There is a Pachuca in each and everyone one of us. What is a Pachuca? I confess that I didn’t truly understand “la Pachuca” until last year. There I said it. I didn’t know! I could point the blame at many a person, society, era, etc. for my ignorance, but that isn’t the point here. This post is a tale of self-reflection. The kind that makes you cringe at yourself. Don’t worry. This post isn’t all dark and gloomy. After a good cringe, you get a better sense of the kind of person you want to be.
I learned about pachucos (also dubbed zoot-suiters) my freshman year of college. Pachucos are the male counter-part of Pachuca; they are not one, in the same. I had the pleasure of being shown Luis Valdez’s, “Zoot Suit” by my french undergraduate film studies professor. I’d never seen it or heard of it before. Yes, I know. I am Latina. Yes, my mother marched with Cesar Chavez. Yes, I was told to stray from my Mexican heritage in the 80s/90s. I learned the film was originally a hit musical theater play (the first Chicano theatrical production on Broadway) and subsequently made into a film in 1982. Last year, I attended the sold-out revival theater production of it, here in Los Angeles. The film not only puts a spotlight on the pachuco culture but also the villainization of Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles in the 1940s. But, we’re n
Roseli Martinez, an art event organizer in LA and co-founder of Xicanas de Corazon, remarks, “Pachucas embody the rebellion against domesticity and challenge the idea of appropriate female behavior.” In other words, they were badass women, and people were afraid of them. In a time when Hispanic girls and women were supposed to adopt traditional family values, work the jobs no one wanted, and live in the shadows of America, Pachucas challenged these norms by creating a subculture of their own. They rebelled with their irreverent fashion, confident attitude, and unique dialect. Pachucas wore their hair in high pompadours, plucked their eyebrows, peroxided their hair, used dark lipstick, hiked their skirts above their knees, and often replaced their skirts and dresses with pants. These women chose to battle race and gender inequality in their unique way before most women dared to do the same. Of course, they quickly became villainized in both Mexican and American cultures, and ultimately deemed both un-American and un-Mexican. Even while Pachucas were extremely marginalized and discriminated against, they still walked with pride; chins held up high.
Chola culture was the central focus of the independent film, “Mi Vida Loca/My Crazy Life” by Allison Anders, back in 1993. My parents didn’t let me watch it as a tween because it was rated R. So, how did I find out about these women? It ties back to my family, more so than I had previously known. I had always been fascinated by Chola culture. My youngest aunt was a self-proclaimed “homegirl” back in the 70s and 80s. According to her, she was part of a tough and respected group of Mexican-American girls from a particular neighborhood, who didn’t take shit from no one. When I was twelve, my aunt gave my primas (cousins) and I, Chola nicknames, even though we were a far cry from actually being a part of Chola culture. She named us, Smiley, Poison, and Sad Eyes. We got a kick out of it. I was Smiley.
Twenty years later, I was inspired to write a screenplay based on my aunt’s life, during her transition away from her Chola lifestyle in the 1990s. Although I’d heard her stories here and there, I sat her down to ask her questions about her old life. One of the first things she told me was that Chola’s were not as original as I assumed. My aunt revealed that the essence and origins of the Chola rebellious figure were inspired by “Las Pachucas” of the 1930s/1940s. Then, something intense happened. My aunt leaned in and whispered, “Some of your tia’s (aunts) were Pachucas.” I instantly flashed back to a particular moment in my twenties.
Forgive me thirty-year-old self, for my twenty-year-old self-has sinned. Let’s go back to my collegiate days at a prestigious California university. I am not the first in my family to attend college in the United States. Both my immigrant parents went ahead and did that before I was born. I was, however, the first one to join a sorority. That could be a whole other post. Maybe it will be. What was, even more, mind-blowing than my decision to “go Greek,” was that thirty years ago my grandmother was cleaning multi-million dollar houses across the street from the university I was attending.
Let’s jump to my sophomore year. I had found an intelligent, liberal, down to earth, empowered group of friends via my sorority. We were a diverse group, like a mini United Nations. Despite that we were “woke” back in the first half of the 2000s, we all decided to participate in a fraternity party called “Ghetto Bowling.” I am sure we at least lifted an eyebrow commented on the offensive concept of the party, but none the less, we all decided to get in costume and show up. Most of the guys showed up in pressed khaki pants wore high on their waists, white undershirts, and button-down flannels shirts only buttoned at the top. They wore bandanas on their heads and walked with a confident limp down the bowling alley lanes. The sorority members, including myself, pretty much wore the same outfits but with a makeup style that we considered a “Chola” look. I do recall it was uncomfortable to be dressed up like women I knew, family members, cousins, and at the same time realize that people were marginalizing and making fun of the culture. Educated young people chose to attend a party themed “ghetto” -a slang word during that era used deemed something less than, unworthy, dangerous, and often racist toward three particular groups, the poor, brown, and black. But, I kept quiet and instead decided to not be “uptight” about it. I hid my discomfort with a beer in hand and smile on my face. Ouch.
You don’t need to read this particular post to get a gist of the current and appropriate outrage surrounding these types of parties. People are finally paying attention, and many a blogger has something to say about it. This post is more about why it took me ten years to honestly reflect why I decided to participate in this type of event, that I now clearly understand was so wrong.
There are so many layers of why this happened and why this shouldn’t have happened. I’ll pivot to a realization I had the moment my aunt told me that some women in my family were Pachucas. By attending that party back in college, I had betrayed not only women in my family I honor and respect were Pachucas back in the 1940s, but myself.
So what happened to this first generation niece of these bold women? They had been ahead of their time, these proud women, who dared to challenge the limitations placed upon them. Both Pachuca and Chola cultures were born out of resistance to oppression and marginalization. So, WTF was my deal?
When it came to the party, I realize now that I was too desperate to belong and too afraid to stand up to a group of people I wanted to embrace me. At the time I didn’t know how to muster up the strength of “La Pachuca” within me to say, “No, this party is wrong I’m going to try and stop it from happening.”
Coming to terms with moments like these, which haunt many of us, is essential. Looking at why this happened is critical. I’m still working on breaking away from my fears of being deemed “other” and more often than not, being an outlier. It’s not such an easy thing to do, when all your life, you’ve been taught by the country you call home, to fit in or else. If we all take a step back and take a harder look in the mirror, we’ll all see that we have a Pachuca in us. We’ll see that we all have the ability to be bold in the face of wrong, fight oppression, and refuse to conform to the expectations of others.
It wasn’t easy to look back at my wrong, but it was necessary to understand how to move forward. I am now more aware, brave, and empowered to keep digging into who I am, what I believe in, and how to better contribute to the well-being of human beings. The mission continues.