9/11/05

EL PACHUCO LIVES 4EVER

The Pachuco lives forever, immortalized in barrio lore. He is the ancestor of today’s Chicano movement, symbolizing the revolutionary warrior figure in the Raza pantheon, from the Aztec Cuauhtemoc, to the infamous Emiliano Zapata. The Pachuco spirit of rebellion against oppression represents one of the few true separatist movements in the history of the United States. They became the first Chicano freedom-fighters by their refusal to surrender their values and liberty to ignorant and racist supremacist powers.

The Pachuco is incarnated inside every Chicano, and remains forever a central figure in the struggle towards achieving equal status as citizens in this our land.
Sad to say, that, there is an obscure history pertaining to the origin of the Pachuco and the meaning of the name. Not many of the original bearers of the name left a written record of themselves, therefore, the information available as to their who, what, where, when, why, and how, comes for the most part, from those in the outside looking in.

However, enough has been recorded and passed down for us to examine and learn about them. Arguments can be made in light of the different views of understanding, in relation as to what is and what is not reliable information. A multitude of books have been written on the subject, therefore, the following story is to be taken as a view of my understanding of the Pachuco history.

The meaning of the term/name Pachuco, is one that is in contention and not yet resolved to everyone’s agreement. What is clear, is that the original Pachucos did not refer to each other by such a name, for this was a term of derision in reference to characterizeing someone as a low-life and a vulgar individual. The Pachuco name was bestowed on them by the Mexican immigrants in the border town of El Paso, where the Pachucos were considered outlaws, because of their heavy involvement with the underworld of vice. The term was known to been widely in use, when referring to a smoker of marijuana (marijuano / pacheco), in Mexico during the same period of their birth.

The negative connotation of the term can also be associated to the “pachuquismo” of the era. Pachuquismo was referred to denote ceratin characteristics, as in the
rebellious attitude ingrained in the masses of mixed-blood mestizos & mulattos of Mexico. An attitude that displayed itself without restrain, with the advent of the Mexican Revolution, giving rise to liberal anarchism tendencies, set lose during the conflagration. Pachuquismo in simple terms can be described as “a dissociation with the established order through a rebellious attitude.” In this context, the term Pachuco conveyed a specific meaning that pointed to a distinct identity, separate from the norm of society.

During the same period, the town of El Paso Del Norte (El Paso, Texas), aquired the nickname of “El Pachuco”, in its diminutive form “El Chuco”, the name was a reflection of the borderland town having a notorious reputation as a smugglers paradise. El Paso was also the town where 60% of the Mexican migrants heading to the U.S. came through on their journey north, and this is the town where those masses of migrants first came into contact with a foreign and alien environment, full of all kinds of vice. El Paso, is therefore the birthplace of the coinage of the term, but whichever is your choice; the term was definitely no badge of honor, since it was used to evoke shame and/or fear.

Later on, Pachucos were identified in general terms, with migrants from El Paso, and/or a native of the town. However, the Pachucos themselves referred to each other as “Tirilis” and “Tirilongos”, a name taken from their arcane Calo slang, which they developed for themselves by mixing Spanish, and Nahualt words with the Gypsy language. This invented slang, facilitated their communication with each other in their trade business, without having to worry about the ears and eyes of law enforcement, much in the same way of today’s Mexican Mafia prison gang using Indian dialects code language, so as not to be understood by the guards.

Even before the advent of the zoot-suit, Pachucos employed several distinctive means which set them apart from mainstream society. These Pachucos grew out of the confluence of the borderland cultural exchange, they were born out of a struggle for social space denied, yet flourished amongst the multitudes of Mexican migrants, enjoying a somewhat relative safe outlaw social status. Still, they defined an identity for themselves that reflected on their understanding as to their relegated place in the U.S.

