August 4, 2006
By Al Carlos Hernandez
One of the quickest ways to tell if someone is from another country is by the way they mix and match their casual clothes. If a male or female is wearing dress shoes and a jogging suit, chances are they are from anywhere but here.
Chicano philosopher Octavio Paz had a theory when it comes to decorum regarding the way Latinos decorate their home. Paz surmised that Latinos try to pick the best looking most ornate piece of furniture irrespective of its relationship to the general color scheme or motif of the house. I call this system of furniture selection chattel myopia.
In other words, pues, Que fung shui, y que…
In the barrio or at Mom’s house, this is how you can find a green polka dot recliner, a red/yellow plaid sofa, and a blue velvet futon in the same room. In the corners, a French provincial china cabinet, and lava lamps, while two TV’s, the good one flat screen on the top and the old school broken console on the bottom.
Paz’s point was that observationally, Latinos seem to acquire the best object possible with little consideration as to how the other pieces complement or detract from each other. This way of thinking may have contributed to Latino’s helping to elect a Republican Governator.
I don’t think his theory holds true for contemporary post ethnic Latinos, who have some Ikea based economic advantages or watch cribs on MTV. For students, ex-cons or those starting over, any furniture from any benefactor will do. Been there, done that. We were certainly proud owners of spool tables, brick bookshelves, tandem TV’s and tie dyed bed sheet curtains back in the day.
It seems that household decorum and or personal dress is largely decided by the relative proximity to time away from the homeland. If you are a first generation Latino, born off shore, your tastes and visual demeanor reflects a certain old world presentation. Second, third and forth generation Latinos, have not only acculturated but are not at the avante guard of fashion, blending the OG with the new school. Witness Biker supreme Jessie James with his shirt buttoned to the top, chinos, gas station shirts and wino canvass shoes.
I don’t know what folks are thinking when they decide, since I’m going to the farmers market, or downtown shopping, I have to floss some serious gear. “Ok, I’m going to hurt somebody by wearing the Orange Reebok sweat suit with the brown penny loafers and no socks”.
At the same time, his lady while checking her closet is saying, “Mira Loca, I’m going to be chewing it, by wearing the baby blue Fubu outfit with the white six inch Payless pumps and a terry cloth head-band”.
A word of caution here; if a guy like me can figure it out, so can the migra.
Their clothing selection however is consistent with Paz’s theory of Old world Latinos choosing the best item, irrespective of its artistic relationship to anything else.
I suppose they figure that the jogging suit circa LL Cool J is attractive, and the shoes are new and shiny, put them together and you will look fly, No, you will look like a foreigner, and subject to police profiling.
What is it with old world folks and dress shoes anyway? I have seen farm workers in florshiems, body and fender men working in disco boots, and welders in wingtips. Women who should know better in sweatpants and sling backs, open toes heels and overalls, and my favorite spiked stilettos and Bermuda shorts.
There should be caution labels in other languages on bargain basement sports wear warning folks not to mix and match with formal and or church attire.
As a public service as a way of welcoming our brothers and sisters and helping them avoid immigration capture, here are a few do’s and don’ts.
Never wear hard-heeled dress shoes with work out clothes no matter what. If you do everyone will know that you are an immigrant or some sort, weather from Mexico, Russia, Canada, Cambodia, Cuba, it makes no difference the same rules apply.
Conversely, never wear athletic shoes or combat boots with a suit or formal clothes unless you are a rock star.
The good news for some of you is, if you are an immigrant from the first generation and have gender identification issues, your gay friends have already told you this.
A good American rule of thumb when it comes to local customs is this. If you don’t know, ask someone who does, not one of your Homies who don’t know either.
Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.