The Movement to End ‘La Chancla,’ the Corporal Punishment that Became a Meme

These memes don’t interrogate what it actually means for a child to be threatened with physical harm for disobedient behavior,

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The Movement to End ‘La Chancla,’ the Corporal Punishment that Became a Meme
Screenshot:Instagram (Original Art by Cheanie Ku

In many Latinx families, two household items strike fear into the heart of anyone who sees them: la correa y la chancla. In English, this is the belt and the slipper, and Latinx children are often disciplined by being beaten with either or both. This shared traumatic upbringing is sufficiently common that “la chancla” has become a sort of meme in Latinx publications such as Pero Like and even depicted in films like Coco—a joke, fundamentally, about how we all used to get beat, but turned out mostly OK. Comedian Jenny Lorenzo, known for her impersonation of her own Cuban abuela, highlights the myth of the chancleta in a video where Abuela is a superhero who defeats villains with a gold chancla scepter. (It’s worth noting that while Latinx people are often at the butt of any and all spanking jokes, the corporal punishment of young children by their parents in the US is practiced across ethnic and racial lines. A 2019 study published by researchers at the University of New Hampshire showed that 46 percent of whites, 59 percent of Blacks, and 48 percent of “Hispanics,” had spanked their children between 2018 and 2019.)

But these memes don’t interrogate what it actually means for a child to be threatened with physical harm for disobedient behavior. In late June, I stumbled across an Instagram account called Latinx Parenting, which focuses on the relationships between Latinx adults and their history with the chancla. When I first started following the account, which is dedicated to “ending chancla culture,” a bit of drama was kicking up over a webinar that Latinx Parenting was offering about raising anti-racist children. (The price points were based on race and ethnic background with Black and Afro-Latinx people paying the least and white people paying the most, which didn’t sit well with some whites, but Latinx Parenting claimed the prices were integral to the understanding of racial privilege, and crucial to the antiracism work Latinx Parenting also does.)

Discovering this account when I did felt serendipitous—a few months prior, my partner and I had a conversation about having a child. As two people who grew up in traditional-leaning Latinx homes without fathers (one dead, one voluntarily absent), and with mothers who operated on a belief of “spare the rod spoil the child,” we were concerned about the years we each spent discovering our own generational trauma as a result of our upbringings within chancla culture. Was I predestined to fuck up my kid by subjecting them to the same kind of “discipline” I got?

But it’s this exact type of fear that Latinx Parenting hopes to unravel, teaching new and would-be parents who grew up within chancla culture that there’s a better way. Jezebel spoke with Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand, a co-founder of Latinx Parenting, about the pricing controversy and the work of ending chancla culture within the Latinx community. The following interview has been condensed.

JEZEBEL: What exactly is Latinx Parenting, and how did you come to create the platform?

LESLIE PRISCILLA ARREOLA-HILLENBRAND: Latinx Parenting is a trauma-informed bilingual organization that provides workshops and other education and support offerings for parents who identify as being Latinx. It operates within the frameworks of social justice, the practice of reparenting ourselves, nonviolence, healing intergenerational and ancestral traumas, and cultural sustenance.

Latinx Parenting was born out of a growing frustration that I felt while consistently not seeing my identity as a Latinx/Chicanx parent represented or reflected in the world of parenting coaching and parent education. I had longed to find a community that addressed the intersections of mothering, living as a child of immigrants, navigating the aspects of my cultural upbringing, and wanting a more connected relationship to my daughter than I had with my Mexican-born parents.

My professional background is in Child Development, and I was a preschool teacher for many years before becoming pregnant with my first daughter in 2011. When I moved into working with parents after having her, I found a large number of parenting resources and organizations that provided parent education, yet none of them acknowledged the significance of this specific cultural piece.

As far and wide as I searched, I couldn’t find anything that validated the unique challenges Latinx parents face in raising children gently and peacefully, up against the pressure from many in our culture to use the same oppressive tactics many of us were raised with—like “la chancla” and other forms of corporal punishment, threats, guilt, and manipulation. After years of being trained in multiple curriculums, I began teaching [a course called] Trauma-Informed Parenting with Nonviolence, which is deeply rooted in social justice.

What Latinx Parenting seeks to do is merge the practice of nonviolence in our families with decolonization, social and racial justice, and ancestral healing practices. What I learned from studying indigenous cultures in Latin America and here in the U.S. is that child-honoring is not new.

What is chancla culture, in your definition?

Chancla culture, as I define it, is the use of oppressive strategies—including corporal punishment, shame, and fear—to manipulate children into behaving, which causes significant harm to a child’s development and emotional development especially when employed long-term. In a concrete sense, La Chancla is in reference to a sandal or flip-flop, and in Latinx culture, it is frequently referenced as having been used by our immigrant or Latina mothers to get children to change behavior by either threatening or actively using it to physically hurt us as children. It is made light of and there are countless videos and memes that are intended to be funny, but when you look at it from a child development and children’s rights perspective, are making light of child abuse.

