The scandal that has erupted in recent days over the unmasking of video blogger/minor web celeb "Ask A Chola" as, well, not a chola has provoked impassioned reactions from detractors and supporters of the pseudo-chola performance artist. It has also spawned many a discussion about what constitutes art and at what point racial satire becomes offensive, and if there is any leeway at all when it's performed in "brownface."
In a nutshell: The vlogger known as Chola has starred for the past few years in sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, sometimes slightly disturbing videos that she posts on her website, askachola.com. There she expounds on everything from "chola culture" to Star Wars, pirates, health care and driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants in an a pseudo-Latino/Eastside brogue, her face hidden behind a green bandanna.
A self-described "new media artist/cultural critic/anarchist/killer/blogger/chola," per her website, she was outed in recent days as non-chola, reportedly as a Santa Ana resident by the name of Chloe Michalopoulos, after freelance writer Aura Bogado inquired about her identity via the Ask A Chola Facebook page and a heated exchange ensued.
A post on L.A. Forward the other day featured excerpts from the correspondence as relayed by Bogado:
Since “Ask A Chola” has willfully turned herself into a public entity, I made the mistake (or, should I write, had the pleasure?) of inquiring about her real identity. She responded:
“Aura: You think I’m too white? You think I’m not brown enough? Well, you know what? I am whatever the f**k I want to be. My identity is something that is negotiated between me, myself and I. There is no you in that negotiation. I am brown. …I am Aztlan. I am Mexican. I am whatever the f**k I feel myself to be. And you’re just going to have to deal with it. Where I reside and my finances and where I vote and whatever the f**k else you asked are really none of your business. I suggest you ask yourself why I bother you so much…. I suspect that you have your own issues with identity, disconnect with homeland… whatever the f**k is going on, I don’t f**king care. But please take your issues elsewhere.”
Aside from making some ridiculous claims about me, “Ask A Chola” made several ludicrous assertions about herself. Namely, she states, “I am Aztlan. I am Mexican,” when the reality is that she is white. Chloe Michalopoulos was educated at Berkeley, UCLA and Harvard, and she thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to capitalize off of a particularly vitriolic form of brownface.
Ouch. Since then, Chola has put up a new Facebook fan page after her first one - along with a fake Facebook page put up by detractors, but that's another story - was taken down. It has not been a good week for non-chola Chola.
Fans on her new Facebook page, some Latinos among them, have rallied to her side. Ozzie Monge wrote:
From the day I heard about you, I knew you weren't a "real chola." I mean, come on, I grew up around them in Huntington Park (where I was born) and the other places around L.A. I lived. I know a real chola when I see one! And once I saw your stuff, I found your schtick entertaining, especially when it was self-contradicting (especially the anarchist stuff).
So, I also have a confession: I play darbouka and I'm not even middle eastern!
In the L.A. Forward post, guest blogger Wendy Carillo was sympathetic to Chola, pointing to the racial satire of artists like David Chappelle and others in her defense. Readers were less sympathetic. One, Pocha Peña, wrote under the post:
Bottom line: She's not a Latina, but Greek and LIED about it repeatedly.
It's brownface of the worst kind because she's willfully misrepresented herself on AND off-stage. Plus she didn't do it for some great altruistic reason that benefits our gente -- but simply to make a buck.
Ya'll can choose what u want. I myself choose to not support her farce. Is it art? Possibly...but it's unethical, so i don't care.
Cristi wrote under a post from Gustavo Arellano in OC Weekly:
I don't think I care if she is white or not. I just don't really get the schtick.
First, I've always thought that she doesn't look like a chola. No skinny eyebrows; No feathered bangs and no dark lipstick. So, what's "Chola" about her? Trying to look Latina? Is that what makes her a Chola? Really? Because there is a huge difference.
In a post this weekend, blogger and KPFK producer Gabriel San Roman, aka Don Palabraz, wrote:
I will say this, however. I was duped by a Ask a Chola. For years, I assumed Chloe was a Chicana/Mexicana taking a shot at political satire with her whole presentation (green bandanna, eyeliner, white ‘wifebeater,’ weak approximation of a Chola “accent”) I hadn’t watched all her YouTube videos – some are ok, most are whack – but now that I have, and now possessing the full knowledge of who she really is, what was she thinking?
Chola, for her part, posted this morning on Twitter: "No human being is illegal. I believe in no borders. Geographical or cultural."
But the eyebrows? I'm with Cristi in OC. Get the tweezers out, homegirl.