Los Pachucos

R. Rodriguez and A. Carranza, 1950

What were zoot suits? What was zoot suit or pachuco culture? Why do you think pachuco style and culture appealed to younger Mexican Americans?

Why might older and more conservative people frown on the zoot suit style and culture?

How does this song portray the pachucos? Is it a favorable or unfavorable portrayal?

How are the lyrics and musical style representative of the older generation of Mexican Americans of the mid-twentieth century? Compare and contrast this song with "Los Chucos Suaves." How do they showcase Mexican Americans' differing views on pachuco culture?

"Los pachucos" performed by Las Hermanas Mendoza on Historic Mexican-Américan Music, Vol. 10: Pachuco Boogie, © 2001. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. For the lyrics please consult the liner notes in Historic Mexican-Américan Music, Vol. 10: Pachuco Boogie, © 2001.

Zoot Suit Yokum. Yokum was a Lil Abner known for being dim witted.
Zoot Suit Yokum. Yokum was a Lil Abner character known for being dim witted.

Unlike "Los Chucos Suaves" (VAT, this unit), "Los Pachucos" is a disparaging portrayal of the pachuco or "zoot suit" culture. The lyrics critique zoot suiters as not knowing how to work and portray them as loitering on street corners, where they bum cigarettes and matches. The lyrics offer a condescending perspective that was common among older Mexican American immigrants, who often looked down on the rebellious zoot suiters. Further aligning "Los Pachucos" with the older generation is the song's lack of pachuco slang (found, for example, in "Los Chucos Suaves").

The zoot-suit trend began initially in young African American social circles and was associated with popular jazz and dance music because it was worn by such famous artists as Cab Calloway. It became a symbol of freedom and cultural solidarity in a racist society, and Mexican and Filipino youth soon adopted it. Cesar Chavez recalled, "In those days, I was prepared for any sacrifice to be able to dress the way I wanted to dress. I thought it [the zoot suit] looked sharp and neat, and it was the style" (quoted in Daniels, p. 98). The zoot suit became a lightning rod for violence during the 1940s, as white servicemen regularly attacked those wearing the elaborate outfit, leading to what has been called "zoot suit riots."

One of the most well-known recordings of "Los Pachucos" was made by Juanita and Maria Mendoza. Their family immigrated to the United States from Mexico and began performing together as an alternative working manual labor. The eldest sister, Lydia Mendoza, became famous after the release of recordings she made in 1934. However, the younger sisters, Juanita and Maria, became well known during the Spanish-language recording boom that followed World War II. They became known for their duets, performing as Las Hermanas Mendoza, or the Mendoza Sisters, with Lydia often accompanying them on guitar. "Los Pachucos" is one of hundreds of recordings made by the sisters.