Laughing at chancla memes and videos may give some of us Latinx people a sense of feeling seen and relating to that experience. It may be difficult to acknowledge that growing up in chancla culture caused harm, because so many of us have been raised not to question or “disrespect” our parents by challenging their choices. Respect is an important value in Latinx families, and in our culture, the need to be respected and to provide guidance is often confused with the urge to create fear through punishment. However, by acknowledging that our parents didn’t have alternate tools or adequate information and resources, we are not disrespecting them. We are simply naming that it caused harm, and we are invited to reflect on whether or not we want to cause that for our children. There’s quite a bit of compassion we can hold for our parents once we understand where chancla culture comes from, and that their choices were usually not intended to harm, though the fact is that they often did.

How did chancla culture become so prevalent in Latinx communities—what are its roots?

Chancla culture has its roots in colonialism and European intrafamilial violence, and the dismal treatment of children in Europe. I want to make clear that historically, there is no strong evidence that the majority of indigenous people of the Americas engaged in corporal punishment against children. Outside of a small handful of specific unverified examples where this is not true, it is only within the last five centuries that there seems to have been a shift towards more authoritarian and domination-based practices being used to control children’s behaviors in Latin American families. There are researchers, like Lisa Fontes and Stacey Patton, who have pointed to the fact that the survival of our indigenous ancestors, as with other enslaved peoples, hinged on adhering and obeying their masters and teaching their children to do the same. Given the context, it makes sense that parents began adopting oppressive strategies to ensure the survival of their children at the hands of their oppressors.

Many indigenous peoples assimilated into the dominant culture and adopted micro-oppressive practices within our homes so that we and our children could continue to survive in the newly dominant paradigm. In doing so, we lost a large piece of our identity as a people that saw children as worthy of honoring… the way the Maya people and many other living Indigenous peoples, both in the U.S. and Latin America, still do to this day.

Chancla culture is another plague brought by colonizers

Through colonial violence, there were very real attempts made to subjugate, convert, and divide the people who were originally on this continent in order to acquire resources and wealth. Again, these strategies of intrafamilial oppression, often traumatic and harmful to growing brains, can be traced back in previous centuries to European childhood and its effects on growing adults. Therefore, chancla culture is another plague brought by colonizers that we continue to fight, heal from, and now must decolonize.

For some families, chancla culture has only been enhanced by the stresses of poverty, further pillaging of economic resources by U.S. imperialism, and the need brought to families throughout the Americas to migrate north and the loss of community that comes with that.

There is significant evidence that Latin-American-born and first-generation parents, namely mothers, in the U.S. often employ chancla culture strategies in much more frequency than other Latinx parents who remained in their countries of origin. Part of the reason this is true is because of acculturation stress, the fears around one’s children acting out of line, and the very real consequences that would cause if one is undocumented, or the possibility of otherwise not being treated fairly by authorities because of racism and discrimination.

It isn’t just because of what we know now about the impact of corporal punishment and other oppressive strategies on children’s brain development and mental health that we want to end chancla culture. Those of us in this movement believe that this is an important way that we will see the end of a dominant paradigm that thrives on domination, duality, hierarchy, and patriarchy.

What do you say to people who grew up being abused under the guise of “discipline,” and who continue the cycle with the justification that I turned out OK or This is how my parents did it?

This is a very common attempted rebuttal whenever the topic of spanking or any other kind of corporal punishment is brought up. It’s normal to experience some hesitancy to acknowledge what this kind of parental behavior has caused us as children, and this hesitancy will sometimes lead to the point of view that children “need” discipline. However, discipline is a very different concept than punishment. Discipline means to teach. I would ask a parent: What did this form of “discipline” in chancla culture teach you, really? It taught us to obey—or else! But if the goal of discipline is to teach, should obedience be the goal? We did learn to obey, but that obedience was rooted in fear, not genuine respect, and not because we were guided into truly learning the reasons why other behaviors may have been more appropriate. Our brain development, capacity, and even value as humans deserving of grace and respect, the long-term effects, and other factors were not taken into consideration in those moments.

This is not to blame or shame our parents, especially if they were people of color or immigrants or experienced the stressors of poverty and other socioeconomic insecurities because they often really did not have the space to reflect on their own childhoods that many of us now have. Without that reflection, it would have been difficult to set new intentions for parenting practices that were different from what their own parents did. In holding compassion for the children that we were, and that I believe still live within us, we can also hold compassion for our parents while acknowledging that their behaviors did hurt us and choosing to do differently for our families so that our children will not ever have to justify the harm done unto them in similar ways.

