One of the first lessons I learned about life back when I was a wee little Random Hero was that you had to rock the right shoes. I have two distinct memories etched in my psyche about this. I was in the third grade and my mom bought me a new pair of shoes from pay less. They were a pair of Raider shoes. They had the team colors, logo and everything and I remember friends telling me, “Aww cool. Raider shoes.” Later on in junior high I learned that you got clowned on for having pay less shoes because it implied your ass was po’. I remember being in gym class in junior high and these two guys were making fun of people for their looks and/or clothes. I was sitting down next to them minding my own business and one of the guys starts eye balling me. He looks me up and down and thinks about making fun of me, but the guy next to him looks me up and down too and stops at my feet. He see’s that I have some Jason Kidd Nikes and says, “nah he’s cool.” As shallow and materialistic as it is, having the right kind of shoes makes or breaks a person sometimes. For some of us, sneakers are way more than just things we wear because we need to, it’s an extension of who we are and what we represent.
Kicks can say everything from what musical genre you listen to what barrio you from. Growing up, I knew that you had to have a decent pair of shoes, but nothing too fancy because then you’ll get robbed. Anything high end like Jordans and Nikes was always a target for all the punk cholo and bangers that would take them from you so they can have them. I also knew that you couldn’t wear certain shoes, like the Cortez because it was a signal that you were a cholo. You had to make sure you weren’t wearing the wrong colors and shoes por que sino, you’d end up dead and barefoot. My parents knew this as well and they made sure that even though we didn’t have money to buy a bag of tortillas, that we had a decent pair of shoes and looked presentable because if we looked bad and po’, they looked bad and po’. Weird how that worked. The Warehouse Shoe store has been theee spot for shoes for my entire family. For years, this store has always had the shoes we wanted and cheap. We used our school ID’s and coupons to save money here and there because when you have four kids that need new shoes for back to school, every penny counts. The WSS is easily the number one store for Latinos/as shopping for shoes outside mom and pop stores. Everyone knows it and it’s like a family tradition to go shopping there. Getting dressed in your Sunday best and looking for that new pair of shoes that you can show off at school the following week. My taste for shoes changed over the years from basketball shoes that said that I wasn’t po’ and I was some what cool to wearing Adidas Samba and saying, “I know these are soccer shoes, but damn are they comfortable. I’m smart and into different things than everyone else.” It may be shallow and judgmental on my part, but when I meet someone I always check out what shoes they’re wearing and help tailor my mode of communication to match one that would be close to their personality. It never fails.
It’s also impossible to talk about sneaker culture without mentioning the influence hip-hop has had over the years. Hip-hop culture has thrust sneakers as a fashion accessory that made your outfit complete. Starting from the late ‘6Os to present day, it’s become a life style in its own right and if you own more than five pair of sneakers that color match your outfits, chances are your a sneaker head. I’ve seen $500 dollar pair of shoes that looked like someone put them together blind folded with whatever materials were around. I’ve seen custom shoes that have jewelry encrusted in them. While I enjoy a good pair of sneakers, I’ve never paid more than $70-$80 for a single pair. No shoe is worth that much money in my mind.
In the end however, they all share they same fate, no matter what they say or cost. They’re just sneakers. We wear them to protect our feet from the brutal world and if you’re like me, then you wear sneakers for one reason and one reason only, for sneaking.