Chanclas hold memories, make fashion statements

By Helena Rodriguez

This month’s issue of Latina magazine features a short story on chanclas, you know, the old flip-flops or sandals that abuela used to whack you with? Chanclas still make good paddles, but these days, they also make great fashion statements.
During my childhood, it was the infamous “pink sandal” that we had to watch out for. Fortunately for me, my behind only came in contact with Grandma Emma’s pink sandal one time, but oh, the horror stories I heard about this pink slip-on.
My memory of the sole encounter I had with Grandma Emma’s pink sandal is fuzzy. It was an initiation of sorts, welcoming me into the club of brave souls who knew the pink sandal all too well, brave souls who included my uncles, aunts, cousins and sisters. But it was also an encounter I did not want repeated, especially because, in my case, it was not Grandma Emma but Aunt Patsy aiming the pink sandal at my behind.
All I remember of the pink sandal was that it was somewhat faded and had straps running across it. I think it also had a flat, low heel like many chanclas of the day. I became a member of the Pink Sandal Club one summer when me, Becky, Uncle Paul and I think a few others wandered off down the street without permission and were gone for a good while. And back in those days, when you got into trouble with one of your abuelas, tias or tios, you could expect to get it again from Mom and Dad, too.
My 14-year-old daughter, Laura, is into this now fashionable chanclas craze, which I would say started a few years ago. Her attitude toward chanclas is nothing like the ones of dread many of us had as children. Back then, chanclas were so in because they were so cheap. These days, you can pay a pretty penny for a pair of chanclas.
There’s the standard plain flip-flop, the dressy flip-flop and flip-flops embellished with novelties such as flowers, rhinestones and butterflies.
My 10-year-old niece, Stephanie Franco, a.k.a. “Imelda ‘Mom, I Need a New Pair of Shoes Every Week’ Marcos,” has a thing for flip-flops that light up.
I don’t know how many times this winter I’ve had to scold my daughter, Laura, for trying to sneak out into the frigid outdoors in her flip-flops. She already knows what my first reaction is going to be: “Laura, what’s wrong with you! No flip-flops until spring!”
With all the respect to which my motherly duties entitle me to, Laura usually responds with rolling eyes and reluctantly stomps back into the house to change her shoes.
During my childhood days, we referred to flip-flops as “thongs.” But these days, a thong is more commonly known as an undergarment, an alternative to panties and unwanted panty lines. And if you’ll recall, during the recent presidential elections, “flip-flop” became a term most commonly associated with John Kerry, regardless of the fact that it was Bush who flip-flopped numerous times when trying to justify the war in Iraq. But that’s a whole other kind of flip-flop.
With spring just around the corner, it’s almost time to break out the chanclas again, and believe me, there will be a lot of flip-flopping going on.
Imelda Marcos is said to have owned more than 1,000 pair of shoes, with some estimates as high as 2,000 or 3,000 at the time she and her husband, Ferdinand, a dictator in the Philippines, fled from their palace in 1986.
The real question here is: How many pair of chanclas did Imelda own, and did she ever whack her kids with them?

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: