Cardi B Knows: The Chancla Is Powerful

In a much-discussed altercation with Nicki Minaj at Harper's Bazaar's NYFW party, Cardi B unleashed a powerful tool that's very familiar to Latinx women.

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Sep 11 2018, 9:05pm

In the past two years, Cardi B has rapidly risen to become the unofficial reina de hip-hop. From her 2016 mixtape Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1 to her debut album Invasion of Privacy, the 25-year-old has risen to fame because of her infectious personality, genre-bending hits, and transparent social media presence. In the same vein of her success, her identity as an Afro-Latinx woman has also been something the mainstream world has taken time to comprehend. The Trinidadian-Dominican rapper has always been quite vocal about her dual identity as a Black woman with Latinx heritage who grew up in the Bronx. She’s proud—but Cardi is also an anomaly to celebrity women who live by respectability politics and decorum.

On Saturday, that defiance of decorum came out in full force at a New York Fashion Week’s Harper's Bazaar party. In leaked video and from the account of several attendees, a fight broke out when Cardi attempted to assault hip-hop’s other leading lady (and media-boosted nemesis), Nicki Minaj. Cardi’s weapon of choice was one synonymous with enraged Latinas everywhere— her shoe.

In this case, a red satin, platform pump is synonymous with “la chancla”—which translates to “the flip-flop”—a seemingly harmless but simultaneously triggering Latinx symbol of punishment. Before its image was oversaturated in telenovelas or Latinx comedies and movies, la chancla was (and still is) a very real symbol of the enraged Latina. La chancla could be found in the hands of our frustrated mothers, disappointed abuelas, pissed girlfriends, or distraught wives. Sometimes, when words aren’t cutting through as they should—a condition evident in the video when Cardi’s yelling towards Minaj was greeted with Nicki pretending she didn’t exist—the sandal suffices.

While watching the clip for the first time, I simply nodded my head and shrugged.

As a Latina woman, to me, this wasn’t so much a matter of how far, too far, or not far enough Cardi went in lashing out against Nicki. It was simply a matter of Cardi not caring if the fashion world was looking on at that moment. No dress, no designer, and no setting—and maybe not even money—is going to take away that same Bronx girl who fought for the dreams that she wanted.

Cardi was unapologetic—as is characteristic of her personal brand.

The symbol of la chancla is deeper than solely a comedic rendering of a traditional Latinx household punishment. La chancla represents the constant labor and exhaustion of Latinx women, no matter their status. Whether it’s your mother punishing you for staying out past curfew, your abuela being unimpressed if you dare to talk back, or Cardi B being done with Nicki’s constant shade and belittling of her success—the throwing of la chancla is a symbol for the fed up, exhausted Latinx women. We’re on our feet working all day, every day for the life we make for our children, our families, and ourselves. If you’ve got something to say, then we’re going to give you a piece of that right back. It’s a side of Cardi that clearly, Minaj never expected to see, especially at one of fashion’s most high-profile afterparties.

Though not every Latinx human has experienced the wrath of la chancla, Cardi’s Fashion Week outburst of rage did remind some of the women in their lives and how they dealt with pain.

According to interdisciplinary Mexican-American artist Esperanza Rosas, the Cardi/Nicki drama reminded her of an old Latinx saying: “Te rayo la madre,” or, “I want you to feel the pain I’ve felt.”

“I can see why Cardi B acted out—it’s part of who she is. But I also think nothing is ever that serious,” Rosas told Broadly over email. “The truth will always come out.”

For others, Cardi’s outburst was less of an obvious display of Latinx rage and more of an exhibition of the character Cardi has built throughout the years, beginning with her reality television days on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop.

“This felt less like my mom chasing me with a chancla and more of a performative fight for media in a reality TV type way,” the painter and performance artist Oscar Chavez told Broadly. “Her form of addressing issues felt very contemporary. We can’t forget that, not too long ago, she threw a shoe at a girl during a reunion filming of Love & Hip Hop. Much can be said about the respectability politics surrounding reality TV and seeing people of color act a fool on TV, but I think this performative absurdity is just the way we exist in the world now.”

Chavez adds, “At the end of the day, isn’t that all we really want?”

Unlike some in the crowd surrounding the two women that night, I wasn’t disappointed, or shocked, or offended by Cardi’s actions. This moment was an instance of Cardi reminding people around her, and maybe even herself, that no one was going to tarnish what she worked so hard for—her music, her career, and her family.

While two uber-successful women of color fighting with each other is not an ideal situation, the altercation, though serious, seemingly only made Cardi B even more relatable to the Latinx sector of her fandom. Yes, this moment was about Cardi expressing her frustration and anger towards someone who’s been very clearly taunting her career—but it also reminded Cardi’s fanbase, that Cardi is exactly who she has always claimed to be: a bitch that’s not afraid to speak her mind. Or throw a shoe.