I arrived in Miami at 23 years old, with two suitcases, $1,000, a whole bunch of dreams — and not feeling completely ready to face a culture clash.
It was in Miami that I learned chancletas were not only considered socially acceptable shoes, but were also used by some as an element of torture … I mean ... discipline for misbehaving children. It was a tough idea to grasp.
Born and raised in Latin America, by Latino parents, a chancleta, chancla or chola (as we call it in Venezuela) was a simple flip-flop — something you wore to the beach or the pool, or maybe changed into like slippers once you got home from school. But it wasn't something you "disciplined" your kids with, in my experience.
When I first heard that some Latino kids were taught discipline with the power of a masterfully-thrown chancla, I laughed, but the truth is that the concept was completely foreign to me. My parents taught me to behave, have self-discipline and follow rules by talking to me, discussing things with me, guiding me with words — and if anything was ever thrown, it came in the form of a super serious look from my dad. If the term "throwing shade" was around back then, my dad would have been considered the master.
Never, ever, did my mom or dad hit me or my sister. Not with a chancleta, not with a belt, not with their hands. Corporal punishment was something completely unacceptable to both of them.
If anything was ever thrown, it came in the form of a super serious look from my dad. If the term "throwing shade" was around back then, my dad would have been considered the master.
Did they lose their cool? Absolutely. I remember my mom looking up to the sky and asking the Lord to grant her patience while my dad just kept quiet. Silence can be worse than yelling at a child.
I remember when getting cues to sit still or keep hands to myself, it usually came in the form of the side eye; and if my dad ever called me by my first and middle name, well, then, I knew I was in real trouble. Sometimes, I think that's why so many of us Latinos have two names — it gives parents an extra weapon to keep us misbehaving kids in line.
Now that I'm a mom, I wish I could say that giving my son killer looks stop him from jumping around or touching stuff like it did me. Calling him by his full name or talking to him in Spanish does makes him stop for a couple of seconds, and then he asks, "sorry, what did you say?" But I guess I didn't inherit my dad's signature look that could stop me in my tracks as a kid.
Still, as much as I laugh at the chancleta videos — and joke about it sometimes with my husband — the chancla never made an appearance in the way I was brought up, and it is definitely not making an appearance in my son's life as a disciplinary tool. The way I see it, after 14 years living in Miami, the only way chancletas belong in our family's life is on our feet.