Latinos in Taiwan Pt. 3: Chicano hip hop scene

Posted September 22, 2009 2:48 am (about 3650 days ago)

It’s no secret that people in Asia are fascinated by hip hop, with countries such as Japan cultivating a massive scene including sub-genres such as Chicano rap. Although Taiwan’s scene is not as developed, it’s steadily growing and makes huge strides every time I visit. As far as I can tell, there’s relatively little that’s been written about this scene so I wanted to explore a little bit. But to properly address this issue, I need to set up some personal context.

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Mr. Chino Tattoo Shop
Although my friend Mike and I left Doobiest truly appreciating Berry and Chicano’s hospitality and friendliness I was still taken aback by some of the gang-related items I saw in the store. I was glad they were interested in learning about something different and I really hoped that gang-life wouldn’t be romanticized.

As we walked towards Mr. Chino's shop  we came upon a big sign for a tattoo shop that had a big number 13 on it. Although I had walked by this sign before I paid it no mind until I had this new context. Walking into the store was a bit intense as we were unannounced and the two guys behind the counter definitely had their guard up. Chino himself had a bald cut, was tattooed up and didn’t seem happy to see us. Since we weren’t there to get tats he flat out asked us what we wanted. Fortunately Mike was able to explain that I was just a curious tourist and that Berry had recommended him as a good person to speak with.

Once we asked questions he lightened up. I tried to ask some
tough questions without being insulting or aggressive. I merely wanted to learn about the scene, not project all my impressions and assumptions. Yet I didn’t want to gloss over some of the real issues. When I show some of the activities of Asian “cholos” to Chicanos, even some who are gang-affiliated, there’s a mixture of wonder, amazement, and often discomfort, for the reasons I mentioned previously. It’s easy to just get mad, but there’s rarely malicious intent and it works both ways. So what exactly was up?

Because Chicano rap is such a small component of the hip-hop scene I asked Chino why was he drawn to it. Like the others, he said that was only one style that he listened to and that he was into all types of genres. However, he said that Chicano rap stood out because it was “more real,” unlike all the commercial stuff on the radio. He liked the samples and their heavy emphasis on “oldies.” Chicano rappers were less interested in appealing to the mainstream and more about getting their stories out. I asked him if he was drawn to the violence and criminal activities that many of these rappers highlighted and he said that this was a definite downside. He said that he tried to talk to some of the kids and teens who were interested in the scene about not getting caught up in the negative and that one his own idols, the artists Mr. Cartoon often spoke about the downsides of gang life and people leaving it behind. Chino didn’t speak English or Spanish, I don’t think, so I wonder how much of the music content he could just ignore, like Americans often do with reggae that’s violently homophobic, or even English-language hip hop that has a good beat!

I asked him what the 13 represented on his sign and he said it had nothing to do with gangs and is a lucky number for tattoo artists. This made sense as there’s a tattoo shop near my home in Oakland that has a big 13 in the window, although it’s red.

We moved on to art and he said that he was heavily influenced by Chicano artists, including Aztec symbolism, as well as specific artists like the aforementioned Mr. Cartoon. However, he also said that was constantly working to develop his own style and not merely copy others. I asked him if he had spent time in L.A. and he said that he was so busy since he got into art and opened his store that he hadn’t been over yet. Interestingly enough, his shop looked like it could’ve been teleported straight from L.A., or an image of L.A., complete with trinkets from its famed Olvera Street! He said that he had gone to Japan where the Chicano scene is much more established, including a strong Soul Assassins presence.

I asked him if any of the local Mexicans or Chicanos ever came by the store and he said no, although the world-famous DJ Fatfingaz  out of New York had gotten a tattoo when he toured Taiwan.

There was also a woman sitting next to Chino this whole time who was listening intently and obviously spoke English as she visibly responded when I said certain things. I asked her what she thought about this whole Chicano thing and she said that she thought it was stupid. She said that she wasn’t into trends, whether they were American, Mexican, or Taiwanese. I immediately wanted to ask her more questions, but some people entered the store and it was apparent that our time was up. However, Chino said he was definitely open to doing a longer interview when time permitted.