Aside from inventing the Calo slang, Pachucos developed a kind of mystical theology, mixing in Catholicism with Mexican Indian supernatural beliefs.
They would tattoo themselves on their forehead or in-between their eyebrows with a Cross, reminiscent of Ash Wednesday, as a symbol of profound devotion.
The Cross represented a sign of both salvation and suffering, much in the same line of today’s Smile Now & Cry Later. They would also adorn their body extensively with tattoos, as part of a ritualized visual outward self expression.
A tattoo of a Cross on the back of their hand, or leg, invoked divine aid and protection in their hard and dangerous labor.
On their hands, tattoos of initials were also displayed as identification of their respective outfit / gang. They would also wear earrings (taboo for men of the era), necklaces, and rings.
The females would stamp teardrops on the lower outside corner of their eyes, to represent the number of years of separation from their vato, because of imprisonment, or death, or other.
Tirilis or Tirilongos, can be translated as Jalador (Sp. slang = hard worker), Camellon (Spanglish slang = work mule), or Tirador (Sp. = pusher / dealer), as in never stopping, and always taking care of business, staying trucha (on your toes). However additional inferences can be added to the meaning, as it is a complex name to define fully.

There is a story that makes claim of how the customs practiced by the Pachucos, entered into the El Paso region. The story relates that Otomi Indians, miners by profession, from the Sierra surrounding the city of Pachuca (State of Hidalgo), were recruited and brought in to work the mines near El Paso. Supposedly, their style of dress and their mix of Catholicism with Indian rituals, as well as their city name, was copied and adopted by some of the locals, who then re-created to fit with their identity, incorporating the Indian mystical beliefs. However, I have not been able to find any similarities between the practices of the Otomis, that coincide with practices by the early Pachucos, as yet.

Another story, points to the extensive and continual contact between the wandering bands of Gypsies, and the Mexican migrant communities. The Gypsies traveled from place to place, making a living by providing entertainment (circus style) to these migrant communities and towns. These people adorned their bodies with decorative and symbolistic tattoos, and made use of jewelry on their ears, lips, wrists, and fingers. They wore flamboyant baggy customs, and they practiced a complex spiritual mysticism mixed in with astrology, which they made use of in tarot & palm hand reading. They were also known to be master swindlers and smugglers, and above all, they had a renown communal bond to their clan, a one for all and all for one loyalty, unsurpassed by any others. A connection between the original Pachuco outlaw of the borderland, and the Gypsies can be made here with more clarity, than with the Otomi Indians of Pachuca, in light of the absence of additional information.

Anglo-Americans in Los Angeles used the name/term Pachuco in reference to the uncouth Mexican natives of El Paso –more or less, the same as “hick” in modern speech. Pachucos began to arrive in Los Angeles during the 1920s; they arrived amongst the un-ending waves of migrants searching for work. They hopped on trains and dispersed themselves through whatever towns the railroads traversed. Angelinos viewed them as a destabilizing element in the city. Many in the Mexican-American community, equated them with delinquency, and worked to rid their barrio or colonia from them, with the fear in them that unfavorable news of their actions, would bring about a worsening of race relations in L.A. and provoking more anti-Mexican animosity which would aid the radical Anglos who were looking for any excuse for displacing Mexicans from coveted lands, much desired by realtors and developers who wished to increase in their holdings. White power required possessing “maximum” access to social, economic, and political power, through the dispossession and appropriation of land of ethnic groups native or otherwise, followed by assimilation into the dominant culture, which dictates conformity by all with its own behavior, clothing, music, and symbols of national identity. White power, required that the “disinherited generation,” be stripped of their customs, beliefs, and language, thereafter exercising complete “control” over one’s life and livelihood. This anti-Mexican hysteria in L.A. viewed Mexicans through the lens of racial impureness which turned a “defected” people to degenerate into corruption and conspiracy, cultural difference was quickly interpreted as political dissent. The structure of power and privilege in America was fed through the contest over culture and social propriety, and Los Angeles served as the main arena where the very definitions of who constituted “society,” would lay claim to that structure of power.

