Los chucos suaves

Lalo Guerrero, 1949–50

What is a zoot suit? Who were the zoot suiters and pachucos? How do the images and dialect in the lyrics celebrate pachuco culture?

What traditional jazz elements do you hear? What instruments and rhythms of Latin styles do you hear? How do these musical features contribute to the message of the song?

Compare and contrast this song's image of pachuco culture with the portrayal in "Los pachucos." How do these songs represent divisions that existed within the Chicano community?

"Los chucos suaves" performed by Lalo Guerrero y Sus cinco Lobos 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 this online source:

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/r/ry+cooder/
los+chucos+suaves_20589760.html

article about the rationing of zoot suits
An article about how fabric rationing has stopped zoot suit manufacturing.

Lalo Guerrero (1916–2005), considered the "father of Chicano music," was a distinctly versatile musician, with songs ranging from the comic ("Elvis Ferez" about a Mexican Elvis Presley) to the sentimental ("Cancion Mixteca" in VAT Unit 6). Guerrero was one of the first to document the cultural trends of the Chicano community and turned what had been a negative epithet (Chicano) into a positive one, used with pride by Mexican Americans starting in the mid-1960s.

"Los Chucos Suaves" exemplifies Guerrero's method of incorporating Latin styles, particularly the rumba and mambo, in popular songs. Primarily a song intended as a dance accompaniment, "Los Chucos Suaves" also documents and celebrates the pachuco, or "zoot suit," craze of the late 1940s.

Appearing in 1940, the zoot suit was a style trend first associated with young African Americans, but Mexicans and Filipinos in southern California quickly assimilated the zoot suit and adopted it as a symbol of their ethnicity. The overly large jackets were often called "drapes" because of the way they hung on men's bodies. Using the excuse that too much fabric was being wasted during wartime rationing, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution "outlawing" the zoot suit in 1942. In early June 1943, violence erupted in the city as white servicemen attacked zoot suiters, stripping them of their clothes.

"Los Chucos Suaves" celebrates the spirit and energy of pachuco culture. It combines the heady rhythms of Latin dances with the liveliness of American swing. The lyrics reflect the calo, or pachuco, speech utilized by the zoot-suiters, an amalgamation of Spanish and a historic gypsy language associated with criminal behavior. This manner of speaking is said to have originated in El Paso, Texas, from where it moved west. Guerrero was exposed to this speech growing up in Tucson, Arizona.

Guerrero's music was rediscovered in the 1970s by Luis Valdez when he was writing Zoot Suit (see "El Corrido de Cesar Chavez" for more about Valdez and El Teatro Campesino), a play about the 1942 "Sleepy Lagoon" trial involving the mysterious death of a young man near Commerce, California. Although the death remains unsolved, the Los Angeles police arrested seventeen Mexican Americans and subjected them to highly discriminatory treatment. "Los Chucos Suaves" is featured prominently in both the play and the film, along with "Marijuana Boogie" and "Vamos a Bailar," also by Guerrero.

Compare this song to:

"Los Pachucos," a song with a very different stance on zoot suit culture.

A wealth of resources about the zoot suit riots were prepared for this website for a production of Luis Valdez's play.