Japanese chicano culture does not amount to appropriation
It seems like every oppressed group birthed a movement to fight for equality and advancement in the 1960s. One movement that isn’t talked about or studied enough in America is the Chicano movement. Despite it being a footnote in American history, this culture has traveled across the Pacific from east L.A. to east Asia.
Japan has adopted and redefined popular culture before. The country gained notoriety with Japanese hip hop which favors a more “swag rap” or “ghost rap” style. The Japanese female surf rock group “The 6.7.8’s,” who are remnant of the Beach Boys, gained popularity from the film Kill Bill Vol. 1.
But this practice of culture runs deeper than aesthetics.
The word “Chicano” first came about in the early 20th century. It was initially a cultural slur that wealthier Mexicans used for their lower class counterparts. The connotation changed in the 60s during a surge in social diplomacy and activism. The movement fought for voting and political rights similar to other movements at the time. It also resembled ones that were more tailored to issues like farm-worker rights and enhanced education.
The movement took place in cities across America like Chicago, Las Vegas and Houston. But the epicenter of modern Chicano culture is heavily centered in east Los Angeles.
The politics that were once at the forefront are now only spoken among Chicanos. Now a more stylistic appeal is homogenized with Chicanos. Old vehicles like 67 Impalas, Lincoln Continentals, and Caprices are examples of cars that could be fully customized into low riders. With their bright colored paint and hydraulic systems, these are similar to swangas that are popular in Houston. Fashion includes Nike Cortez sneakers, button downs with the top button fastened, and long shorts.
This is the surface of the Japanese influence. The visual aspect is completely authentic outside of Japan. A documentary by Brits Louis Ellison and Jacob Hodgkinson detailed the subculture in the cities of Osaka and Hyogo. The first shots didn’t seem out of place; it was just like every other Japanese subculture.
And then suddenly, there was sweeping calligraphy with the Japanese script with the English-futura translation, low riders doing 360s in the middle of neon downtown Japan, and a Japanese man rapping with an LA fitted cap on all was quite normal in regards to subculture.
Then, there it was on the sixth frame: an East Asian man with a full canvas of gang tattoos. It was strange. Drawings that were a mixture and reflection of Mexican culture, art and gang life but not represented on the body that lives it. “Why is that?” I asked.
Is this appropriation? On the surface it may look like that. After much deliberation, it might not be.
It’s more about heavy appreciation than appropriation. They are not making money off of the practice, nor a mockery, and they do understand and acknowledge where the culture originated.
One of the interviewees by the name of Hide explained why the Japanese people gravitated to the culture of the Chicano.
“Chicanos are born into a gang family because they are immigrants and struggle to get jobs. Then end up doing bad things to make money for their family.” Hide said. That was where the subject matter of the documentary changed. It went from authentic visual appeal to drawing parallels in cultural values.
Both the Japanese and the Mexicans are extremely rooted in family. Mexican cultural values have multiple generations living in the same home. The Japanese also have extended family in their homes. Concerning recreation, both cultures take great value in car modification. Aside from the vehicles themselves, what they appreciate is the attention to detail.
The arrival of Mexicans and Japanese were met with discrimination in America. In the 1960s Mexican youth were victims of the Zoot Suit Riots. These were racist-fueled attacks from service men, because the Mexican youth wore suits that bore too much cloth, when America was supposed to be rationing cloth for the war. In the early 1940s, many people on the Pacific coast with Japanese lineage was sent to internment camps because of the Pearl Harbor attack. Japanese and Mexican race relations in America, family values, and love for cars all draw parallels.
For the Japanese, the Chicano culture is more than just fashion, cars and music. It is not just a cool trend. How they view and live life align with one another. How the Chicanos are so willing to share their culture with others and how the Japanese respect cultures that aren’t theirs is a true sentiment of complete equality and inclusion, which is something that many claim but few actually take the time to commit the work to.
Opinion columnist Dana Jones is a print journalism junior and can be reached at [email protected]