Beyond just saying that they turned out okay, many people will justify it by saying that they deserved being hit or verbally and emotionally harmed. I was one of these people before I really started learning and facing truths about my own childhood and my parents’ inability to guide my behavior without resorting to techniques that failed to see me as a growing, learning human being. I fully disagree that any child ever deserved any kind of physical, verbal, or emotional violence regardless of what they may have done. The framework of nonviolence, which is one of the tenets that Latinx Parenting is rooted in, states that all human behavior is an attempt to meet a need. This can’t be more true for children who don’t always have the capacity to articulate what their needs are, especially when they themselves are under distress or operating from fear.

Parents don’t typically act in these ways when they are calm and understanding, and often they are operating out of their own wounds

Again, I want to invite people to really truly engage in that reflection and remember themselves as children when they experienced Chancla Culture in the form of punishment or threats and think about where their parents were in their mind and emotions when they brought themselves to engage in those behaviors. Parents don’t typically act in these ways when they are calm and understanding, and often they are operating out of their own wounds, some of them intergenerational and ancestral, and the behaviors that they learned from their own parents.

In conjunction with your work to end chancla culture, a lot of Latinx Parenting’s programming deals with anti-racism. LP recently hosted a program about raising anti-racist children that involved a payment tier which you got some flack for, can you talk about the reasoning behind the payment tiers and how it folds into the larger work you’re doing on anti-racism?

Yes, it certainly made some people uncomfortable. This is one of the times where the complexity of working with the Latinx community, in light of some of these heavier topics being presented, really struck me. I had become accustomed to people feeling resistance to my firm stance against spanking, but it took me by surprise that so many individuals and entire institutions reach out in opposition to the tiers which were intentionally structured to reflect differences in privilege. A friend pointed out that this was the “first lesson” of the workshop, so-to-speak because it was a practice in losing that privilege and moving towards equality, justice, and liberation through equity. There seemed to be a lot of confusion around the difference between “equity” and “equality” and people did not like their privilege named and especially did not like that it was being asked to be quantified in actual numbers.

I consider myself a white Latina/Xicana, and a non-Black POC. Naming our privilege and our positionality is directly tied to one of the tenets of Latinx Parenting which is self-reflection and introspection, both about our personal lived experiences and about our cultural histories. We cannot progress towards justice if we don’t take the vulnerable steps of acknowledging that many of us who identify as non-Black Latinx people, concretely benefit, and historically have benefited, from being lighter-skinned and being in proximity to whiteness. There are studies that conclude that non-Black Latinx people are afforded more educational and professional opportunities. White privilege exists in the Latinx community and colorism is very real. There is no shame in admitting this. Once we can move past the fragility we might experience initially, we will be in a much better position to confidently work towards dismantling White Superiority and anti-Blackness in our homes and in the larger community.

If we truly want to build a more socially and racially just world, it’s going to get messy and it’s going to be uncomfortable. We need to embrace the messy and uncomfortable and stand with and for our Black kindred, and model what that looks like for our kids. If we are not actively discussing the realities of social and racial dynamics with our children, we are potentially raising them to be either explicitly or subtly complicit in the harms done against Black people and other marginalized groups.

What role do you think allyship plays, if any, in anti-racism work? Is the onus on allies to educate themselves or those who are experiencing racism to proactively educate others?

I recently heard someone speak to the idea that allyship is still too far removed from the experience, and what we need to be and become are co-conspirators. I love that idea because it gives us not only the direction of standing alongside Black and AfroLatinx [people], but actually doing what we need to do to actively dismantle all systems that oppress Black and brown people. We need both allies educating themselves, ourselves, and we also need to step back when it’s going to be much more appropriate and impactful for a Black/AfroLatinx person to share from that perspective. We need any and everyone to do the work if it’s within [their] capacity. I cannot speak to the AfroLatinx narrative because I have not experienced the harms of colorism that some of my much darker cousins have experienced. What I do know is that their narratives should be centered in the conversation. Their experiences are often shut out of the conversation rather than amplified. What I can speak to is being a person who is unafraid to name and wield my privilege, both publicly and privately, in support of Black lives, voices, and narratives. Black people and AfroLatinx people have been doing the heavy lifting in trying to get people to wake up for longer than either of us have been alive, and they won’t stop doing that work, but it’s now up to those of us with more privilege to take the baton and keep running, not until we are all just “not racist,” but until we are all actively anti-racist.

On August 8, Latinx Parenting will host another webinar titled “Ending Chancla Culture: Decolonizing Our Familias and Raising Future Ancestors.” Tickets for this program are “sliding scale/privilege based.”

(Updated 3/2/22 with new details)

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