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Pachuco culture is associated with the zoot suit and the idea of making flamboyant appearances in public.

Pachucos are male members of a counterculture that emerged in El Paso, Texas, in the late 1930s. Pachucos are associated with zoot suit fashion, jump blues, jazz and swing music, a distinct dialect known as caló, and self-empowerment in rejecting assimilation into Anglo-American society.[1] The pachuco counterculture flourished among Chicano boys and men in the 1940s as a symbol of rebellion, especially in Los Angeles. It spread to women who became known as pachucas and were perceived as unruly, masculine, and un-American.[2] Some pachucos adopted strong attitudes of social defiance, engaging in behavior seen as deviant by white/Anglo-American society, such as marijuana smoking, gang activity, and a turbulent night life.[1] Although concentrated among a relatively small group of Mexican Americans, the pachuco counterculture became iconic among Chicanos[3][4] and a predecessor for the cholo subculture which emerged among Chicano youth in the 1980s.[5]

Pachucos emerged in El Paso, Texas, among a group of it may have roots in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico, where loose-fitting clothing was popular among men.[6] It later spread throughout the Southwest into Los Angeles, where it developed further. In the border areas of California and Texas, a distinct youth culture known as pachuquismo developed in the 1940s and has been credited as an influence to Chicanismo.[7][8] In LA, Chicano zoot suiters developed their own cultural identity, "with their hair done in big pompadours, and 'draped' in tailor-made suits ... They spoke caló, their own language, a cool jive of half-English, half-Spanish rhythms ... Out of the zoot-suiter experience came lowrider cars and culture, clothes, music, tag names, and, again, its own graffiti language."[7]

Pachucos were perceived as alien to both Mexican and Anglo-American culture–a distinctly Chicano figure. In Mexico, the pachuco was understood "as a caricature of the American", while in the United States he was perceived as so-called "proof of Mexican degeneracy."[9] Mexican critics such as Octavio Paz denounced the pachuco as a man who had "lost his whole inheritance: language, religion, customs, belief." In response, Chicanos heavily criticized Paz and embraced the oppositional position of the pachuco as an embodied representation of resistance to Anglo-American cultural hegemony.[10] To Chicanos, the pachuco had acquired and emanated self-empowerment and agency through a "stylized power" of rebellious resistance and spectacular excess.[11][12]


The origin of the word "pachuco" is uncertain, but one theory connects it to the city of El Paso, Texas, which was sometimes referred to as "Chuco Town" or "El Chuco". People migrating to El Paso from Ciudad Juarez would say, in Spanish, that they were going "pa' El Chuco". Some say "pa El Chuco" comes from the words Shoe Co., a shoe company that was located in El Paso in the 1940s during the war. The majority of Mexican migrants would cross the border in order to work for this famous shoe company in El Paso. Throughout the years the term "pa El Chuco" was used when Mexican immigrants were heading to El Paso looking for a job. In order to cross the American border with success the migrants would have to dress nice and look nice other wise they would get rejected at the border. These migrants became known as pachucos.[13]

"Pachuco" could also have derived from the name of the city of Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico,[6] as the majority of Mexican migration to the United States came from the Central Plateau region, of which Hidalgo is a part.[14]

Another theory says that the word derives from pocho, a derogatory term for a Mexican born in the United States who has lost touch with the Mexican culture. The word is also said to mean "punk" or "troublemaker". Yet another theory is put forth by author Laura L. Cummings who postulates a possible indigenous origin of the term.[citation needed]

Connections have also been found between "Pachucos" and mixed civilians who lived near the Mexican–American border during the turn of the century, and between "Pachucos" and the poor soldiers who fought in the Mexican Revolution in the armies of Pancho Villa.[15]

