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.