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Winter 2008

The adjectives 'catalufo' and 'cholo' as cultural productions, by Roger Martínez

Based on specific examples, this article analyses the way the linguistic practices and identifications of young people link with other elements, such as music, youth style, social class or national identification. The aim is to see how the cultural forms that combine symbolic forms and "global" or "transnational" meanings with other local ones are produced.


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1. Introduction
2. 'Catalufos' and 'cholos'
3. Links with musical taste
4. One experience, one culture
5. Intermediate positions, negotiation and normalities
6. Conclusion: local cultural production amid global flows
7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The speaking of Catalan or Spanish and the way each of these languages is spoken play an important role in the way young people perceive one another and position themselves in relation to others. From this point of view, these things are important additional practices which, together with others like music, clothes, hair styles, ways of getting around and going out at night, make up what I call "youth geographies"; that is, the interplay of social distances and proximities in which young people are immersed. In this article, I analyse the way in which symbolic forms and "global" or "transnational" meanings link with other local ones – in this case linguistic practices and Catalan and Spanish national identifications – within the network of practices that are important in making up youth styles.

The pages that follow are based on research on musical taste I carried out during the 2000/01 academic year at three secondary schools in the city of Barcelona. One, which I will call the CatalanSchool, is in one of the districts with the highest house prices in Barcelona and has a majority of middle-class Catalan-speaking pupils. Another, which I will refer to as the Peripheral School, is in one of the districts that was created in the '60s to house growing Spanish immigration and caters for largely working-class Spanish-speaking pupils. Finally, the last secondary school, the ImmigrantSchool, is in one of the districts of Barcelona with the highest percentage of new immigration, which is fully represented among its pupils. In all, I carried out a total of 32 interviews (the majority with pairs of young people) with 57 young people.

2. 'Catalufos' and 'cholos'

I will first make a brief, reductionist description of the use by young people of the adjectives “catalufo” and “cholo”. We have a record of the use of the adjective “catalufo” (or “catalanufo” or “lufo”), since the nineties (1). The word is used among young people in a disparaging way to refer, in its strict sense, not so much to speaking Catalan but rather to being publicly proud of being and speaking Catalan, setting out a pro-Catalan, nationalist or, above all, pro-independence political project and, in a certain way, showing a degree of hostility towards the Spanish language and national identity: “[Catalufos are] the ones who support Catalonia. (…) What we call 'catalufos' are the ones who directly want independence for Catalonia, so they only go for what's really Catalan.” In a broader, looser sense, however, the adjective can refer to the majority of Catalan-speaking young people, whether or not they are pro-Catalan, nationalists or militant pro-independence. In this case, the meaning of the label largely depends on the context in which it is used.

The importance of the term is that, although in its more restricted sense it refers only to a minority of young people, it has an important symbolic power in the cultural production of youth geographies, as it represents and marks – albeit in a diffuse and non-exhaustive way – a social and symbolic distance between "Catalan-ness" and "Castilian-ness" or "Spanishness". If at one pole we find the adjective “catalufo”, at the other there are the terms “cholo”, “garrulo”, “calorro”, “lolailo”, “quillo”, “jezna”, “del palo”, “pelao” and “fatxa”, among others. These terms were often used during the interviews as synonyms referring to a working-class, Spanish immigrant origin combined with what we would describe as “street culture” and what Pujolar (2001) calls “stylised Spanish” (2).

At the same time, depending on the context, each of these adjectives also had a specific meaning. Roughly, we can say that when toughness and the transgression of street culture were emphasised, the adjective “del palo” was used. If an anti-Catalan attitude was being highlighted, it was done with the adjective “fatxa”. If, however, the intention was to underline the stylistic proximity to the skinhead youth style, the adjective “pelao” was used. The more general adjectives, which tended to include the others, were “cholo”, “quillo”, “jezna” and “garrulo”, which, in their broadest sense, referred to working-class Spanish speakers and, in a more limited sense, to an extreme and transgressive street style, on the margins of the criminality which is often part of urban gypsy culture.