Pachucos called their slang Caló (sometimes called "pachuquismo"), a unique argot that drew on the original Spanish Gypsy Caló, Mexican Spanish, the New Mexican dialect of Spanish, and American English, employing words and phrases creatively applied. To a large extent, Caló went mainstream and is one of the last surviving vestige of the Pachuco, often used in the lexicon of some urban Latin Americans in the United States to this day. The influence of Germán “Tin Tan” Valdés is responsible for the assimilation of several Caló terms into Mexican slang.[citation needed]


Pachuco style

Pachuco style was a dominating trend among Mexican-American youth in the 1930s-40s. Pachucos became known for their distinguished look, dialogue, and actions. Pachucos dressed in recognizable Zoot suits, and often styled their hair into ducktails. Things like decorative chains and tattoos were also sometimes part of the pachuco look. The unique speech of pachucos was a very important element of their defined style. Consisting of creative phrases and some English words, Caló was a very popular form of speech among pachucos. Pachucos were seen as gangsters in the eyes of conservative Americans with ethnic prejudices.[citation needed]


Statue of Mexican actor Germán Valdés here being depicted as "Tin Tan" and wearing a pachuco outfit

The Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz writes in the essay, "The Pachuco and Other Extremes" that the Pachuco phenomenon paralleled the zazou subculture in World War II-era Paris in style of clothing, music favored (jazz, swing, and jump blues), and attitudes. Although there was no known link between the two subcultures, they both are most certainly derivative localized blends of American pop culture in the United States.

While he was not the first Mexican comedian to perform as a Mexican American zoot suiter, Mexican comedian and film actor German Valdés better-known by his artistic name "Tin-Tan" is Mexico's most famous and celebrated pachuco.[16]

Pachuco culture in America was at its height during World War II. The Wartime Productions Board in 1942 thought it necessary to cut back on fabric consumption, so they enacted regulations on the amount of fabric used for suits. This enactment targeted Pachucos in particular because of the excess fabric used in their zoot suits. Pachucos boldly chose not to follow these regulations, demonstrating rebellious attitudes and pride in their culture. Pachucos continued to flaunt zoot suits, now attained through bootleg tailors. As a result, these flashy zoot suits were seen as unpatriotic by other Americans. This controversial series of events helped shape Pachuco culture, and zoot suits became a symbol of cultural pride among Mexican-Americans. It didn't all end well, however, as this also led to rising tension between Pachucos and other Americans, playing a part in the start of the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots.[17]

The pachuco subculture declined in the 1960s, evolving into the Chicano style. This style preserved some of the pachuco slang while adding a strong political element characteristic of the late 1960s American life.

In the early 1970s, a recession and the increasingly violent nature of gang life resulted in an abandonment of anything that suggested dandyism. Accordingly, Mexican-American gangs adopted a uniform of T-shirts and khakis derived from prison uniforms, and the pachuco style died out. However, the zoot suit remains a popular choice of formal wear for urban and rural Latino youths in heavily ethnic Mexican neighborhoods. It is typically worn at a prom, in weddings, parties or in some cases, at informal Latino university commencement ceremonies.[citation needed]

La Pachuca

Main article: Pachucas

The "Pachuca," the female counterpart of the Pachuco, had an aesthetic sensibility as strong as the male zoot suiter. The Pachuca's hairstyle tended to be a high "coif" or bouffant, with the hair put up in some way (a more pronounced version of the typical hair style of the time) by ratting[18] their hair or affixing hair rats. Their makeup was heavy, particularly using a red colored lipstick. The preferred colors of clothing were black and gray. Some pachucas wore the traditionally male zoot suit, albeit with modifications to fit the female form. Sometimes, she donned the standard heavy gold pocket chain. Another variation involved a sweater or coat - often a variant on the male zoot-suit finger-tip jacket - over knee-length skirts, plus fishnet stockings or bobby socks and platform shoes.[19] Extravagant dresses were and are also common among pachucas. Like the entire culture, the fashion aesthetic revolved around the concept of "see and be seen."[citation needed]

Costa Rica

The term "pachuco" is used in Costa Rica to define Costa Rican slang. It nevertheless differs from the Mexican slang.[citation needed]

