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Piedra has seen "Chongalicious" and predicts that Mimi and Laura are poised to introduce the trend nationwide. "Chongas have been around for so long; no one has paid attention to them until now," he said. "I think 2007 will be the year of the chonga." This season, maybe because it's summer, las chongas de Miamiare wearing capris -- nothing along the lines of Audrey Hepburn, though. These are more like the Brazilian jeans, only shorter at the cuff. Inside the Mall of the Americas, these capris sell for $14.99. Different colors and styles -- blue denim, white stretch, green camouflage -- line the racks at U.S. Tops, which is a chonga's preferred place to shop. Everything in the store is boldly colored, tiny, and cheap. One pair of capris I spotted was light blue with whisker-wash accents on the thighs. The garment was so small that most American five-year-olds would have a difficult time squeezing into it. Chonga fashion is not for the middle-aged, or the flabby -- although many girls with a few extra pounds seem to wear clothes that are tighter than they should be. But chonga style is all about sex appeal, not propriety. They prefer the provocative -- whatever a dancer in a reggaeton video might wear when she's prancing around Pitbull's ride.
I was a teenager in the Eighties, at a time when punk rock fashion wasn't sold at Target and the most daring thing anyone ever wore was during prom, when girls changed out of their pastel polo shirts and pressed tan chinos and into poofy-sleeved, sweetheart-necked gowns that resembled something in King Arthur's Court -- if the lasses in the court wore pastel pink satin getups and feathered, permed hair.
Being sexy, or different, even just a little bit, was the kiss of death for a reputation in those days. One morning my freshman year in high school, I remember pulling on a Sex Pistols T-shirt, a black pleather miniskirt (at a modest two inches above the knee), fishnet stockings, and pointy-toe black flats. I wore the ensemble to school and was promptly given detention. Shortly thereafter, my name was written on a girls' bathroom wall with the word slut scrawled next to it.
Maybe because of this, or in spite of it, I am in awe of the chongas. They seem to have embraced their sexuality in a brash and in-your-face way. Chongas want to be sexy, and damn the consequences.
Mimi and Laura's song, many girls say, just affirms this sexy style. That's why so many of them like it, one seventeen-year-old on MySpace told me. The girl, whose name is Gloria, goes by the handle "La Chonga de Hialeah" on MySpace and has posted dozens of photos of herself in various sexy and tough poses, including a few that show off her curvy butt with a thong peeking out over her jeans. Her photos have captions such as "I KNO I'M THE SEXYEST GANGSTA BITCH OUT THERE, U DON'T HAVE 2 TELL ME."
Gloria said she was sick the day she was supposed to meet me at the mall, but sent a message to explain why she likes the "Chongalicious" song:
"ITS JUST TALKIN ABOUT HOW WE FEMALES LYK TAKIN KARE OF RSELFS & HOW GUYS SWET US, & HOW WE DONT KARE WAT OTHA PPLZ SAY, KUZ WE WILL FIGHT 4 R SELFS, & LYK I SAID B4, I LUV DA SONG, I LUV WHEN IT KUMZ ON, KUS WAT DA SONG IS TALKIN ABOUT IS WAT REALLY HAPPENZ OUT IN DA WORLD, IT ALWAYS HAPPENS 2 ME & MA HOMEGURLZ, ITS JUST PART OF LIFE NOW ADAYS."
Mimi and Laura met almost three years ago in ninth grade drama class at Krop High in Aventura, a performing arts magnet school. They didn't like each other. "I thought she was a little show-off," Laura says of Mimi. One year later, a teacher gave them a shared assignment: They were to perform parts of The Rivals by Richard Sheridan. The play is standard high school fare, satirizing the manners and affectations of a social class. It's set in eighteenth-century Bath, England, a place known for conspicuous consumption and fashion -- the Miami of its day.
Laura went to Mimi's house to practice the scenes. They had more in common than they thought: Both craved applause; both were half Latina, half European (Mimi is Cuban-Bulgarian, Laura is Venezuelan-Italian); and both lived in apartments with their moms and stepdads. They were also both extremely sarcastic and had the same eccentric sense of humor, kind of like the Mad TV skits they always watched on cable. They also shared a love of Lucille Ball.
The two kept on getting parts in the same plays and musicals: Seussical, performed late last year, was one of their favorites. Laura played Gertrude McFuzz, the bird with one tail feather, and Mimi was Mayzie La Bird, a character with dazzling plumage.
The friendship grew, and they eventually bonded in a way that only seventeen-year-old girls can: fiercely, with a dash of competition, a lot of love, and endless amounts of loyalty. Weekends were spent sleeping at one another's house, going to Bayside, and playing games at Boomers. Both girls' moms are rather strict -- they are not the kind that drop the kids off at the mall and then leave -- so Laura and Mimi were forced to spend hours inside. Neither had a driver's license nor a boyfriend, so their parents (or if their parents weren't available, Mimi's grandma) chauffeured them everywhere. If they were forced to stay at home, they passed the time by acting out scenes from plays and filming each other singing.