By contrast with the term “catalufo”, which never had a positive meaning (in that context, the adjective "català" (Catalan) would be used), “cholo” and its variants could be applied in a pejorative or a positive sense. In the negative sense, a young Catalan-speaker from the CatalanSchool defined “garrulo” as “an ignorant person, mmm... who... with apologies to Andalusians, has that Andalusian accent and coarseness. They don't know how to speak, they use swearwords...”. In the neutral and even positive sense, other interviewees used it to identify themselves: “I mean, I like 'cholo' stuff.

3. Links with musical taste

Later we will give more details of these opposing concepts and introduce some of the many nuances that are required. Before that, though, we will stress the fact that the difference between Catalan and Spanish is not merely a linguistic or political opposition between the two, it affects the interplay of differentiations that form part of youth styles and geographies, mixing with – and often camouflaged by – the differences between musical genres, ways of dressing and other significant practices. We can see, for example, how two young people from the Catalan School, when trying in an interview to differentiate the various groups at their school, said that, while the majority lay among those who liked màkina music and those who liked punk, there was also a third group who they described both in political terms and in terms of the music they listened to:

Jose: Yes, well [there is also a minority group] of pro-Catalan people and those (…).

Ramón: Who like commercial like... music...

Jose: Yes, “Gossos” - that commercial catalufo stuff, shall we say – all over Catalonia... Then, there's what's...

Roger: Catalan rock?

Jose: Yes, Catalan rock.

The truth is that, although many musical styles (commercial pop, house, rap, etc.) were perceived by the interviewees as disconnected from the “catalufo/cholo” dichotomy, some were not. The majority of young people, like Jose and Ramón, perceived a taste for Catalan rock as having political and national connotations, as a "sign" of militant Catalan linguistic and national belonging (the same was not true, by contrast, for Spanish rock, which generally had more neutral connotations). A second style with "pro-Catalan" connotations was the one the young people called ska, although in this case it was less clear. Finally, punk-hardcore was seen, at the Catalan School, as “catalufo” in its broad sense, that is, not so much because it meant a pro-Catalan political project (and, in fact, the very people who liked it understood it as critical of the “system” and any kinds of “nationalism”) but rather because it generally covered Catalan speakers. In the next extract, notice the way Joan and Marc explain how they perceive punk and being “cholo” as a contradiction in terms:

Roger: And are there any cholos who are punks?

Joan:Cholos, who are punks? You don't find many cholos, who are punks.

Marc: The thing is, a punk who looks like a punk can't be a cholo. He isn't... The cholos have a different look...

Joan:Well,cholo refers to the stereotypical... There are cholo families, for example, aren't there? So you can come from one of these families and be a punk.

Roger: Are there any of these?

Joan: There aren't... I don't know [they laugh] Well, there could be, but it's very weird.

Marc: Yes. I don't know any.

In the case of the opposite pole, everything coming under the “cholo” style was associated either with màkina music (and labels associated with electronic music, like “progressive”, “hardcore” (3) and “trance”) or flamenco or “flamenco-type” music – and in many cases both. While màkina music was associated with a (“pelao” or “fatxa”) style, flamenco and what young people called “gitaneo”, “jaloteo” or “flamenqueo” was not. We see a paradigmatic example of the association between language, national identity, musical taste and other elements of youth styles, in this case at the PeripheralSchool:

Laura: The thing is that people often mix music with language, you know. It's hard to believe, but... it's true.

Roger: You mean...

Laura: Yes, because, look, pro-Catalan people like a range of music which the...which, for example, the "fatxas" don't [like]... And vice versa.

Roger: Because what does "pro-Catalan" mean? That they're Catalans, or what are they...?

Laura: That they live in Catalonia, that they speak Catalan and that...

