The almighty power of a plastic flip-flop being wielded by an abuelita, mamá, or angry tía, was enough to transform us into angels, albeit temporarily.
chancla culture
Chanclas azules

Coined by Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand, co-founder of LatinxParenting, ‘chancla culture’ refers to ​​the use of oppressive strategies—including corporal punishment, shame, and fear—to manipulate children into behaving according to the parent’s standards. To most, a chancla is just a flip-flop, but to millions of Latinxs, its secondary meaning is associated with a parenting style that instilled fear and pain and made us run for cover. 

With a quick search of #Chancla on Instagram, you can find an endless scroll of memes posted by Millennial Latinxs innocently joking about being “spanked”, “whooped” or “threatened” with this cultural icon. Between Latinx influencers and pop-culture’s adaptations of Latinx culture in films like Disney’s Coco and Encanto–the harmful stereotypes of Latinx parenting are suddenly everywhere. Talk about triggering.

Beyond the lighthearted jokes that we hide behind, there is a position of accountability that we must champion, therefore ushering in a new-school parenting style that centers compassion over fear.  

The Power of the Cuban Flip-Flop

Still today, in Cuba, The Family Code of 1975 allows for “moderate” punishment by parents. But as any Latinx adult knows, ‘moderate’ can have a very, very broad definition. Extreme forms of discipline aren’t just the parenting norm in querida Cuba, but the norm in most Latin American countries, even today. 

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If Latinxs think hard (well, not even that hard), we can probably produce a story that involved a chancla, a cinturon, maybe even a cuchara de madera. However, it’s the infamous ‘chancla’ that has become a symbol within Latinx culture of discipline, punishment, and corporal tradition. 

The almighty power of a plastic flip-flop being wielded by an abuelita, mamá, or angry tía, was enough to transform us into angels, albeit temporarily. Even the most subtle reach for the chancla made us immediately rethink whatever it was that we were doing at that moment.

latinx chancla culture
Source: Instagram

Now, as a forty-year-old Latina expecting my first bebe, I can’t help but question what impacts ‘chancla culture’ has had on me, and continues to have on our hijxs. Living in a Latin American country I am surrounded by a heavy old-school parenting style with the motto of “O te calmas, o te calmo”

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Since 1983, April has been recognized as Child Abuse Prevention Month, which raises awareness surrounding the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect. Thirty-nine years later (!), we are still seeing rampant numbers of child abuse cases impacting our Latinx youth. 

According to Statista’s website in 2020 Latinx households made up over 91,000 of the 221,000 reported cases of child abuse in the U.S. It’s important that we also recognize these are ‘reported’ cases, there are thousands more cases that go unreported due to our Latinx culture that tells us “no te metes”, hence the challenge of accountability and awareness. 

We can start by asking ourselves when does “moderate punishment” cross the line to abuse, and when do we step in to advocate for our youth?

“Child abuse cases in the United States in 2020, by race/ethnicity.” Source: Statista, 2022)

Old-School Latinx Parenting Style vs New-School Parenting Styles 

The old-school Latinx parenting style of our padres, and abuelitxs tended to be traditional-leaning with misogynistic and marianismo undertones that perpetuated an abusive cycle of punishment and harm. 

The physical (and mental) impacts of this aggressive style of parenting our families modeled has cost generations of Latinxs millions in therapy and time (si, enserio).  Social media has allowed us an outlet and coping mechanism to share about the severe “whoopings” we got as children, the chancletazos and cinturonazos binds us together almost as a rite of passage. Suddenly, we are not alone in this harsh tradition. But let’s unite one step further in addressing the real harm that comes from these childhood moments. 

chancla culture
Source: Instagram @JoinTheLucha

Let this article in no way be a diss to our ancestors, abuelos or padres, they made miracles happen with the resources and knowledge they were given during a time when this parenting style was the norm not just in Cuba or Latin America, but most cultures. Parents of today, we have a heavy responsibility to lead with new resources and new knowledge. 

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Let’s raise strong and self-aware Latinx babies, that in twenty years won’t need to heal from childhood traumas of abuse. The new-school style of Latinx parenting is trending, and it centers on love, mutual respect, patience and dialogue as the new tools that will allow first generation parents to form healthy relationships.

chancla latinx culture
Instagram @mariolopez

Millennial Latinxs Ushering in a New-School Parenting Style

The mere mention of ‘positive discipline’ or ‘positive parenting’ has most adult Latinxs rolling their eyes (see 🚩 below). The Cuban community, with its voice and platform, can challenge their households to break the toxic cycle and deep-rooted ideologies that they have grown up with. 

For starters, let’s collectively take pause from making light of the chanclatazos, and cinturonazos we endured, instead challenging the norm by hosting open dialogue, and honest discussions. 

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Let us not go into this family battle ill-prepared, here are some common red flags you will likely be faced with by your primo, tía, and vecina chismosa:

🚩 “But I got spanked with a chancla/cinturon and look, I turned out just fine, jaja.” (Possible response: Or is the laughing just a coping mechanism you’ve adopted to brush off the hurt, Juan?)

🚩 “Well, my abuelita got spanked, my mom got spanked, I got spanked…it’s just the Cuban way of doing things.” (Possible response: But it doesn’t have to stay that way Tía Marta, we can change our family’s tradition starting now.)

🚩 “Sure, I cried, but it toughened me up to be an hombre.” (Possible response: That’s got to be a lot of pressure on you, Salvador, there is nothing wrong with a man showing emotion. In our family, we give permission for everyone to share and express themselves.)

🚩 “Kids these days are too soft, they need to toughen up.” (Possible response: But doesn’t that just perpetuate a cycle of machismo Estefanía? Kids should be able to feel safe and to share without penalty.)

Is the Face of Havana Changing?

People and Resources Fighting the ‘Chancla Culture’ 

As social media access in Cuba is changing the way Cubans are sharing, we can for certain expect a new symphony of island-based content-creators growing more vocal about all things related to parenting. 

Social media has placed a new spotlight on the life of Cubans and with that a new rise in influencers ready to highlight daily life on, and off the island. Chelsi Lovos Eiselstein is one Cuban-American who recognizes the need to celebrate her Latinx culture while still breaking harmful traditions as a mamá of three. 

For other resources, here’s a list of some favorites that can help us maneuver this new-school world of self-care, positive parenting and breaking cycles. (de nada!)

  • Therapy for Latinx is a website that provides a state-by-state directory of Latinx mental health professionals.
  • Reading list for Latinxs parents seeking to understand mental health and positive parenting. 
  • Conversation guides to use when talking to family members and care-tackers about child abuse prevention.
  • “Mama/Papa Antes de…” a children’s book for Latinx parents that says adios! to old-school traditional-leaning parenting and hola! to a new-school style of parenting that leaves the chancla behind. 

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Alezandra Russell is an award-winning activist, author and founder of Urban Light, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the lives of #Boys affected by human trafficking. Since opening its doors in 2009, the organization has provided emergency services to over 9,000 vulnerable young men and Boys. Urban Light remains one of the only organizations in the world working specifically on behalf of Boys who are overlooked, forgotten, and ignored in the global discussion of trafficking and exploitation. Russell, who was forced to flee Thailand in June 2018 as a result of her work, continues to advocate across the globe for the safety of trafficking survivors, migrants, refugees and marginalized populations.

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