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Photo Essay

East L.A.’s ‘Chola Fashion Show’ Reclaimed OG Barrio Fashion

10:52 AM PST on February 16, 2022

When Diana Díaz decided she wanted to put on an event featuring local ‘goddess’-owned vendors that also celebrated chola culture, style, and the “resilient mujeres” who created the style, she was met with some pushback. 

“A lot of people feel threatened by the chola image because they've used it to promote violence or fear. But in reality, it's a style of resourcefulness,” said Díaz, creator of the Goddess Mercado and school counselor. 

“We have no money, but we're able to take our father's clothes or our brother’s pants that they outgrew, and feminize [those] clothes and make them strong and make them beautiful, and have them represent our culture and exhibit our femininity,” explained Díaz.

Chola style, or parts of it, are everywhere. With aspects of the style rooted in pachuca culture spotted on runways and repackaged and sold by celebrities, or worse used as costumes during Halloween.

Irene Murrillo Stands by a classic car.
Irene Murrillo Stands by a classic car. All photos by Mariah Castañeda for L.A. TACO.

“And now you even see our fashion being showcased at Paris Fashion Week in New York Fashion Week. And you have these high-end designers that are taking our name or ethnicity or culture and they're making millions of [dollars] on it, but it's not really providing resources for us,” said Díaz.

She added, “It's not really celebrating us and people who are part of the community. And this is where we have the ability to do that.”

Dozens of people showed up to support the entrepreneurial “goddesses” at the Goddess Mercado’s Chola Glam event complete with a fashion show by non-profit In The Making Boutique. The event took place in a parking lot across the street from the Hilda Solis Learning Academy in East Los Angeles. Oldies music wafted through the air and attendees admired the classic cars parked at the end of the vendor booths. For many of the 68 vendors selling handmade items, the event was a time machine teleporting them back to the outfits they used to wear years ago.

“This is how I dressed in 8th grade,” laughed Marja Midel-Oliden, owner of Sacred Bathing, a small business focused on self-care products. Others paid homage to their parents, grandparents, and communities they grew up in. “I’m a chola,” said 77-year-old Irene Murrillo, “Back in the Zoot-suit days, the original pachucos, that’s what my parents were. I feel I'm carrying their legacy.”

Attendees pose.
Attendees pose.

The former Chavez Ravine resident talked about the importance of preserving the chola style and culture and encouraged younger generations to make positive decisions. 

“The style, it stays with us. The music, the oldies, memory lane. You know, all that stays with us. Rancheras, Ramón Ayala. That's part of our blood. That's part of our culture,” said Murrillo.

Besides helping make the Goddess Mercado possible, Murrillo has dedicated her time to empowering women in tough situations and supporting people in rehabilitation facilities.  

The Businesses

Marja at her booth.
Marja at her booth.
Marja Poses with Daughter.
Marja Poses with Daughter.

Marja Midel-Oliden owner of Sacred Bathing.

Marja Midel-Oliden’s booth is full of self-care products including candles, bath salts, and deodorant. Midel-Oliden stressed the importance of empowering women through self-care because “we take on multiple roles.”

“I started my business in April, during the pandemic, and I was trying to teach my daughter self-care. I think it's very important because my mom never did self care,” Midel-Oliden explained. Midel-Oliden is also teaching her daughter how to run a small business, who was selling custom made teas in the next booth over

Kathy Aldy owner of Onyx B Jewelry.
Kathy Aldy owner of Onyx B Jewelry.

Kathy Aldy owner of Onyx B Jewelry.

Kathy Aldy sells beautifully bright and whimsical jewelry designs, including colorful skull earrings, strawberry earrings, and pastel flower stud earrings. Aldy also crafts trinket holders.

“I didn't have much jewelry growing up. So I just wanted to create stuff. Plus, I like to wear my own jewelry. And I see little girls coming by and they love the colorful stuff. It makes me happy” said Aldy.

Aldy says she didn’t grow up around chola culture but thinks it’s cool and loves seeing people express themselves. 

Lisa Rocha.
Lisa Rocha.

Lisa Ila Rocha owner of Ilaments.