Sonia: And that they want independence from Spain, come on!

Laura: That, too. As well. You see... you see a "fatxa" and a pro-Catalan person and you can see the differences from a hundred metres away. They dress differently, they talk differently... They talk differently.

Sonia: Pro-Catalan people almost always have spikes here...

Laura: They wear baggy clothes, they have their hair... The girls normally [have their hair] short… and dyed different colours. And the typical "fatxa" [by contrast,] has short hair. They are different. In everything: they wear Alpha, tight clothes… Or they always wear tight jeans or tight sports clothes, short. All designer stuff, or nearly all.

In fact, these differentiations are important because they not only point to differences in musical taste or speaking Catalan or Spanish, but also to the combination of all these and other elements in producing social distances and proximities. Of course, however, these links between the different elements are not nearly simple as my sketch might lead us to think.

4. One experience, one culture

If we understand the differentiation between “catalufo” and “cholo” as the result of the cultural production of the expression of what is Catalan and what is Spanish, we can carry out the exercise of reading what we have called “cholo” in terms of a response to and channelling of a collective experience, in a similar way to the so-called "black culture" in the United States or England. Firstly, the term “cholo” is directly linked to a socially subordinate position in terms of class; this is why many interviewees opposed it not only to “catalufo” but also to “pijo” (posh). In fact, although for the Barcelona middle class “pijo” is associated with being Spanish-speaking and having a rather Spanish national identity, many interviewees associated “catalufo” with “pijo” (“Almost everyone in society is the same [as me, they don't like Catalan stuff]. Except the "pijos", because they're from different districts, but in the more or less lower-middle-class districts everyone's the same”).

Secondly, as we have seen in the last quote highlighted, the term “cholo” is often identified (and this is a recent development) with "fatxa" (fascist), which must not be understood literally but rather as a diffuse expression of uneasiness at or even distance from what is Catalan. Let's look at an example:

María: Màkina music and that stuff is totally "fatxa", totally. but… Estopa and all that would also be “fatxa” in inverted commas. It's kind of more cholo.

Mariona: And then [on the opposite side] there's the more pro-independence Catalan stuff.

Roger: But, on the other hand, Estopa's lyrics aren't "fatxa" at all.

María: No, but, I mean. It's like...I don't know...As if, I don't know…. They talked about your father, I don't know, it's as if… You understand it that way, right? I don't know, since I was little I've been played songs like that. I always speak Spanish, I always go to Andalusia in summer and all that. I think in a particular way. Don't ask me to answer because... because I want... [Don't ask me for a reason] why [I identify with] Spain and not Catalonia because I'm not going to give you one, because I don't know, but...

Maria's words express the non-literal meaning of the adjective "fatxa", which appears practically as a synonym of “cholo”, emphasising the rejection of a Catalan identity and a sense of belonging to a Spanish one. It is still significant, however, that the use of a political adjective with such connotations and clear historical roots has become normalised. To understand this, we must look at the visibility of Spanish fascist skinheads as symbolic markers of the opposition to pro-Catalanism during the nineties and to their stylistic impact during the same decade on popular makiner musical taste – this is why it is sometimes called “pelao” –without also forgetting the experience by many citizens of a lower-class position combined with unease and alienation at the new situation where Catalan is the normal language at school, in the workplace and in the political institutions (4).

Thirdly and finally, the collective experience also refers to street culture, which cannot be understood without reference to its connection with urban gypsy culture. The adjective “cholo” (and its variants “lolailo”, “jezna”, “calorro” or “quillo”) are generally perceived as closely connected with the idea of “gitano” (gypsy) (“Quillo, yes. Quillo, gitano, cholo, of course...”), becomes both a source of musical authenticity (gitaneo, flamenqueo or jaloteo) and a symbolic marker of the most extreme features of transgression and street culture (which is at the same time a source of authenticity and stigma), as also happens with “black culture” in the Anglo-American context.


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