The Meaning of Chancla: Flip Flops and Discipline
The meaning of chancla in the Latin culture has a long and interesting story behind it. A story that, at first sight, sounds funny and colorful, but under a closer review it’s hurtful and embarrassing.
In this article I’ll discuss the meaning of chancla in Spanish, how it became a famous feature of Latin culture, and what the “chancla culture” is. Then, I’ll explore the differences between discipline and corporal punishment, how these concepts are understood in different cultures, and together we’ll question the validity of normalizing a practice that physically harms children.
The Meaning of Chancla
I’m going to bring up some terms from my university years to help me explain to you the meaning of chancla:
In semiotics, the science that studies signs and sign-using behavior, exist two terms that describe the relationship between a signifier (a sign’s form) and what is signified (what a sign represents: denotation and connotation).
Denotation refers to the literal meaning of the signifier, while connotation refers to a secondary meaning of it.
In Spanish, the denotation of chancla is simply a flip flop, nothing to write home about, much less a one-thousand word article about it.
However, the chancla has a complex connotation (or secondary meaning) in Latin culture that deserves a deeper exploration, which is what we’re going to do in this article.
The Secret of the Chancla
“The Secret of the Chancla” is a short YouTube video with over one million views and different versions, which explains the meaning of chancla in a funny, light-hearted way.
The chancla represents an almost mythical power of Latin moms to control their children by throwing a flip flop at their heads. If we step back from the comedic overtone of the video, it clearly symbolizes the corporal punishment of Latin children.
So, there you have it, when you hear someone talking about the chancla in Spanish, it’s essential to pay attention to the context because—yes, they could be talking about a simple flip flop, or—they could be talking about the other chancla meaning and the “chancla culture.”
What’s the ‘Chancla Culture’?
The “chancla culture” has been defined as “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.
This definition comes from Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand, co-founder of LatinxParenting, an Instagram account that focuses on Latinx parents’ relationships with their children, and you can see from the concepts she uses that the “chancla culture” is not a harmless, funny thing.
The problem with this chancla meaning in Latin culture is that it has gone viral and grown to meme-like proportions. It was even portrayed in Pixar’s first-ever film portraying the Latin culture, Coco, where producers even had discussions about the “chancla culture,” and had to replace the wooden spoon of the abuelita character for a traditional chancla as the symbolic tool for corporal punishment.
Discipline vs Corporal Punishment
Discipline and corporal punishment are not the same thing. While discipline is a “positive method of teaching a child self-control, confidence, and responsibility,” punishment focuses on past misbehavior and doesn’t offer much for the child behavior in the future.
Punishment may be physical or psychological, and according to the American Psychological Association (APA), corporal punishment remains a “widely used discipline technique in most American families.” This assertion by the APA hints that although not as colorful as the “chancla culture,” corporal punishment is also present in contemporary American culture.
Chancletazos vs Belt Beating
A chancletazo would be a hit with the chancla, just like a cinturonazo is a belt beating. The symbol is different but the fact is the same. Or in semiotic terms, the denotation is different, but the connotation is the same.
In the Coco video mentioned above, you can see how Lalo Alcaraz, one of Pixar’s cartoonists and cultural consultants, explicitly compares the chancla to the belt. The item differs from culture to culture, but the idea of using something to beat and punish children is prevalent among different cultures. In this case, the Latin and the American ones.
A Personal Reflection on Corporal Punishment
At this point, I’d like to diverge a little bit toward my own personal experience in order to make a point about corporal punishment. As a Mexican kid growing up in Mexico, I never experienced corporal punishment. I know that my experience is not the same as that of all Mexican kids, but it still counts.
By the time I went to school, corporal punishment was already forbidden and stigmatized by society. My point is that corporal punishment isn’t accepted in Mexico as a normal, or even positive, method of discipline, and it’s been like that for a long time.
However, when I was living in Madrid, Spain as an adult, I got into this conversation with some friends of mine who told me how their teachers used to hit them with a wooden ruler at school. At the time, I was taken aback by these stories from my Spanish friends. I wasn’t aware that corporal punishment could still exist in public education systems of developed countries.
It appears that even with all the progress in psychology and education theory, the practice of corporal punishment is still widely extended among different cultures, not only the Latin one.
Although, due to the funny connotation of the chancla meaning, Latin people have gotten more attention for the “chancla culture.”
Should ‘Chancla Culture’ End?
In a word, yes. However, as we have seen, it’s not that easy. We must help educate one another on what this practice entails and why it’s not a valid, or even useful, form of discipline.
The negative repercussions of the “chancla culture” are:
- It hurts children
The chancla, as a symbol of punishment and physical damage, hurts children. Not only physically, but it also produces long-term emotional harm.
- It creates a cycle of violence
Once a parent starts and justifies the use of violence, how can he or she expect their children to stay away from solving conflicts through violence? Violence feeds itself—once the cycle of violence begins, it’s hard to end it.
- It’s ineffective
Fear isn’t good behavior, it’s just self-preservation. To raise strong, independent, and well-behaved kids, parents must learn ways to motivate children to behave for intrinsic reasons, which teaches valuable skills that last a lifetime—and is much more effective than scaring them with a chancla or a belt.
Ending “Chancla Culture” Starts at Home
It’s time to change the meaning of chancla in the Latin culture and make it nothing more than a symbol of paradise-like beaches and a laid back approach to life. To end the practice of children’s corporal punishment, we definitely need to start at home, but it doesn’t end there.
It’s time to stop laughing about the matter, and start stigmatizing those who still feel the need to discipline their kids by physically hurting them, either with a chancla, a belt, or a ruler.
Leave a comment and share your experiences with the symbolic meaning of chancla, the “chancla culture,” belt beating, or any other kind of corporal punishment.
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