All in all, as short as these conversations were I found them to be very enlightening and I hope they open up further dialogue and maybe even collaborations. All three said they were open to answering questions from the students I work with and I’ll definitely take them up on that. It’s apparent that while other Americans have connected with the scene it doesn’t seem that too many, if anyone, is really documenting this scene and engaging with its participants. I could be wrong of course.

At a broader level, for those into this scene, can you really respect the music and culture if you don’t think critically about it? I strongly believe that disconnecting it from the community is merely playing charades. But again it works both ways and it’s an opportunity for some broader dialogues, like the best of art and culture’s supposed to do. Hip hop has always had Asian influence; Wu-Tang Clan, The Fu-Shcnickens, Jeru, the Mountain Brothers, and even The 2 Live Crew had Fresh Kid Ice! African Americans have had strong ties to Asia through jazz, the Black Panthers, and Robert Williams, to name a few. It should be no surprise that the long history between Latin American and Asia is also gaining more ground. As time permits, I’ll try to add more to the discussion. In the meantime, I appreciate everyone who made time to chat it up with me, including my boy Mike for all the translation!


1. Eric said at September 23, 2009 3:53 pm:

I'm going to put it out there...I'm a former Gang Memeber here in Oakland...the reality is that thats not the life style you want to follow it is not a trend, its not whats in this year, its not the best thing to do...yea people wanna look the part, act the part, but when it comes down to actually pulling a trigger, stealing, beating, you see the real person...I've seen incidents where we would be out on "Missions",late night rides around town looking for trouble,and when it came down to doing the actual crime they backed down...the reality is that everybody is fascinated with the Black and Latino scene. Here in the US, you see white boys who are from the suburbs, those who have all they want, and yet they wanna dress "GHETTO", they want to speak "Slang", have the "Phattest" ride. But they have never been to the "Hood", they never had to go for days without food, money, never had to hustle their way in life. But they are fascinated because for them its what's in, they see rappers and they wanna imitate them. To cut it short...when you are little its fun to act parts to "IMAGINE" you are something your not, because you felt you had powers, o you felt unbeatable, you felt the best out there...well its the same now with grown people they wanna act the part, they wanna "IMAGINE" they are something they are not, because it makes them feel they are something, maybe feel important, noticed, powerful, whatever the case is they just wanna imitate, they wont really do time, they really wont kill another human being, they wont steal,they just want what comes with that part, without doing anything...whether it is girls, being noticed, being terrified of, whatever they think they can get from it they want it without actually being a gang member, without the consequences...these are my 2 cents on this topic...

2. Daniel said at September 23, 2009 9:48 pm:

Eric, I think a key thing is understanding why so many are attracted to gangs, while others are not. With your example, I think people are fascinated by "the other," while in general, I think people are looking for purpose, identity, and power. As you said, people want to imagine who they'd like to be. Too many males are tied up in illusions of power...big trucks, muscles, guns, being hyper agressive...What's harder? Dropping out or finishing college? Robbing someone or making your own money? In the long term, that fast "easy" life actually becomes the hard one. I'm sure that anyone who's done time and/or tried to create a life after dropping out can attest to that!

3. hopes4 said at September 25, 2009 2:14 am:

im also a former gangmember from east oakland and its very interesting the way that the sureno culture travels world wide the essense of the pachuco and the dickies or ben davis are a true esential to our chicano culture and as you can see its gone world wide just like in japan and even in iran this culture of old school dressing and baggy pants are truely the essential of a culture who tried to identafy them self diffrently from other cultures even if other people saw it as an act of revelion the true essential for this was to identafy each other by the lingo and the way they dress i see this as a break threw sense alot of people judge from the way they see you dress now they can see that just like hip hop or gangsta rap became a part of history so is the pachuco and gangster aperal i love my culture and the ways that we made a style that suits every one who likes to wear it. and also the way that people mis judge because of what you are wearing i think that having this style world wide is really kool

