In the early 2000s, teen girls across the country begged their parents for NSYNC concert tickets, Abercrombie and Fitch jeans, and a pair of skateboarding shoes. But the scene was different in Miami, where chongas – hypervisible, sexualized, aggressive and high femme working-class Latinas – birthed a fashion and lifestyle unfit for the US’ dominant schoolgirl culture.
With their hair gelled to a crisp, loud elastic dresses hugging every inch of their pubescent bodies, and dark lip liner underscoring their foul mouths and “I’ll fuck you up” attitudes, chongas demanded attention, and they reveled in it. Wherever they were at, the sound of their fake gold bangles clinking, acrylic nails tapping, and Spanglish girl talk roared “we’re here.” But their gaudy aesthetic was also fodder for White America and well-off Latinos, who called chongas “cheap” and “ghetto.”
The term “chonga” itself was an insult, one tinged with racism, sexism and classism. For the haters, these were misbehaved teens who wore too much makeup and jewelry, dressed immodestly and danced provocatively — bad brown and black girls who needed to be shamed for daring to be so bold. For chongas, their vogue and manner were survival, a version of fierceness, independence and beauty that no slur could take away from them. It was also ownership, something that finally represented and belonged to them.
Erased from popular media and runway trends, chongas meshed the apparel worn in the Caribbean, where most descended from, with urban US styles to develop an aesthetic that was theirs, and didn’t require the approval of the fashion industry’s gatekeepers. In many ways, chongas were East Coast versions of cholas, but stylistically, they often had more in common with African-American communities.
The chonga subculture, most popular in Miami, made its way throughout South Florida and into Orlando, creating a mode and mores that defined working-class Latina girls in the Sunshine State. Here, some items that the baddest chonga couldn’t be spotted without.
You don’t ever have to ask a chonga what her name is, because she’ll undoubtedly have it written on her somewhere. From jewelry – nameplate necklaces, personalized bamboo earrings, and name rings and bracelets – to attire – custom name belts and stitched jeans – even the girl who hates what her parents called her will rock her name on her body somewhere.
For chongas, something didn’t happen if it wasn’t commemorated on an airbrushed tee. Friendships, new relationships, graduations and, yes, names, were all sprayed over baggy white tees and worn on casual days, ‘cause even those days were extra AF.
Released in 2003, Mas Flow was the soundtrack to every chonga’s life. The debut compilation album from reggaeton producers Luny Tunes brought jams for every occasion. We danced to Trebol Clan’s “Bailando Provocas,” Hector & Tito’s “Cae La Noche,” and Don Omar’s “Entre Tu Y Yo” at house parties, got hype when we heard Wisin & Yandel’s “Aventura” on the schoolbus radio, and melted when our crushes dedicated Zion & Lennox’s “Hay Algo En Ti” to us.
Whether you used it to crunch your curls or get that perfect side-part slick for your bun, gel was your best friend — but so was shampoo and conditioner, ‘cause all that product left you with mad dandruff.
White Eyeliner, Black Lip Liner
Chongas were criticized for wearing too much makeup at young ages, but we were really just sporting a few cosmetic essentials: white and black eyeliners, black and brown lip liners, and shiny, sticky, fruity rollerball lip gloss.
Whether you wore a bra or not, you definitely accessorized with bra straps of every color. We rocked these as headbands, sporting them with updos and when our hair was down.
Jersey Dresses and Matching Fitted Caps
Chongas sexed up men’s athletic wear like nobody else. We made sporty sultry in short, form-fitting Miami Heat and Orlando Magic jersey dresses and tilted matching fitteds — ‘cause we remember when those were way cooler than dad hats.
Birthday money in? Time to hit up the mall and stock up at your fave affordable, hootchie stores, meaning: Rave, Rainbow, U.S. Tops, and Traffic.
Before gel, there were acrylic tips, and chongas in the ‘00s rocked them long, vibrant, and French-manicured. From 3-D polish that literally popped from our uñas to gold nail piercings that hung from our tips, we were extra before it was trendy.
Weather and occasion dictated a chonga’s footwear, but the options were always the same: Chinese slippers, Air Jordans or Timbs, as long as they were pink.
Brazilian and Colombian Jeans
While most (not all!) chongas were caribeñas – Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican – we loved our clothes Brazilian and Colombian. Our stretchy, hip-hugger, colorful Brazilian pants gently clasped our figures, while high-rise, pocketless Colombian jeans made our backsides appear bigger — both very important for a young chonga growing up in the ’00s.
Whether her first language was English or Spanish, every chonga is fluent in Spanglish. Pero like, omaiga, leeterally, dale, wepa and dique were in all of our vocabularies, and we said them often.
In Florida, shades are required – but even essentials have to be fly. And in the early 2000s, that meant they had to be gold-framed and tinted.