The Untold History of Pachucos

What you know about Pachucos?

Caught between two different cultures, none of which they could fully relate to; marginalized and segregated Chicano youth of the barrios were up against some pretty rough odds in the 1940’s. But rather than cave to their parents’ cultural expectations or fully assimilate into a society that constantly vilified them, young Mexican immigrants and first generation Chicanos defined their own bicultural identity with a unique style and rebellious vibe. Que pues, nuez? What you know about Pachucos?

You got to go way back and then go back just a little more if you want to check out the story of the pachucos. It starts as most Latino stories do, with a quest to earn an honest living through La chamba, el trabajo or in millennial terms, work. In 1942, to help fill the gaps in manual labor left behind by American Soldiers, Mexico and the U.S put together a series of laws and diplomatic agreements to bring millions of Mexican guest workers to the States in what is known as the Bracero Program. These Mexican immigrants provided a desperately needed work force during wartime and they were welcomed with prejudice, high prices for substandard living conditions, and good ol’ fashioned racism. This led to the creation of barrios where, because of housing segregation, Mexican immigrants were forced into social and economic isolation, but you know how we do, when life gives us limon… we make the best ceviche you’ve ever had…so the barrios became hubs for innovation, artistic expression and a healthy dose of rebellion resulting in the Pachuco lifestyle; A trend that spread like wildfire through the youth of the barrios of the western US.

The term started popping up in the western states during the 40’s to describe the style and general vibe of Mexican Americans at the time. Here’s how we think it went down. El Paso Texas used to be known as “ El Chucho” or “ Chuco Town” so if you were headed to kick it in El Chuco, you might say you’re going “pa” “el chucho” which is why some argue that the term pachuco originated in El Paso.

Many young Pachucos were caught between two different worlds, being forced to assimilate into the United States by being punished for speaking Spanish and being detached from their parents experiences of growing up in Mexico. Their rebellion against the expectations placed on them came out looking pretty fantastic. At the time the poor and working classes wore loose fitting clothes, and the young Pachucos decided they were cool with that as long as it looked fly, so they chose to wear loose fitting Zoot suits like they saw in the movies. Just like the African Americans and jazz musicians of the time, the Pachucos would wear fresh-to-death tailored suits with broad shoulders, a cinched waist, and they’d carry a keychain dangling from their pocket. They looked so fly, the US government actually took issue with it. The Wartime Productions Board put restrictions on fabrics such as wool used for clothing and Pachucos had to turn to bootleg tailors for their zoot suits. With world war II happening in the background, racial tension, and the death of José Díaz following a fight after a Pachuco party on August 1, 1942, public perception of Pachucos was going from bad to worse.

They were an easy scapegoat for societies problems and became an even easier target for hate crimes. On June 3rd,1943 a group of sailors alleged that they were attacked by a mob of Pachucos kicking off the famous zoot suit riots. For some reason “ Zoot Suit Riot” doesn’t fully capture what actually went down which was more like a mass hate crime against Mexican Americans. For several days, with the local police passively standing by watching, crowds of servicemen stripped down and beat anyone seen wearing a zoot suit. This is an exceptionally dark chapter in our history, but we do want to end on a positive note.

Pachuco culture is dope not just because it represents our story of resistance and rebellion through fashion, but also because these young immigrant and first-generation Pachucos just trying to make sense of their new barrio created a movement that still resonates today. If you hear words like “watcha” when you’re told to look out or hear someone refer to their friend as their ese, these are actually words and phrases that the Pachucos popularized as a part of their hybrid Caló language. It goes without saying that cruising and lowrider culture traces all the way back to the pachucos of the 40s. Ultimately, Pachucos leave us with the story of a brand new culture, style and vibe born out of an immigrant community that is now enjoyed by everyone. We want to know if you think pachuco style should make a comeback in the comments below and please make sure to support us elevating the Latino stories shaping our culture by giving us a like and follow.


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