Playeras Latinas ( Latino T-shirts)

May 26, 2008

Almost a year ago, Macy’s department store introduced the NaCo brand t-shirts to the U.S. market. The t-shirts, with their selection of catchy phrases, slogans and adaptations from Mexican slang, made the brand an instant success within the U.S. Hispanic population, especially among Latinos with Mexican roots.

Phrases like “Ser Naco es Chido” (Being Tacky is cool), Brown is the new White, and Se Habla Español (Spanish Spoken) that mock Latino tackiness garnered great attention from the public and the media, while some Latino-rights advocates considered the phrases racist.  In response, Macy’s pulled the shirts off the racks and issued a public apology.

But the fact is that these t-shirts were originally conceived and designed for the Mexican market, appealing to the Latino sense of humor and capacity to parody themselves. In Mexico, the NaCo t-shirts were perceived as a “cute” trend, adopted mainly by wealthy members of the society.

In Mexico (and Latin America), wearing a garment with a slogan doesn’t mean that the individual endorses or agrees with the statement, especially when these slogans are written in another language. For instance, I have seen Hispanic males and females both in Mexico and in the U.S. wearing garments from the RED Campaign or Walk for Breast Cancer without having a clue of the meaning of the message they were promoting.

Of course, the opposite is true when it comes to wearing sports team-related garments.  Those individuals are acutely aware of the symbolism of the slogans and colors they wear, and they will defend them with pride.

Meanwhile, another brand of Latino-themed t-shirts has entered the U.S. market, but this time the clothing is designed and created in Texas by a company called Siesta Tees.  Siesta Tees offers a line of garments with less “controversial” topics and designs that appeal first- and second-generation U.S Hispanics. Phrases like “ I © abuela” ( I © grandma),  Can you say chula? (cutie) and a couple of designs from their Ojo (eye) Collection, which, according to the company’s Web site:

… was inspired by abuela, tía and that egg they put under the bed. Mexican folklore believes that people who envy or are jealous of babies give them the evil eye, which causes the kiddos to get sick. To rid the little ones of the evil eye you pray over them with the egg and place it under their bed, and poof the little one is rid of the OJO.