clicked the stop button to keep the video from playing and listening to music I didn’t want to hear. It’s a good thing I let it play because I’ve been running out of things to post at my blog and recycling old posts feels like cheating.

As you may have inferred, I have several problems with your video.

Cultural appropriation? First, in the words of Isa, my wise roommate, “What the hell?! NO! Horrible. You don’t RIP la Virgen in half. You can make her embrace the naked Sirena… you can put a calaca in place of her face… you can make her a Zapatista… but you can’t rip her in half!!” Chispa, another good friend, said “no she didn’t with la Virgen!” Sadly, yes you did.

Gwen, I know you’ve been around Mexicans and Chicanas/os. You grew up in Anaheim and anyone who knows that area and it’s neighboring Santa Ana know that there are a lot of Mexicanos in the area. In fact, Santa Ana is the most Mexican city in the US, as your fellow Anaheiman (is that a word?), Gustavo Arellano, loves to point out. Merely based on your OC roots, I can be fairly sure that you’ve seen the murals, hats, tattoos, medallions, and everything else devotees can manage to decorate with the image of la Virgen Morena. I thought you might have an inkling of an idea regarding her significance as a religious and cultural symbol. I guess not. Instead you commit a huge affront to the very cultural you’re foolishly trying to imitate.

We Mexicans take our Virgen de Guadalupe seriously. Many of us can accept her in more modern renditions, yet we will not tolerate destroying her just so you can show off your toned abs and breasts. I know I sound like a Puritan here, but I’ve just finished celebrating la Virgen de Guadalupe’s feast day and thinking about what She means to me, my family and Raza. If you walked out in those tiny shorts and ripped shirt anywhere in Southern California, you’d get dirty looks, maybe a few abuelitas yelling at you, and a possible beat down.

Second, stop with the Frida Kahlo look. Just don’t do it. I mean, Chicanas (and some Chicanos) dress like her all the time and have her image/paintings plastered all over their bedrooms. She’s sandwiched between la Virgen de Guadalupe and Morrissey when it comes to most popular figures among Chicanas. Only Raza can be that obsessed. Keep the flowers and braids with ribbon out of your hair. It’s not like you’re dancing folklórico, plus they don’t go too well with the blonde hair.

Third, I know you’ve been trying to do the chola thing since the ’90s. It was funny then, but it seemed you got tired of us. You pimped Indian culture and more recently hired Japanese Harajuku girls to follow you around. You even named them. What do you have against using your own Italian, Scottish and Irish roots or even just using your white suburban culture? To be fair, I have seen you rock plaid. The Japanese and Indian things were weird, but I didn’t feel like you were intruding on my culture, so it bugged less.

Now, your new image baffles me even more, especially when you take the three dots that represent “mi vida loca” and put them on your face. I’m no chola, I like having fuller eyebrows, personally hate wearing lipliner and lipstick, and can’t make my hair as big as it needs to be. Aside from the aesthetics, I’m also a kid from the suburbs and wasn’t in to the gang lifestlye for various reasons, the biggest being that my parents would kick my ass. Still, I feel I have the moral authority to speak for them (hi Oso!). So, Gwen, quit it with the chola thing, okay? You’re a multimillionaire pop star who just wants (wanted?) a simple kind of life. How crazy can it really be?

Fourth and final gripe: if you’re going to break a piñata in your video, you might as well do it during the tardeada/barbeque scene. I know you’re aware that piñatas are a party thing, so it makes absolutely no sense why you would do it all by yourself. Who’s going to get the candy? Oh wait, that’s what you get to lay in at the beginning of the video.

All in all, Gwen, I think you’re just trying too hard. I mean, what’s wrong with being a white chick from Anaheim? Well, I guess it might be boring. I would have just ignored this video and gone back to listening to Tragic Kingdom if it wasn’t for the Virgen shirt. Everything else was minor compared to that.

You did get something right. The lips and hair are on point. Everyone knows cholas want to be blonde.



28 thoughts on “La vida loca or a simple kind of life?

  1. I have lost touch with Gwen Stefani of late. Her solo work, aside from the fun stuff (I do like No Doubt) with her band, doesn’t attract me as much. I think the woman has a very rare estilo, but you’re right that it gets to the point where she (or her stylist) is just culling from anything they can find to make her look unique. Look at Bjork, she’s unique not because she tends to dress rather outlandishly (and the Oscar dress she wore was cool in my book) but it’s not that which makes her stand out but her beauty. I think Gwen’s attraction was that she wanted to be a rude/chola girl in the 90s and it fit in with the sign of the times because the ska sound was pumped out of Southern California and chicano culture. I mean, she’s shown her suburban roots by not reinventing music but bring it back (ska, punk, new wave, nothing new really) but tearing the Virgenisita linda, that’s otra cosa.

