I found the above image on Instagram the other day. If you’re not familiar, it’s Damian Chapa, an actor. Chapa is most famous for his portrayal of a Chicano prison gang leader. Surprisingly, despite the film being an underground cult classic in niche circles, the characters continue to float around in the Chicano mythos as heroes and icons.
For decades now, Hollywood, the media, and now even ourselves, have used these characters to brainwash far too many young minds that Chapa’s character is something to aspire to. He is a bizarre antihero based on real-life tragedy that no one should aspire to emulate.
The film, Blood In, Blood Out, made in 1993, continues to this day as some kind of benchmark for Chicano film, which is sad in itself, but the film also serves as a surrogate folktale for young people to admire and pass on. These characters have survived beyond the screen and forged themselves as some kind of weird and pathetic cultural trademark for kids to immerse themselves in. If you don’t believe me, search for it on the tentacles of social media and you will find swaths of gente worshiping this film and its characters like Greek gods.
Different strokes for different folks…some people like horror movies and some idolize gangsters, but when the gangsters become one of the biggest representations of yourself in mass media, it becomes an issue. Or at least it should.
Hey! I like these films too but I don’t spend my free time wishing I was Milkweed or wearing my Milkweed shirt to impress…well, I dunno who that would impress other than impressionable kids on Instagram. But I digress.
It’s beyond odd to me that these characters are regarded as icons of Chicano cinema now, and they are not alone. They share cult status with other prison gangsters from other Chicano prison films, who are all known for murder, rape, robbery, selling drugs to their communities and more. Why is this a thing? Why do we celebrate this?
Instead of making negative stereotypes something to look up to, we should be teaching our youth to aspire to self-determination, helping their own communities and financial independence. But we don’t do that. No, instead we bicker and fight and largely ignore each other. Stereotypes, however, we seem to love. Clowning ourselves online is a favorite pastime now.
It should bother more people that the most popular social media accounts that promote “Chicano” culture (or Latino culture) on social media only serve to make fun of it with memes about drugs, crime, poverty, sloppiness, sex, stupidity and more. How far we have fallen and in such a short time.
The people pushing “foo” culture online are not doing anything different than the media or Hollywood – just in bite-size form. These accounts aren’t doing kids any favors.
And before you accuse me of yelling at you to get off my lawn, I do have a sense of humor. Some of the memes are funny and I too laugh at them. But when these things become the dominant culture and then THAT becomes the focus, it’s no longer funny – at least not to me.
There are tons of accounts now trying to exploit each other for internet clout, mostly kids making asses of themselves and their peers. There are very few promoting actual culture, pride or history. But I guess there’s no money in that.
When I was a kid, Hollywood taught me that I was supposed to go to prison. And for a long time I believed it. It wasn’t until years later when I started to peek behind the curtain that I discovered the narrative was bullshit. Decades later and Hollywood is still telling the same old story, only now, so are my own. Life is strange.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that its okay to break the narrative once in a while and push back against the negativity out there, because there’s a lot of it. Its okay to be positive and to promote positive things. It’s okay to say that the character that Damian Chapa portrays is not a role model, nor should it be, and neither are any of his counterparts. The negativity we put on ourselves every day, in the long run, is poison to young minds. We can and must do better.