The first generation of Pachucos arriving in L.A. from El Paso, were received with antagonism and distrust by both the Anglo & Mexican communities, because of their known notoriety stemming from their borderland self-made reputation, in conjunction with their rough physical appearance displaying facial tattoos, as well as their openly defiant attitude towards societies norm. Here in L.A. they flamboyantly flaunted their differences as badges of self-respect, and this rebellious audacity was viewed as threatening to the social order under the Anglo-American structure.
This first generation of Pachucos stemmed from a far different world, and they failed to recognize at first, the difference in atmosphere between El Paso and Los Angeles. The original El Paso Pachucos were accustomed to the rough chaotic borderland region of El Paso, in which the constant movement of migrant masses fleeing the war in Mexico did not allow them to bond with the community, and the propensity for encountering violence in the borderlands, desensitized them to the struggle of their brethren.

It is in Los Angeles, where the Pachuco re-invented himself into a militant, divorcing himself from the Mexican nationalistic migrant identity, and re-emerged with a complete new identity, which was neither fully Mexican nor American.
Their first reaction was to radicalize the youth of the barrios and colonias, and they orchestrated a break with the prevalent Mexican national sentiment of re-patriation and passiveness in the face of dicrimination and hostility from the Anglo community. They propagated a defiance to what was culturally expected by both cultures, in essence, becoming more militant in their attitude, they did not shed away their Mexican heritage, but they did come to terms with the fact that they were citizens of this land, and as such, there was no going back for them, what they did shed away was their delinquent past and embraced the role of community protection, already being performed by the local barrio youth.
They resisted assimilation efforts by Anglo society wholeheartedly. Subsequently, as the programs for Americanization of Mexican-Americans met with failure after failure, the 2nd generation of Mexican-Americans that followed added to their numbers. This 2nd generation grew up fluent in their familiarization with American culture, and as a result they began to chart their own course in ways that clashed with the values and expectations of their parents. These youth of migrant parents, identified and aligned themselves with the Pachucos. They then created networks for aiding each other, and also made wide use of their numerical weight, in dismantling the ideology of white supremacy, by laying claim to public spaces, and demonstrating through cultural rebellion that they would not be intimidated, therefore frustrating the dreams of politicians and real estate developers who sought the creation of a white utopia in Southern California, that would have established whites as lords over a servant Mexican population, since the pervasive racism of Anglo society would only allow people of color to live as segregated second class citizens, no matter how assimilated they became.

As the city continued to grow, and the new decade brought increasing numbers of other ethnic groups to Los Angeles, and with the ever increasing mixing of ethnic groups living in close proximity, a new chapter in L.A. began with the upsurge of street gangs, these ethnic zones where social energy and cultural differences were once “complementary plumes of expression,” in the communities, began to experience ever increasing tensions which sometimes would erupt in violent clashes.
The profound manual labor demands of the city, brought in thousands upon thousand of African-Americans, and their ethnic group quickly grew in numbers. Soon, they experienced discrimination and became victims of attacks by white youth and other ethnic groups, therefore, it didn’t take long for Blacks to also form self-protection gangs, just as the Mexican-Americans prior to them had done so.
The arrival of Blacks into Los Angeles, and their mixing in with Mexicans, sharing same communities, allowed for both groups to borrow from each other, from then on, they have become a symbiotic relationship, both experiencing the same racist policies, and both strongly resisting acculturation and assimilation into the Anglo version of America, yet at the same time resisting each other under their own separatist cultural identities. Pachucos helped the blacks to organize themselves, and even took them into their ranks. From the Blacks, jive-slang added to the terminology of the Pachuco slang, and their taste in music was incorporated into the Pachuco world.

Through out the decade, the Pachucos continued to dominate the gang world, and their hegemony became such, that they began to be increasingly reclusive and antagonistic towards each other, no longer just fighting the whites or protecting their little brothers and sisters from predators. Their codes and rules became more geared towards combat with each others barrios, and as the end of the decade approached, new times and a world conflict loomed on the horizon, which would bring about dramatic changes to their world, but first, the introduction of the zoot-suit style and the swing-jazz phenomenon was to take place first.

