Rihanna Dresses as a Zombie Chola, Claims the 818

Last week, artist Kristy Sandoval sent me a text that said “Rihanna’s personal makeup artist is from Arleta,” followed with a pic of Rihanna in head-to-toe chola gear and trademark cholita makeup (the classic eyeliner-lip liner-tear drop combo). Rihanna is throwing up two westside signs and sports an 818 tattoo on her neck, along with Tommy Hilfiger boxers and a flannel buttoned at the neck.

I haven’t verified that Rihanna’s make-up artist, Lora Arellano, is indeed from Arleta or that she went to San Fernando High School but that didn’t stop me from stalking checking out her Instagram account (Arellano’s own hair, makeup and tats are awesome by the way.) That’s where she captioned a photo “ARLETA skank PACK!!” and where I got wind of the numerous zombie chola pics on Rihanna’s Instagram account (@badgalriri). And that’s when the Scooby Doo voice in my head said, “Ruh-roh, Riri.”

When Kristy first told me about Rihanna’s makeup artist being from Arleta, I felt a surge of excitement and immediately started thinking about how Arellano got to where she is now. But my feelings became less enthusiastic and more confused as I started taking in the zombie images.

Do I have right to voice concerns? I’ve dreamed of prank calling the Art Laboe Show as La Smiley like the rest of ‘em. I’ve made wisecracks about Sharpie-d eyebrows and have a genuine affinity for necklaces with Old English nameplates. I’ve even reappropriated the shoes-on-the-wire image in my i am sf logo — a symbol often affiliated with gang violence, bullying or drugs — and have been openly criticized for it.

Do I laugh it off and say “that’s a trip,” then? It’s a Halloween costume, after all. Do I assume Rihanna and her crew are, ironically, acting in a way that mirrors the definition of a zombie: a “hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli”? Am I the one trippin’?

I don’t really want to get into the nitty gritty of it — I’ll let you research cultural appropriation, mainstream stars who haphazardly adopt elements of minority cultures, lowrider culture in Japan and the like.

Simply put, I just wish the 818 on Rihanna’s neck had not been a part of it. The San Fernando Valley is rarely put on the map. The northeast San Fernando Valley? Not a chance. If people know anything about cities like San Fernando, Pacoima or Arleta, it is usually a stereotype, and the collage of images that reached 10 million Rihanna followers isn’t helping that go away.

What do you think? Should I lighten up? Do small actions like this pose a threat when combined with other repetitive behaviors that aren’t well thought out? Are you happy to see the 818 represented this way?

Comment below or on my Facebook page.

Rihanna and arleta zombie cholas

“Arleta skank pack”


written by

i am san fernando is April Aguirre, a writer born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. April bounced around the Valley throughout her upbringing and lived outside of California for a quick minute but always felt most at home in the city of San Fernando. To get at April's heart, FedEx puppies to her door, offer In-N-Out cheeseburgers by the dozen or introduce her to a beer tastier than the last.

8 Responses to "Rihanna Dresses as a Zombie Chola, Claims the 818"

  1. Viejo says:

    Those images of cholos and cholas are the Hollywood-esque stereotypical 1970’s cholos that only appear in shows like CSI, SOA and their ilk. Sadly, Ms. Arrellano chose the vestiges of criminal street gang members, nearly the most negative representation of our culture, to display her talents.

  2. Vallera says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with the way you both have portrayed Lora Arellano. She is well known for much, much more! It’s just so unfortunate that you have only heard of one silly costume. Look into her further and your opinions will surely change. She is proud of where she’s from in a million other positive ways.

  3. Casey says:

    Interesting post. I have to say I think there’s always a potential problem when anyone, not just a celebrity, adopts style, slang, symbols from a culture they don’t really understand. I’ve done it. Probably most of us do. Sometimes we just see something we like and copy it. Other times it’s a way of getting attention or giving ourselves street cred. But it doesn’t show much respect for a community or its culture if we just wear things for show without trying to understand what they mean.

    And by the way, I like the blog. It’s good to see somebody focus on some of the more interesting stuff happening in the Valley.

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  7. Oh Sweety says:

    Oh get over it… It’s a costume. Girls dress way more unacceptable on Halloween and no one has made a blog about it. Also, San Fernando is well on the map. We’re actually know for the porn industry, that actually would have been a better blog to read. She’s a great artist, a great business woman and is doing amazing things. To answer your questions, yes lighten up, the 818 unfortunately will always have a bad rep, no matter how many Trader Joes you build in it. I’m sure if she had put Compton on her neck, none of us would have been here reading this….. oh and I am proudly from the 818 Arleta and IDGAF.


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