Rasquachismo, My Dad, and Metalachi
When I attended high school my father had many cars. He seemed to get a new one each week. Trust me my family was not rich. In fact, my dad never owned a single car in the ever-revolving collection. His compadre ran a used car lot. Cada semana, my dad’s new ride came complete with fluorescent green numbers in the upper corner. Warranty information was taped against the windows. “Don’t roll down the window,” my dad said. If so, the advertising info attached to the glass might get stuck in the door.
You see, my dad needed a car, pero with nine kids, private school tuition, and countless other expenses we couldn’t afford one. Thus, my dad borrowed one each week from his friend who owned the dealership. It was embarrassing to drive around with a bright price tag on the window, but this was about survival. He did what he needed to do.
It was an act of rasquachismo. As Tomás Ybarra-Frausto (1989) wrote, “To be rasquache is to be down but not out (fregado pero no jodido)…In an environment always on the edge of coming apart (the car, the job, the toilet) things are held together with spirit, grit, and movidas.” To be rasquache is to be resilient and resourceful. That is how we were raised.
In this video, Dr. Tomás Ybarra-Frausto explains rasquache as a sensibility born out of the experiences of a particular Chicanx community. “You make do with what you have…the sensibilities in the altares, the souped-up cars and lowriders, and by adding harina to the frijoles.” As my abuela told me growing up, “mijo, where there is a will there is a way.” To be rasquache is to be proudly resourceful, to reclaim scrappy survival as an intentional act of boastful inventiveness.
Even the word rasquache embodies an act of rasquachismo. In Spanish, rasquache was commonly used as a descriptor for the lower classes. One could even refer to it historically as an insult (See Aviña, 2016). However, the word has been reappropriated to showcase the pride one takes in surviving oppressive material conditions. There is beauty, both spiritually and aesthetically, from “molding worthiness out of perceived [emphasis mine] deficiencies” (Ybarra-Frausto, 1989, p.7).
Bedoya highlights the aesthetic element of rasquache as a creative act of resistance found in communities of color. It is the bright pink home, the repurposed tire that doubles as a flowerpot, and the mailbox featuring a hand painted Mexican flag. At my family’s “ranch” my uncle collects old tin signs and uses them to decorate both inside and out. Mi abuelo has lion statues guarding the driveway. For more recognizable examples, Ybarra-Frausto lists The Royal Chicano Air Force and El Teatro Campesino. He even named Cantiflas as an example of muy rasquache.
What might be a contemporary musical ejemplo of rasquachismo? Metalachi, “the world’s first and only heavy metal mariachi band,” fits the bill nicely. Metalachi’s embrace of long hair, hard rock, and cheeky humor along with elements of their Mexican culture reveals a specific attitude, a counter to dominant ideas and culture. Going back to Ybarraa-Thomas (1989), “propriety and keeping up with appearance — el que diran — are the codes shattered by rasquachismo.” Metalachi’s will, and intention, to subvert and upset paradigms with a “witty, irreverant, and impertinent posture” (Ybarra-Thomas, 1989) shows how rasquachismo is a sensibility that uses what one has to push boundaries and (re)claim narratives. There is strength, creative comfort, and resilience in the underdog role. While those in control might see vulgar in Matalachi’s langauge or dress, the band counters ideals such as “pure” or “untainted.” This is the view from los de abajo, and it seeks to claim that which makes communities survive, and thrive in spite of the oppression and deficit views continually foisted upon them.
In this video Metalachi performs a medley of Living on a Prayer to La Bamba to La Negra. Search Metalachi on YouTube and you find more examples like this (my personal favorite is Here I Go Again to Bidi Bidi Bom Bom). In these (re)mezclas , Chicanx rasquachismo draws upon the inherent bicultural sensibility inherent in communal experience. Working within the tensions of everyday in-betweenness a productive force emerges from those very communities perceived as downtrodden and unagentic. Chicanx may live a life on the margins, but they are “sustained by laughter and cosmic sense to be” (Ybarra-Thomas, 1989). This resilience is visual, emotive, productive, and improvisational.
Although my dad no longer borrows used cars, it is no surprise he loves Metalachi. He posts grainy cell phones videos from Youtube onto his Facebook feed. His comments about the videos are often in a mix of Spanish and English complete with an odd set of emojis I can’t begin to explain. That is rasquache.
More on rasquache including references:
- Aviña, S. M. (2016). “That’s ratchet”: A Chicana Feminist Rasquache Pedagogy as Entryway to Understanding the Material Realities of Contemporary Latinx Elementary-Aged Youth. Equity & Excellence in Education, 49(4), 468–479. https://doi.org/10.1080/10665684.2016.1227158
- Barrio Dog Productions. (2011). Latinopia Art: Dr. Tomás Ybarra-Frausto “Rasquachismo.” Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/27727487
- Bedoya, R. (2014, September 15). Spatial Justice: Rasquachification, Race and the City. Retrieved December 2, 2016, from http://creativetime.org/reports/2014/09/15/spatial-justice-rasquachification-race-and-the-city/
- Hidalgo, L. (2015). Augmented Fotonovelas Creating New Media as Pedagogical and Social Justice Tools. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(3), 300–314. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800414557831
- Mesa-Bains, Amalia (1999). “Domesticana” : the sensibility of Chicana rasquache. Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies, 24(2), 157–167
- Mirandé, A. (2011). Rascuache Lawyer. University of Arizona Press. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/book/14710
- Rojas, J. (2015, January 29). Looking for the Rasquache at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. Retrieved January 2, 2017, from https://www.kcet.org/history-society/looking-for-the-rasquache-at-mariachi-plaza-in-boyle-heights
- Walker, B. (n.d.). Art Districts. Retrieved from https://toe.prx.org/2017/04/art-districts/
- Ybarra-Frausto, Tomás (1989). “Rasquachismo: a Chicano sensibility.” In Chicano aesthetics : Rasquachismo, 5–8. Exh. cat., Phenix, Aruz. : MARS, Movimiento Artiscico del Rio Salado.