4. Amado said at September 25, 2009 4:38 pm:

To start off, I think that this whole Chicano/Latino identification to gangs is extremely misleading. I believe that a subject like "Minority-related gangs" is a very complicated matter to discuss, since it involves such a great amount of people coming from all kinds of backgrounds, not only racial, but also related to their family background. I think that even though gangs have a wrong end, we may never judge a gang member or someone that wants to be affiliated, since we don't know where they are coming from, what their life is like, and how it got to that point. On another note, Latino gang "Culture" has well become a very interesting and absorbing matter in so many places in the world. The cars, the clothes, the music, and everything related to the Latino Gang scene is very flashy to the eye, I could say that by experience. However, people sometimes misinterpret the background behind it, simply because of mere ignorance at times. Again, I will say that no one can judge the opinion or the view of others, since we don't know where their interest is coming from. In any case, in places like Taiwan or Japan, although the "style" is becoming very popular, the ignorance about the Latino gangs and the culture behind it make it very misleading when they try to represent such a culture and when referring to the Latino/Mexican/Chicano community as a whole. In any case, it is always to be well informed about this, since it has become a major aspect of all minorities in the United States, that although misleading, is its the sad reality for many of us.

5. Daniel said at October 4, 2009 9:28 pm:

I think you reiterate my point that there's a lot of history and context that goes into gang culture and why so many people are drawn to it. It's very easy to make people into cartoon characters, romanticizing them as Robin Hood characters, or demonizing them as monsters. The truth, of course, is more complicated. I'd also argue that gang life is often times a reflection of what's happening in broader society...people seeking power, jobs, etc and gangs often fill those voids.

6. Chicano Rap said at February 3, 2010 9:44 pm:

Good article. I'm going to Japan next month, Tokyo to be exact so I would like to know if anyone out there is familiar with any type of venues or "hang outs" for this type of music scene. I would like to meet a few locals who know about Chicano Rap.

7. Chicano Rap said at February 3, 2010 9:44 pm:

Good article. I'm going to Japan next month, Tokyo to be exact so I would like to know if anyone out there is familiar with any type of venues or "hang outs" for this type of music scene. I would like to meet a few locals who know about Chicano Rap.

8. CHRISTIAN D said at March 6, 2011 7:31 pm:


9. big chuco said at June 16, 2011 11:07 pm:

japan has always supported my music, i have a couple contacts that buy cd's from me..always tripd me out..but all good, as long as they enjoy the music..its available on and search big chuco ..also check out the videos on VIVA LA RAZA!!

10. Daniel said at June 19, 2011 10:08 pm:

Chuco, it's crazy the ways that culture spreads and the internet has made things explode. It'll be interesting to see how things continute to develop.

11. MONI said at July 16, 2011 3:37 pm:

CONEJO is a RAPPER, from Los Angeles, unarguably one of the most influential artist in Chicano rap. His uncompromising and often controversial urban storytelling depicts the reality of real life gang-members in Los Angeles (and throughout the rest of the world). His lyrics capture not only the toughness and brutality of Gang life, but also the unity and family as well as the emotional hardships of loss and tragedy. A True Master of his Art! Constantly evolving, and getting stronger with each release , undoubtedly his most Impressive LP to date, the hot new album. (“The Puppet Master Curse”) will be in stores from ( July 11th 2011 ) on Felony case entertainment ….

12. Chicano Tattoo Art said at August 1, 2011 7:52 pm:

While I sell this stuff online I have come to known and realize that this chicano gang culture is very popular in many other countries, my best customers are from other countrys such as Australia, German, United Kingdom, Brazil, France, Russia, and even once in awhile the middle east, I dont get much buys from Asia due to they dont have to buy online since they have there own stores I would guess? I realize that this is a big thing all over the world, I sell Chicano Rap cds, Chicano Urban Clothing, Chicano Magazines to lots of people in other countries, I even get customers from Bankok, Italy, Ukraine and the list goes on so its not just a thing in asia. Thank you for this article.

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