    When Sinead O’Conner did it in the early 90s, it stemmed from long years of personal struggle within herself and her views of the Catholic Church, but it also stemmed from the Protestant/Catholic struggle in her land. America didn’t understand it. It didn’t make it right though. It’s ironic, I will add, that America was so offended when Catholicsm is the minority in this country. We freak out at the thought of a Catholic president (‘sup muh HP!).

    I watched an episode of Home Movies last night where Brandon, the little 7-year old film maker kid, asks his mom for an electric guitar. His mother quibbles with him about getting a guitar. When the mother plainly asks him why the heck he wants to rock out. Brandon responds: “Mom, I’m suburban. It’s my destiny.”

  2. Cindy I have read your blog for some while now but this is the first time that I actually comment on something and it’s just that this entry has left me very upset because I understand how you feel. I think that if you want to be creative and through some of that creativity out in the world for others to experience it you have to take some responsibility for it and Gwen obviously does not portray the “Cholo culture” the way it really is. I saw the video and feel that she used it (like something dragged in the streets) for her benefit. The lyrics of the song have nothing to do with the video and all the scenes portray this life style in an incorrect way. If you’re going to use someone elses culture at least have the decency to learn something about it and give it the respect it deserves. That’s just my humble opinion. Thank you for your words.

  3. too funny! Oh, and as far as blonde hair goes, please, people, no dreadlocks either! It should be a crime.

    Morrissey? That must be a Socal chicano thing, because up here, we don’t learn about him until college, and most of us don’t get that far.

  4. As EMC pointed out, she built most of her career on ska-lite, and yes, this is a totally different thing, but that pissed off a lot of rude boys and girls as well. So in a way she has used her own culture, and offended people by doing that as well.

  5. hey cindylu, i’ve been lurking around your blog for a while, but today i have to THANK YOU for writing about the gwen video. my jaw dropped when i saw the luxurious video. such a blatant rip off of chicano/a cultural icons! like you, my friend, v, pointed out that she had been ripping of indian and japanese cultural stylings for years. i didn’t object until she ripped off what’s mine. thank you for articulating all of this in a way i hadn’t been able to.

  6. good letter cindylu. i have not seen the video but that does sound pretty harsh. why rip the virgen in half? just goes to show how shallow hollywood can get. i guess one way to make a difference is to speak up and stop buying her music. we can’t censor her poor artistic taste but perhaps we can make enough of an impact that she will make more thoughtful choices in her future work.

  7. Holy Sh!%! I swear that I was thinking the same exact thing this morning. This morning was the first time I got to watch that video and I seen her laying there trying to be all sexy I noticed two things right away – the virgen shirt and her Frida wannabe hair. If she was going to portray her life in the OC then she should’ve consulted with people first… Pinatas in a warehouse, wtf????

  8. I agree 100%!!! Oh wait, except the Morrissey part, I first heard of him through an ex-gf I had in college, but I never knew a Mexican who would know who he is, certainly not the ones I grew up with.

    Otherwise, great letter, lets hope she listens.

  9. Cindy, very well said. But Gwen, if you’re gonna get the chola thing right you need 2 things, 1: sharpie eybrows!!! 2: ur blonde hair should have been more orange hued w/ black roots. Cholas are not glam.

    And yes most rockeros (as we call them here in Chicago…I was one) all go through either a Smiths or Cure phase. So Santo Morrissey is well loved by Mexican American rockeros all throughout the US of A 🙂

  10. Gwen wears a shirt in the video that features a portrait of la Virgen that has been cut down the middle. After reading this & the first comment I was expecting her to jump out of a portrait like a football team at a home game, so I can understand irasali’s confusion.

    And, I feel like y’all are missing the point. There are lots of things to be upset about in that video and in her harajuku girls. But not the things you’re talking about. It wouldn’t be better if she consulted with people. She isn’t trying to copy Chicana culture and failing. She’s trying to be Chicana-lite. She’s doing an excellent job. It’s an offensive goal, but not because she has insufficient comprehension (or, imho, membership) of the thing she’s “ripping off”. The harajuku thing was offensive for totally different reasons, and is well described by that Salon article.