The origin of the zoot-suit is said best attributed to the Jazz culture of African-Americans, although no definite conclusion can be placed at any given time or with any given ethnic group, regardless, the Black Jazz musicians of the era were the most likely ones, who brought it into hip culture, through their performances on stage wearing the costume, yet the Pachucos in Los Angeles and in the Southwest, adopted, modified, and re-invented it by blending the elements of Mexican Pachuquismo with African-American and Filipino styles, but with their own Mexican culture clearly prevalent and distintively displayed, creating something uniquely their own, in which they continued their tradition of counter-cultural expression.

Jazz music style appeared in L.A. in the 1930s, and immediately the Pachucos took to the sounds “MUSIC HAS NO COLOR” went the saying, during the same time, the already present, although as yet not fully stylized zoot-suit, entered mainstream culture and became part of the Jazz culture, as the “race music” gained popularity in Los Angeles, so did the zoot-suit. L.A. soon became the Mecca capital of Jazz, then on 21 August 1935 at the Palomar Ballroom in L.A. –Benny Goodman’s Band electrified the audience by re-interpreting and energizing Jazz. The “Swing-Jazz” culture thus was born on that night, and by the end of the decade, the swing craze had swept the nation. What took place that night in L.A. was nothing less than Jazz being re-invented to fit the Pachuco attitude and style, thereon after, Pachuco Swing and West Coast Swing, became the music of the Pachuco zooter in conjunction with the re-invented Tacuche/Drape.

The Zoot-Suit uniform that the Pachucos wore, and the mannerism they devised to accentuate the suit, continued to challenge the Anglo decorum in a far greater rebellious expression than at any other previous time. This was the high point of the Pachuco culture, which was soon to be violently repressed upon entering the 1940s WWII time era. But, contrary to popular belief, not every Pachuco wore a zoot-suit, for it was a real expense to own a suit back in those days, and for the most part, it was the working youth who were the ones able to save up money to buy one or to have it tailor made, most poor youth could not afford the flashy styled suit, and they settled for something less. Nevertheless, the drape became the indelible sign of the Pachuco in the public consciousness.


No one understood the world underneath the “righteous sky bonnet” that zoot-suiters wore on their heads.


The zoot-suit became known by many names through out the United States, and different styles and colors were worn by the different ethnic groups who identified themselves with it. In Los Angeles, the suit names were “El Tachuche" –as commonly referred by the Pachucos, as well as “Fingertips”, and “The Drape” as it was widely referred to by most zooters in the city. In the South, “The Killer Diller” was the name ascribed to it, and in Harlem and the Northeast, it retained its original name as the Zoot-Suit or Root-Suit. The West Coast Zooters, in particular the Mexican-Americans, preferred the more conservative colors for their suits, black, sharkskin gray, charcoal gray, and pin striped, was their favorite selection, accentuated with adornments. While in the East, lime greens, bright orange, sky blue, and other “walking rainbow” colors were preferred.

Although there was no immediate association between the zoot-suit wearer and the Pachuco gang members and organized crime, the “gang” label and all the baggage that goes with it, became conveniently and too easily fitted on the Pachucos, but also on all Mexican-Americans, Blacks, Filipinos, Italians, Irish, and all who dressed the part of the “hipster” even though the vast majority of the zooters were not gang affiliated.

