Dear Readers: The Mexican’s new book, Orange County: A Personal History, is in your local bookstore on September 16 — by pure coincidence, Mexican Independence Day! In honor of and to shamelessly promote my muy caliente libro (which deals with America’s Gomorrah, the Reconquista and John Wayne!), I’m answering historical questions this week. But first, a bit of housecleaning: in answering a pregunta a couple of weeks ago about pachucos, I was a pendejo and thus forgot to explain the word’s origins. Thankfully, many of ustedes aren’t tontos like me and wrote in with etymological theories. Below are the two most accepted by linguists:
Hey, ese: I liked your explanation about pachucos. One correction, however: They’re called pachucos because the vatos in East Los originated from a neighborhood in El Paso which was primarily populated by folks who had emigrated from Pachuca, Hidalgo. Those vatos were the first ones to begin la moda that ultimately became the zoot suit. Otherwise, keep it going, bro, I’m glad you’re doing your thing.
I appreciated your explanation of the word pachuco to Still Terrified in East LA, noting that it is derived from our reference to our beloved city of El Paso. In East LA, our gente would say, “Vamos pa’ El Chuco (Let’s go to El Paso),” and correctly so on your part, the word pachuco was born. Here in El Paso, we still speak caló on a daily basis — the real deal, not new made up stuff, ¡y si ya sabanas paraque cobijas!
I do want to mention that you omitted Lalo Guerrero in your reference to the pachucismo that our youth in those days embraced. Lalo Guerrero is often called the Original Chicano and he owned a nightclub in East Los Angeles that was all the rage for pachucos and their rucas and their music during that period of time.
Dear Gabacho: I’m such a pendejo! Gentle readers: in addition to buying my book this week, get a copy of Pachuco Boogie, an Arhoolie Records CD that collects the best Mexican-American swing of the 1940s (including a lot of Lalo Guerrero tracks), stuff so scintillating it makes Gene Krupa seem as tame as the Mills Brothers.
Now, onto a question:
Dear Mexican: Why, despite the richest of Spanish colonial, Mexican-era heritages and histories in California, is Orange County so seriously lacking in public awareness and presentation of that history? Sure, we have a few streets named after mis primos — Yorbas, Avilas, etc. — but where are the park statues of vaqueros y mujeres, the replica carettas, the public PA systems blaring “This Land Was Our Land” in Spanish? Is the current crop of Caucasians too cheap or red in the neck to pony up a few pesos to honor the real first citizens of the county?
—A Long-Time Californio
Dear Readers: I swear I didn’t pay this guy to ask this question. To make it relevant to ustedes outside Orange County, I’ll limit my discussion to Mendez vs. Westminster, a 1946 case that desegregated schools in California for Mexicans and served as precedent to the more-famous Brown vs. Board of Education. This is a landmark in American civil rights, an important part of the American experience, yet for decades, the only history book that mentioned it was Carey McWilliams’ 1949 North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States. In Orange County last year, original plaintiff Sylvia Mendez asked to be included in Huntington Beach’s Fourth of July parade (the largest west of the Mississippi) but was rejected because organizers said she didn’t provide enough entertainment! The contributions of wabs to our national tapestry are traditionally neglected outside of conquistadors and Manifest Destiny for the same reason why other subaltern histories get short shrift: Any examination forces gabachos to deal with the actions of their ancestors. Know Nothings argue ethnic studies lead to the Balkanization of America, a false dichotomy that never acknowledges that disciplines like Chicano studies would’ve never emerged if previous generations of gabacho instructors did their damn job.