    Iduno. Hope I’m not full of crap.

  11. Morrissey is huge in El Paso, Club Dedo used to have Morrissey versus Robert Smith night. Good times.
    Chicano lite has been big in the scene for a long time. Skate punks have been wearing dickies and wife beaters forever. It’s just finally trickling up. There was an article in the Times last summer about the Cholo look being all the rage in New York fashion.
    The Guadalupana stuff is just an attempt to make something that in all reality is fairly bland, rehashed 80’s pop, edgy.

  12. It’s obvious that the virgen doesn’t mean anything to her and that’s her opinion. It’s like that old foggie on the cross in that Nirvana video, ya know the one with the babies hanging from a tree. It bothers me as much as south park making fun of Jesus…not very much. Then again I dont have to watch, listen to, or buy her crap. Como sea she has sucked ever since she went solo and started dating that pseudo-rocker.

  13. EMC,
    Her solo work is all over the place and just doesn’t interest me as well. Perhaps she thinks she’s paying homage to Chicana/o culture with this video. If so, no thanks. Thanks for bringing up the rude girl thing. I forgot about that.

    Ni de aquí,
    It’s funny that you mention the lyrics. When I looked around to see what other people were saying, someone wrote that a song about wanting the luxurious lifestyle clashed horribly with depicting a lifestlye from the “lowest rung.” (By the way, I found the guy’s review of the video really offensive and racist.) I know pop stars have been using “exotic cultures” for a while, and I can’t think of any right now who have done it so that it doesn’t look gimmicky and disrespectful.

    Wait, who can’t have dreads? My cousin has dreads, I think his mom would agree with you, though.

    Yeah, as far as I know SoCal, especially LA Chicanos, are keeping Morrissey’s career alive.

    Thanks for pointing that out. Was there any good that came out of that, though? Do you think more people became aware of ska and checked out some of the more authentic ska music?

    A lot of people think she’s being pretty authentic in this video. They point out the nails, hair, makeup, and clothes. If she really is trying to be Chicana-lite, then that also means there is one main image of what a Chicana should be like. If you follow the video, we’re either cholas or oversexed and Frida obsessed. We’re not grad students or bloggers or small-business owners. Of course the video isn’t going to portray that. It would be boring. I think it offends us mainly because that is something that is OURS and she’s taking it and trying to entertain people with it at the same time taking THE most important cultural symbol and ripping it. The Virgen thing is really what spurred my being offended.

    I really liked the Salon article, thus why I linked it.

    Jennifer (or should I call you Dr. Jennifer?),
    Lurking is cool, I guess, but your blog is cool and I would have loved to know about it sooner. You know, reading more about the Harajuku obsession in the Salon article helped me to see why that sucks too. It’s like they’re her pets. Talk about making the “other” exotic.

    If you click on the link to Mujerista’s blog it might play there (unless the bandwith has been exceeded). As Ben mentioned, she didn’t rip la Virgen in half, her shirt started off that way. We can also encourage Raza and others to read works that more accurately portray our community, and I think you have that part down.

    I don’t know if consultation would have made it much better, honestly.

    But you’re from Compton, and all you had heard of was NWA. So, I’m used to discounting your opinion. Heh. I don’t know where to send the letter, this is more just an exercise in ranting.

    I was thinking the blonde wasn’t quite orange enough either. Santo Morrissey, hehe… I like that.

    I don’t know if I agree with you on the image of the Guadalupana being just to make her music more edgy. I’m not sure what the purpose is there, I just know I don’t like it.

    I really would have missed this if not for actually watching the video the other night. Espelina mentioned it last week and I had no idea what she was talking about. I think the timing also fueled my disgust.

  14. Pues yo nunca avia hecho stop por aqui… but i dont know why i started reading ur blog…and damm… it got me mad.. i dont know if that video is new or old or what ever cuz.. i dont watch mtv or vh1 or none of that..but.. damm.. to mess with la virgen…
    i totally agree with ur point of view, in every aspect, but I also read the mujersita blog… and agree in terms that “white” ppl do grow up intermingled with the chicanos and what not, but one thing is to understand and participate in our cultura another is to imitate it…
    i think her video is offensive, why because she exsagerates, she makes us look like clowns… i used to be a “chola” (wanna-be).. and i didnt do none of that $h!t she put out there… and i guess it iritates me more because she is doing a marca patito d nuestra cultura d MI cultura. Second i think she should accept her own roots and her own cultura and embrace it like we do ours… IS HER CULTURA SO BAD SHE WANTS TO TAKE OURS?