When the search for an alternative noun was needed in portraying the crime scene in Los Angeles, society quickly settled on the Pachuco zooter, thereon after creating a more dire description of Mexican-Americans accused of criminal behavior, validating the discriminate police crackdowns on Mexican-American youth, branding them all as gang members. The media and police, embarked on a campaign of demonization of the zooters, and they could not find any other word but “gang” to describe the social clubs of teenagers and working class youth of the barrios and colonias. The choice name of “gang” was intentional, because society as a whole, would have clearly understood the word as reference to criminals. The contest between cultural hegemony in Los Angeles continued to be a national arena for this clash of cultures, and African-Americans & Mexican Pachucos, continued to openly challenge the white privileged establishment on the streets through self-representation of their choosing. The image of the in-corrigible Pachuco zooter dominated public discourse, and in Los Angeles the Pachuco was the undeniable soul of gangsterism, but contrary to the popular image of all Pachucos being of Mexican heritage, the fact was that their ranks were joined by other ethnic groups of youths sharing the same communities. Irish, Italians, Blacks, Filipinos, Russians, and even Jews, who learned to speak Spanish with the Pachuco emphasis of Calo slang, and they also identified themselves with the same Pachuco distinctive dress code complete with the hair style, becoming one and the same in the struggle for survival in America.

By the 1940s, the Pachucos had stopped tattooing their faces, as well as no longer stamping the Cross on their foreheads, and the extensive use of tattooing their bodies also dropped dramatically, but tattoos continued to be used, however more intricate designs came to be used, with etching on the back of the hand, and the 3 dots tattoo between the thumb and index finger –signifying Mi Vida Loca, came of age during this period.

Pachucos hairstyle was “characteristically” combed smooth and straight back, with a ducktail, hence the name given “Duck Ass” aka: Argentinean style.

Recreational functions and social gatherings, played a significant role in the Pachuco gangs, with home parties, outdoor games, pool halls, malt shops, parks, as well as street corners, served to maintain a social cohesion, and reinforced their ties to the community.

Pachucos shared the conviction that the public arena (public spaces) was their domain, and that ignoring, or failing to respond confrontationally to a challenge, was tantamount to the surrender of their place within that domain. “Uppity” was the practice on the street, and backing down was frowned upon and not tolerated in their ranks, a practice that is continued in the Chicano gangs of today.

Pachuco gangs dressed in their gang uniforms “so that they could identify easily during a rumble.” One gang would wear black shirts, and another gang would wear green ones. Some gangs wore leather jackets, while others wore sweat-shirts, yet at the time, the public gave no public significance to these youth gangs and their uniforms, and would refer to them simply as “Hoodlums” and "Pachucos".

The Pachucas high pompadour hairstyle served to conceal both a knife and a fingernail file.

By 1942/43, Angelinos attributed the “grisly toll” of deaths, beatings, and violent injuries, to Pachuco gang warfare, and smashing the “Baby Gangsters,” -those vicious young terrorists, became the devoted task of public organizations. The media and the L.A.P.D. embarked on a mission to crackdown on the gangs, with the end result being that the vast majority of those arrested (who were regularly beaten by police officers), were not gang members, but were labeled as such for the simple fact of the color of their skin. This discriminatory practice by police continues to this day, and it is met with open hostility and retaliation in a state of war between the gangs and police. Gang members of old and new will not co-operate in any shape or form with police, and will protect those who are being seek for arrest, they will use every and any opportunity “pantsing” (men’s breeches in trousers) and taunting police as a show of defiance and disrespect.

Never is the pervasiveness and the propensity toward violence indoctrinated by American media and society on its youth, ever put into question as a factor in the equation for how racial animosity and discrimination transforms the “victims” into criminals. Society forces the victim to take the route of resistance to the ideals of the white privileged structure in power. The experience of Mexicans in the southwest of going from being the colonizers, to being the colonized, and subsequently displaced from their lands, through the inevitable spoils of war and reaps of victory by the U.S. set the Mexican-American citizenty on the road of a never-ending struggle to re-claim what was lost, through the achievement of equal status as citizens of this our land.