In Costa Rica the term "pachuco" refers to someone who has common habits and who is often very rude.[20] In Costa Rica the word pachuco refers to a person who has manners that are socially unacceptable and often uses shocking language when speaking. Pachuco is also a pejorative name given to certain colloquial words and expressions. Some consider pachuco and its pachuquismos to be Costa Rica's second language.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b Chàvez Candelaria, Cordelia (2004). "Pachucos". Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture: Volume 2. Greenwood Press. pp. 610–11. ISBN 9780313332111.
  2. ^ Ramírez, Catherine Sue (2009). The woman in the zoot suit : gender, nationalism, and the cultural politics of memory. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-4286-1. OCLC 272303247.
  3. ^ López, Ian Haney (2009). Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice. Harvard University Press. pp. 1–3. ISBN 9780674038264.
  4. ^ Macías, Anthony (2008). Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935–1968. Duke University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780822389385.
  5. ^ Ramirez, Catherine S. (2008). Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society: Volume 1. SAGE Publications. pp. 1005–006.
  6. ^ a b Diego Vigil, James (2010). Barrio Gangs: Street Life and Identity in Southern California. University of Texas Press. p. 40. ISBN 9780292786776.
  7. ^ a b Bojórquez, Charles "Chaz" (2019). "Graffiti is Art: Any Drawn Line That Speaks About Identity, Dignity, and Unity... That Line Is Art". Chicano and Chicana Art: A Critical Anthology. Duke University Press Books. ISBN 9781478003007.
  8. ^ Francisco Jackson, Carlos (2009). Chicana and Chicano Art: ProtestArte. University of Arizona Press. p. 135. ISBN 9780816526475.
  9. ^ Mazón, Mauricio (1984). The Zoot-Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation. University of Texas Press. p. 5. ISBN 9780292798038.
  10. ^ Thananopavarn, Susan (2018). LatinAsian Cartographies: History, Writing, and the National Imaginary. Rutgers University Press. pp. 65–66. ISBN 9780813589886.
  11. ^ Rossini, Jon D. (2008). Contemporary Latina/o Theater: Wrighting Ethnicity. Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 65–69. ISBN 9780809387021.
  12. ^ Pèrez-Torres, Rafael (1995). Movements in Chicano Poetry: Against Myths, Against Margins. Cambridge University Press. pp. 128–29. ISBN 9780521478038.
  13. ^ Zoot Suit Discovery Guide. L.A. in the Zoot Suit Era. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  14. ^ Cardoso, Lawrence A. (2019) [first published 1980]. Mexican Emigration to the United States, 1897–1931: Socio-Economic Patterns (open-access e-book ed.). Tucson: University of Arizona Press. p. 2. doi:10.2307/j.ctvss3xzr. ISBN 978-0-8165-4029-7. JSTOR j.ctvss3xzr.5. Retrieved 23 July 2021. The central plateau area includes the country's most populous states, with population density ranging from twenty to sixty people per kilometer. Mexico, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, Hidalgo, Jalisco, and Aguascalientes are some of the states in this region. . . . These areas provided two-thirds of the emigrants to the United States.
  15. ^ ARNOLDO, DE LEON (2010-06-15). "PACHUCOS".
  16. ^ Guzmán, Romeo (23 February 2017). "Mexico's Most Celebrated Pachuco: Tin Tan". KCET. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  17. ^ "L.A. in the Zoot Suit Era: Zoot Suit Discovery Guide".
  18. ^ Escobedo, Elizabeth R. (2007). "The Pachuca Panic: Sexual and Cultural Battlegrounds in World War II Los Angeles". Western Historical Quarterly. 38 (2): 133–156. doi:10.2307/25443504. ISSN 0043-3810. JSTOR 25443504.
  19. ^ Ramírez, Catherine S., The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. p. xii [1] Archived 2012-08-04 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Green Energy Network. "Pachuco". Costa Rican Spanish Dictionary. Retrieved 5 November 2012.

Further reading