  15. Wow, I’ve generated my first buzz! (Through Cindy, of course!) Just wanted to drop in and comment on a few things. I think the Luxurious lyrics have largely been misinterpreted as meaning Gwen is bragging about being rich or depicting a life of luxury, when actually she is talking about being “rich in love,” as in “we may not have money, but we have each other.” When you read the lyrics in those terms, I think you can see how Gwen thought of the Chicana/o culture she grew up around. As many of us in the community can attest to, we place a lot of emphasis on nuestras familias y amigos precisely because they are who you can count on when la vida es dura. The scene I liked best from the video is the multi-cultural BBQ, where people were celebrating together and having a good time, because this best depicts the point she is trying to get across through her lyrics – being rich in friends and family is what makes life “luxurious.”

    I think Gwen has actually been very deliberate about the cultures she has attempted to channel through her work since the very beginning of her career, whether or not one agrees with her appropriation of those cultures. She started wearing bindis on her forehead when dating Indian boyfriend, Tony Kanal; she claims to have been deeply inspired by the Harajuku culture; and she grew up around Chicana/os and has been emulating certain aspects of the culture since the very beginning of her career. Add that to the homage to her Italian roots in Cool, and I think it’s a safe bet to say that when she appropriates a culture, it’s because she feels a connection.

  16. I saw Gwen’s video last week sometime…
    and I did NOT like it, but I thought it was just me.
    I didn’t like how she was portraying the culture- but that’s just me.
    And yes, she is free to do as she pleases…
    and so are we- if we don’t like it, we don’t purchase!

    Un fuerte y caluroso abrazo.

  17. oops. when i asked, ‘why rip the virgen in half?’ i didn’t mean to imply gwen did it. i guess i should have said, ‘why wear a shirt where the virgen is ripped in half?” sorry about the confusion.

  18. Excellent critique, Cindylu. Gwen Stefani always rubbed me the wrong way. Her new “look” is just too close to what I hold dear. I’d like to think she is paying respect to a culture she finds a connection to. But her use (less kind word:exploitation) of the Harajuku girls leads me to believe that the look is a convenient image to help sell her albums and clothes. Nothing else.

    Gene summed it up pretty well–how nice not to worry about authenticity.

  19. ha! that was a great post. I actually do like some of her songs. I never pay much attention to her weird styles though. I don’t keep up with pop music videos these days either. not sure what she is doing either. maybe she got bored setting “trends”? who knows… fame does things to you I suppose.

    Happy Holidays =)

  20. Pingback: MUJERISTA » Back to Normal…Almost

  21. I am white, and honestly, her actions offend me, as well. The whole “Harajuku girls” thing? It just seems like she’s using what she wants from a culture, and just neglecting the rest and acting as though it doesn’t really matter, it’s just something for her to play with and enjoy while she wants to do so, and when she’s tired of it, it can just go away. I didn’t know about this video (I don’t have cable either, and if I did I wouldn’t watch her videos) but that’s very offensive. Hollywood just sterotypes things and doesn’t give a second thought to the people who might be offended, because everyone else will go ahead and buy the crap that the person is releasing. 🙁

  22. I am so glad you wrote this. I saw the video once while flipping through the channels and I was PISSED. It is one thing for us Chicanos to use her as an icon in queer, or feminsit, or border culture but for a non-latino even a non-mexicano to take la virgin de guadalupe and split her down in half cause it is cool? wtf?

  23. I just randomly came across this blog when i was searching for a picture of gwen stefani with the frida-like flowers and ribbons

    I don’t understand what the big deal is.

    I love gwen stefani. I love guadalupe. I am creative. I am Mexican-american.

    I don’t take things too seriously and I guess thats my problem.

    It’s sad how close-minded, unartistic (if thats a word), and judgemental people still are.

    Everyone can SUck it!
    Art in true form will offend.

  24. BTW (by the way)

    There is more genetic difference between a tall and a short person than between a white and a black person.

    We are all people it doesnt matter what culture we identify with.

  25. I say, death to Catholicism, Protestantism and all forms of Christianity.

    Me dan asco.

    I’m so tired of people mindlessly lapping up La Virgen just because she’s a “Mexican icon.” Get over it. Culture is not static it’s fluid. Let’s keep flowing.

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