Cholo Writing. A Mexican-American Handstyle

Monday 26 October, 11:50 (20 minutes)

Prof François Chastanet, Architect & graphic designer,

The term cholo derives from an Aztec word xolotl meaning «dog» that was later turned on its head and used as a symbol of pride by the Mexican-American community in the context of the ethnic power movements of the 1960s from wich emerged the idea of La Raza or Chicano nationalism. Cholo writing originally constitues the vernacular handstyle created by the Latino gangs in Los Angeles as far back as the 1940s: it is probably the oldest form of the «graffiti of names» in the 20th century, with its own aesthetic, evident long before the explosion in the early 1970s in New York. Cholo writing can be seen as a cousin of the baroque gothic calligraphies typical of Mexico, as a genuine expression of a border culture between Mexico and the United States. This survey explores the genesis of these specific letterforms that paradoxically gave a visual identity to the LA infinite suburbia. For the first time ever a historical series of photographs from the early 1970s in LA is presented together with a contemporary collection, which gives a unique insight in the history of Cholo writing from an aesthetic point of view. (see François Chastanet, «Placas in Los Angeles, the first suburban blackletters?», Baseline #55, 2008)