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Mexican-American 'cholo' style takes off in Bangkok

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The look of cholos might be familiar to us in LA, but that style is catching on among men in Bangkok, Thailand — most of whom don't understand Spanish or truly understand what being a "cholo" is about.

Here in Los Angeles, we're pretty familiar with the "cholo" look.

Though the term has a long and complicated history, cholos as we know them today are typically Mexican-American men with a specific style: Chinos, baggy T-shirts or a starched plaid button-ups, buzzed hair, elaborate body tattoos. They're often associated with lowrider culture.

Today, that same style is being admired and copied by young men 8,200 miles away in Bangkok, Thailand.

"They've been influenced by a lot of videos they've seen on YouTube. They've been influenced by American popular culture," says Alexander Hotz, multimedia director of the news and culture site Coconuts. "They pretty much just think it looks really cool."

Small groups of these men will hang out on the streets of Bangkok, but Hotz says they're not necessarily a part of a gang that commits crime for a living. For them, being a "cholo" is all about the style.

"I don't think they understand the nuance of the culture [at] all. I'm sure most of them would not even know that Spanish is spoken in Mexico," says Hotz. "They don't, for example, understand just how violent some of the Mexican gangs can be."

There are several aspects about the style that draws them in, too. For example, Hotz says the loose-fitting clothing is great for a hot place like Thailand. Also, it's easier for these men to identify with Mexicans because of their similar skin tone.

In addition, they're drawn in by what they see as the "story" of cholos. 

"They do understand, on a really fundamental level, that Mexican gangsters generally come from disadvantaged places," said Hotz. "These are people who have grown up poor who have become powerful people in their community. They really think of that as something that is really, really cool."

Adopting that style has empowered these men to be more open and daring. Despite some of them being policemen in their day job, others will create raps such as "F--k the Po-Po."

"You don't often hear Thais calling out the cops for their crazy corruption," says Hotz. "[This one guy] was using this culture — the aggressiveness of this culture — as a way to get into this social issue, which isn't addressed in popular art a lot."

But generally, the "cholo" life has allowed these men to create social bonds and friendships based around a look.

"They don't do drugs. They don't extort people. It's more of like a group for people who are interested in an aesthetic," said Hotz.

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