Whites who constituted the racial and economic elite of Los Angeles at the turn of the last century, jealously guarded power, and they employed a variety of means to divide the ethnic minorities, while at the same time, whites separated themselves physically, economically, and politically from the rest of the populace. They employed segregation, denied equal political participation in government, and restricted economic opportunities to non-white Anglos. The goal expressed by many Anglos at the time, was to expel the foreign born and Americanize the rest, yet keeping them sub-servant to their needs. Efforts to attract Whites to the city were widely successful though the marketing skills and fervor of the Chamber of Commerce, which at the same time that it rolled out the welcoming mat the for white immigrants, it embarked on efforts to erase the Mexican cultural distinctiveness of Los Angeles. But the local industry depended on the presence of “enough” cheap immigrant labor; otherwise the economic structure of the city based on consumerism would crumble. ~ THEREFORE THE STATUS QUO REMAINS ~

AND THE PACHUCO STRUGGLE FOR FIRST CLASS CITIZENSHIP CONTINUES...

6 comments:

dreamer said...

Orale..tanx vato for sharing da true meaning and history of El Pachuco.
-Dreamer

Sandman said...

I'm a former gang member from the streets of Los Angeles. At one time I had bought into this whole "woe is me" victimized mentality which you have put forth. I blamed society, the white establishment in particular, for my demise as a poor disadvantaged youth. My itinerary as a hard-core gangbanger involved drugs, violence, and prison terms, which included being arrested twice for assault and battery on a police officer. Don't let my grammatical skills fool you, I was one crazy vato. But for the most part, most of my crimes actually worked against our own people rather than those towards whom I held a grudge for my own plight. Drive by shootings involved Chicanos killing other Chicanos, robberies hurt Latino businesses, and graffiti devalued our barrios even more. All the while "the white man" continued to prosper and was largely unaffected. Just look at the LA riots in 92. Who did it really hurt?
Then one day I saw the light. They were not the ones who kept me in poverty, I was the culprit. I had imprisoned my self through this mentality far too long. When I finally started taking responsibility for myself, that's when my life started to improve. Now I work in management and tell other white boys what to do. How 'bout that? Which brings me to this conclusion: it's not the color of a man that corrupts him but the power that he holds. For an example just look at our own governments. And to tell you the truth, I'd rather live in this imperfect nation, which is less corrupt than others.
To all my fellow Pachucos I conclude with this; if you really want to get over on the white man, take responsibility for yourself, get a job and become a productive member of society. Who knows, some day you may become the first Latino president. Then you'll really stick it to them. How 'bout that?

♥NENNy said...

daMMM THiS iS gOOd & iNTRESTiNg!
iM REaLLy iNTO THiS CUZ i LiVE iN "THE baRRio","THE gETTOh" & TRUE SaNd MaN WE aint HURTiNg NObOdy bUT US THE LaNTiNO NatiON WERE Making OUR SELFS LOOk bad...but TRUE DaT "EL PaCHUCO LiVES 4EVER" aiNt NObOdy gONNa CHaNgE Dat iN a SNap WE JUSt gOTTa FigURE OUt DaT WERE aLL THE SaME WE JUSt WaNt TO MakE OURSELfS LOOk bETTER THaN OTHERS & bE RESpCTEd but THERES aLWayS gONNa bE HatERS...

Anonymous said...

el chuco texas damn it is one crazy life here it is 2010 and the mexicans are on the front lines of shaping american culture yet as smartas our raza is aint no one really changing how important chicano or latino issues or resolved or met cant wait and see what young fella it will be till then al rato 915 the mecca.

eliseo said...

lets keep the pachuco style going, and let the pachucos of juarez and el paso speak and form again

Wise one said...

Get into the computer age ese's, stop the violence against our cultura, there is alot of hatered amongst our selves, how did we come to think its okay to destroy ourselves, did the government lay the foundation years ago?,Why is it that gang injuctions began? Was it that a lil blue eyes white girl got killed when her parents were only trying to buy dope? What varrio? The assasins?How many brown and black skined children were murdered before the white child? How many human lives could have been saved if gang injuctions began during the pachuco era? Did the killing of a white innocent girl hit a political nerve to pass new laws which could have been past years ago? Somebody wise anser?