(Image Courtesy of Melina Duarte)

Chingona Definition: Reclaiming What It Means To Be A Fearless Latina

Eastern Coachella Valley resident, Melina Duarte launches new business aimed at reclaiming a once controversial word for a new community of fearless women.

By: Paulina Rojas

Growing up in Coachella, Melina Duarte felt like she did not know any words that described independent, strong, bold Latinas. Instead, whenever she would go to community events or festivals she would see t-shirts with the words “chula” (cutie) and “princesa” (princess) written on them.

Even as a young woman Duarte quickly realized that, “Chula is not my thing.”

“I am not just Latina. I am a badass and I get things done,” Duarte said.

This lack of representation was what motivated Duarte to release tote bags with an updated definition of the word “Chingona” on them. The first tote she made was a DIY project that got a lot of positive feedback on social media. This motivated Duarte to turn her DIY project into a small business called Chingona Definition.

(Image Courtesy of Melina Duarte)

Throughout Latin America and in many Latinx communities in the United States, the word chingona has always had negative connotations attached to it.

The word has historically been used to describe women who are “too aggressive,” while the masculine version of the word “chingon” is used as a way to compliment men. In recent years, Latinas like Duarte have made efforts to reclaim the word and used it as a way to empower themselves, similarly to how the LGBTQI community has taken back the word “queer.”

Duarte was certain the chingona tote bags would be a hit within her network. Many of her friends and colleagues had already been using the word “chingona” to empower themselves. A week after she released the first batch of tote bags in January 2017 they sold out.

“People were waiting for more bags to come out,” Duarte said. “I got orders from New York, Florida, Oregon and all over the country.”

Elizabeth Romero, who also grew up in the Eastern Coachella Valley, said she too noticed the lack of words used to describe a strong, independent Latinas. When Romero heard about her friend’s idea, she was eager to offer her support.

“The word is powerful and has a tempo,” Romero said. [It] can lead to social action and social change.”

Romero, who is the current President of the Riverside County Board of Education, said that throughout her professional career she has had the fortune of being surrounded by chingonas who have motivated her to keep pushing forward.

“What is more important is that they feel that way in whatever they do. [The word,] is a symbol and a powerful symbol for however they own their space.”

Esperanza Mendez, a blogger and reporter who was born and raised in the Eastern Coachella Valley, says that Duarte’s timing could not have been better.

“I think this is a really new movement. Given the political climate, our impulse may be to shy away or stop, especially for folks who are undocumented or living in fear,” Mendez said. “It is time to embrace and feel like you own your ‘chingonaness’ and that power.”

While Duarte is very happy about how quickly her customer base is expanding, she’s also very intentional about guarding her intellectual property.

She owns the copyright for the word and definition. Although she’s been approached by many stores who would like to sell her merchandise, Duarte decided to keep her distribution small.

(Image Courtesy of Melina Duarte)

In 2017, Duarte sold approximately 700 bags with very minimal marketing. Duarte’s customers have also been asking her to release t-shirts with the word and definition. Duarte said she plans to make more merchandise available this year.

For Duarte, Chingona Definition is more than a business; it’s a movement.

“I also want to do a women’s empowerment movement around this, have a conference around it [and] have it be a mission for people.”

Mendez agrees that Duarte’s efforts are already helping to create a space for a conversation that many Latina’s have been needing and wanting to have for a while.

“There is no term for Latinas who are embracing their power and also their culture. I think chingona is that word for us as we move forward.”

About the Author:

Paulina Rojas is a native New Yorker, Paulina has spent the past two years reporting on the Eastern Coachella Valley. She joined Coachella Unincorporated in 2016. While it is different from the concrete jungle of Manhattan, she feels right at home in Coachella. In 2014 Paulina graduated with a journalism degree from The University of Houston and is a member of The National Association of Hispanic Journalists. View her author page here.