Chinga is a nuanced Spanish word, steeped in changeable meaning. Romance languages are like that. For instance, chinga tu madre means "fuck your mother," which sounds curt but is more along the lines of "go away, jerk." There’s puta chingada, which is… well, it’s decidedly worse. Perhaps the newest entry into the lexicon is chinga tu pelo, which translates directly to "fuck your hair." It’s also the name of a blonde ale from Chicago’s 5 Rabbit Cervecería. The hair in question? The waifish coif atop Donald Trump’s head, as is perfectly illustrated on the can. 5 Rabbit, like chinga, knows how to be flexible. It’s why the Latinx-owned brewery’s blonde ale changed so seamlessly from a beer brewed for Trump Tower to a beer that protests everything Trump stands for.
When 5 Rabbit's blonde ale debuted in 2015, it was intended to be the house beer for Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. "Back then, I always say Donald Trump was nothing but, to me, a reality TV clown," the brewery's co-owner Milagros Ramirez explains. "We knew he wasn't a role model, but what is known about him now, I didn't know then." The deal between 5 Rabbit and Trump Tower had been in place for weeks, when, on June 16, 2015, while announcing his presidential run, Trump said of Mexican immigrants, "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." 5 Rabbit had a choice: Back out of the deal and face a financial suckerpunch, or be the Latinx brewery that supplied a future Xenophobe in Chief. Ramirez and her husband Andrés Araya, founder of 5 Rabbit, knew they had to pull out, immediately. She remembers saying to the beer buyer at Trump Tower, "We have some of your kegs left at the brewery. We're no longer sending those to you."
That left 5 Rabbit with mad amounts of blonde ale. Hoping to avoid eating the cost, the couple called local bars and told them their story, explaining how they'd made this deal with Trump, and how Trump had said those anti-Latinx things. Ramirez says every call ended with the same plea: "You don't even have to sell this as a 5 Rabbit beer. Do you want just a really good blonde ale? We'll sell it to you at a discount." Bars and restaurants didn’t just acquiesce to serving the beer; they flocked to it.
In the 5 Rabbit brewery, one worker had written "chinga tu madre" on a barrel of blonde. The dig stuck for a while as the beer's official name. Then it got popular, and an English speaker tweeted at 5 Rabbit, suggesting that the name unnecessarily brought Trump’s mother into the equation, despite the phrase's understood meaning. Ramirez, who didn’t miss the opportunity to land some jabs during our phone chat, recalled, "I mean, in my mind, I was thinking, It has a lot to do with his mother. But, it doesn't, really. We shouldn't get his mom involved, probably. I remember writing back and saying, 'You are 100-percent right.'" Sub out "mother" for "hair"—specific, yet innocuous—and the blonde ale became Chinga Tu Pelo, a protest beer for a tumultuous four years.
In some ways, Chinga Tu Pelo launched a new brand identity for 5 Rabbit. Documentary filmmaker Jason Polevoi discovered the brewery because of Chinga Tu Pelo and immediately booked it for a Chicago-based TV show that highlighted the work of local breweries. Over some beers, Polevoi suggested also doing a full documentary. Ramirez and Araya weren’t sure. They didn’t want to be the Chinga Tu Pelo brewery. Polevoi backed off but asked them to keep him in mind. Six months later, as the country headed toward the 2018 midterms, Ramirez called him back.
In January of 2019, F*** Your Hair was released. The 38-minute documentary highlighted the origin story of Chinga Tu Pelo, as well as the response that followed. For every detractor, there were Chicagoans and members of the Latinx community rallying behind it. The beer and its story became something of a phenomenon. But Trump’s abhorrently racist campaign statements didn't mark the first time a politician had disparaged the Latinx community, nor would it be the last. So 5 Rabbit turned Chinga Tu Pelo into a protest beer for all causes. It took on the name "La Protesta." The brewery also used the blonde ale to tackle the issues of environmentalism, family separation at the border, and DACA. Each time it reinvented the branding, it did so in a can designed by an artist from a marginalized community, with a portion of the proceeds going to an organization of the artist’s choice. 5 Rabbit wanted to be clear: This wasn’t just an anti-Trump thing.
Curiously, after nearly two years on Amazon’s Prime Video, F*** Your Hair was removed this summer, right as the 2020 presidential election started to heat up. "We got essentially a form email back," the director Polevoi told me. "[Amazon] said, 'The title does not meet our customer content and quality expectations.' Based on that, I can’t even venture to guess as to why." Oddly enough, F*** Your Hair, nominated for several regional Emmy awards, still has 24 five-star reviews on Amazon. Ramirez is less diplomatic about its disappearance. "Amazon obviously has a lot to lose, probably. You know?" she says. "Or maybe not, but it's like what Jason was telling me. Come on, there's some soft porn on Amazon. Why are they removing this film?" But, as Ramirez knew, when someone silences a story, just tell it louder elsewhere. (Amazon did not respond to request for comment.)
After one presidential term, a documentary film, four more philanthropic iterations of blonde ale, and the removal of said documentary, 5 Rabbit is bringing Chinga Tu Pelo full circle. Original name. Original message: Fuck his hair. With one final brewing, Ching Tu Pelo has been rereleased, this time to urge voter turnout in the Latinx community. "Badass women vote," Ramirez says, confidently. "I felt like I could reach out to women just like me more than anyone else and tell them like, 'You need to vote. You are so strong. You are the backbone of your family. The women are the boss in the Latinx community, so why are you staying home and not making your voice heard?'"
For this version of Chinga Tu Pelo, 5 Rabbit partnered with Maria Acosta, a Chicago-based election coordinator for the Poor People’s Campaign, to help get the word out to the masses. Acosta herself is deeply familiar with the importance of the Latinx vote. "Hierarchical racial orders are being dismantled through this revolution of the imagination," she wrote in an email to me. "We honor our mothers and grandmothers, as well as all the women who came before us and created this opportunity by stepping into these spaces and these movements. We can’t and we won’t let them down." That's why, when she heard through the Poor People's Campaign that Ramirez was looking for backup, "I left Milagros a voicemail immediately, and the rest is history, as they say," she said. Together, they are calling their initiative "Chingonas Vote."
While Ramirez may have been intimidated by the attention to 5 Rabbit at the start, she’s grown a thicker skin over the past four years. She’s less afraid of leveraging the brewery for social change, just like there’s a power in leveraging her place as a Latinx woman in a predominantly white, male industry. The brewery has faced off with the president's hotel empire and decidedly come out stronger. Business is good.
5 Rabbit’s whole thing—be it this voting initiative, or a cry for environmental justice or immigration reform—has been showing up where people are. For every person who takes a moment from eating and drinking to inspect one of 5 Rabbit’s cans or read up on the mission, its co-owners believe a mind can be changed. And no matter what the end of this election looks like, Ramirez, who was born in Peru, is just getting started. "I want to keep protesting," she says with a laugh. "I kind of love it. Right now in Costa Rica, which is where [Andrés] is from, they just yesterday approved 'pesca de arrastre.' Pesca de arrastre is when you fish with a net, and it rakes the bottom of the sea." She goes off on a tear, explaining everything she’s learned about the practice and how it hurts the earth, before stopping herself. "We need to find something else to protest. Trump has run its course. We need to be done with this."
Chinga Tu Pelo, the ale that told Trump (or at least his hair) to fuck off, was supposed to be a house beer. It became a sign of the times. The irony of it all? "It's the most boring beer that 5 Rabbit produces," Ramirez says. "It's very good, but it's just a blonde ale."
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