NPR logo 'La Chancla': Flip Flops As A Tool of Discipline

'La Chancla': Flip Flops As A Tool of Discipline

With more than five million views, "The Secret of La Chancla" is a YouTube hit. The author worries it makes fun of hitting children.

YouTube

For Latinos who grew up under the reign of "La Chancla" (the flip flop), the idea of corporal punishment is not a foreign one. Many of us, from the moment we could speak in full sentences, already knew the sting of discipline and all it entailed. We knew that when we got out of line – be it at the grocery store, the post office, anywhere – a good pela was to be expected. Shoes, rulers, spatulas; these were the objects with which we were instructed to stop pestering our siblings and/or improve our grades in school. But when did this all become a thing to laugh about?

Take "The Secret of La Chancla," a humorous video about why Hispanic children are "so well behaved."

In it, we see the infamous chancla flying across rooms, hitting kids upside the head swiftly for the purpose of inciting fear and curbing unwanted bad behavior.

"The secret is Hispanic culture, which emphasizes boundaries, developmental growth, and a traditional technique known as ... La Chancla."

With over 5 million views and counting, "The Secret of La Chancla" continues to ignite passionate discussion from people on all sides of the debate. The comment section is a source of often disconcerting commentary from both young and old, and from people claiming a variety of backgrounds.

Article continues after sponsorship

On the issue of physical discipline, Hispanics are right in step with most other Americans. According to a Harris poll conducted last year, four in five Americans believe that it is sometimes appropriate for parents to spank their children. In a study examining 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, researchers found that 80 percent of Hispanic parents admitted to spanking their children. As for mothers being the disciplinarians of choice, research by Child Trends Data Bank found that Hispanics were the only group where more women than men felt that a "good hard spanking" was sometimes necessary for kids.

Laughing At Painful Memories

One of the most striking aspects of the debate within Latino culture is the casualness with which corporal punishment is discussed. Strangely, it can even hold a degree of sentimental value, tying us to family, friends, and the international community that shares in our experiences. Throughout my adolescence, my brothers and I grew closely acquainted with the thick purple belt our beloved mother often used to stop our mischief. She kept it in a high place in her closet, and for a time, we feared it. And so, because it accurately reflects my own upbringing, I'll be the first to admit cracking up at videos like "The Secret of La Chancla" until my stomach hurts.

Lisa Fontes, Ph.D., lecturer and author of Child Abuse and Culture: Working with Diverse Families, sees the laughter as a sort of coping mechanism. She offered this via email: "I think people from all groups joke about the punishments they've received because it is a way to cope with ambiguous feelings, trying to make sense of the love and loyalty they feel toward their parents, today, and also the shame, fear, and humiliation they felt when young."

It's true that the "this-is-how-my-folks-did it-and-it's-all-I-know" mindset is a prevailing one. And it's no secret that most of our parents aren't spearheading a movement to influence change on the matter. The generational divide seems far too wide to imagine that happening any time soon.

A Time To Change?

Today, as statistics and information regarding the effects of this sort of training become more and more publicized, some are reconsidering. Mary L. Pulido, Executive Director of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, puts it plainly: "Nothing is learned and so much is lost." She adds: "To be effective, discipline needs to be consistent, perceived as 'fair' by the child, age-appropriate, and should teach the child how to act in the future."

It wasn't that our parents were attempting to inflict any serious or lasting pain. No, it was more a question of traditions; about applying the same methods of child-rearing their parents had applied to them. (And their parents before them, and so on.) The difference between abuse and the forms of discipline they employed, in their view, was like the distance between the earth and the sun. But did it work?

I'm not sure what the answer here is. What I do know is that as Latinos, and as human beings living in a brave new world, it would serve us well to question. Question our traditions, question what we've long accepted as good and right and just. And it's not easy. Why? Because for change to take effect, entire patterns of thinking must be eradicated. Ceasing to believe and practice something one has always accepted as normal is no small task. Especially something so ingrained and embedded in the very fabric of a culture.

Where do we even start? A good place might be to stop laughing.


Juan Vidal is a writer and critic for NPR Books. He's on Twitter: @itsjuanlove