Lisa Ila Rocha has been designing jewelry since 1997 and started her brand Ilaments in 1999. She sold hoop earrings adorned with roses, necklaces, and other vibrant pieces. Rocha grew up in West Adams and started her brand with the intention of making Latinas feel proud of being themselves and rocking their hoops and red lipstick during a time before the look was widely accepted at workplaces and in Congress.

“I created the Chola Boss collection…So for me, it was something empowering. And, also to take back our style, our estilo, I feel a lot of our estilo is amplified in a negative way.”

Rocha’s Chola Boss collection was featured in the event’s fashion show later in the day.

“We're from here, this is who we are, have everybody else come and embrace it as well. Instead of it (Chola style) being gentrified or used in a negative way,” Rocha added

María Pineda Cuevas poses with journals.
María Pineda Cuevas poses with journals.

María Pineda Cuevas owner of Loyal Lefty.

María Pineda-Cuevas specializes in making hand-crafted journals for left-handed people (but also sells some journals for right-handed people). The journals are made from upcycled cereal boxes and filled with quotes and questions to guide and inspire journalers. Pineda-Cuevas makes both English and Spanish journals and started Loyal Lefty in 2021 on her 21st birthday.

“There is one question in there that says write a letter to yourself and you would be surprised how often we write these things for ourselves, and they happen to come up when we most need them,” said Pineda-Cuevas.

Pineda-Cuevas said she grew up seeing media representations of Chola culture, and became more critical of stereotypical representations of Cholas as she got older and decided to learn more on her own.

Donna Serrato poses.
Donna Serrato poses.

Donna Serrato owner of Vela Donna Candle Company.

Donna Serrato was wearing a look inspired by her grandmother and great-grandmother.

“My family is from Los Angeles, like the fourth generation. So my great grandmother was a pachuca and my grandmother was also a pachuca. I was trying to rock a vintage Chola look today with my big hair.”

Besides wearing a historical outfit, Serrato was selling candles inspired by Los Angeles culture, Psychobilly music, and horror films. The movie “Scream” inspired a candle called “Strawberries and Scream.”

Serrato also sells bags and soaps. 

Adelitas Revenge stand selling handmade candles.
Adelitas Revenge stand sselling handmade candles.

Yvonne Marquez and Marina Carranza owners of Adelitas Revenge.

Adelitas Revenge is a queer Chicana-owned business that celebrates Mexican and Mexican icons through folk art, candles, and bracelets.

“We're Adelita’s Revenge. We are reclaiming our cultura, we are celebrating our icons like Selena, María Félix, Frida Kahlo, and we are just showcasing everything that you loved as a child,” says Marquez.

Meagan poses with custom rug.
Meagan poses with custom rug.

Meagan Romo, owner of Tuft Tyrant.

Meagan Romo is a fiber artist and sells dazzling custom-made rugs.

Romo’s designs include a Demon Slayer tapestry, a Virgen de Guadalupe design, and a clown design.

Betty owner of Las Sucias Social Club.
Betty owner of Las Sucias Social Club.

Betty Omaña owner of Las Sucias Social Club.

Betty is a self-love and body-positive advocate. She was selling various types of lingerie and self-defense tools, like tasers. Her booth was adorned with pink ballons that spelled out “Las Sucias.”

Stephanie Flores poses with her custom made design
Stephanie Flores poses with her custom made design.

Stephanie Flores Bad Lil Hyna Studios.

Stephanie Flores was selling her custom-made fashion designs in a booth close to some classic cars. Flores describes her business as “a safe place for me as a Latina to celebrate my culture and make designs handmade by me.

Flores learned about the Goddess Mercado while at Disneyland, a regular attendee spotted Flores’ custom-made clothing and suggested she vend at the Goddess Mercado.

Flores is the daughter of immigrants and recalled being raised around cholo culture. 

“I grew up around a lot of 90s cholos and it just kind of stuck with me to celebrate that but not in a negative way and make it more into a positive feeling,” said Flores.

The Fashion Show

The fashion show took place at 1 PM and featured clothing from In The Making LA Boutique and was also organized with Desirae Ramirez, owner of Chingona Threads. Volunteer models walked the runway wearing various outfits and actress Annie Gonzalez hosted the show.

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