From El Paso to Califas: Pachuco Subculture

Written by Veronica Martinez

The iconic chuca and chuco look can still be seen today, and this iconic trend is more than a fashion statement. There’s a rich history, like the Zoot Suit riots, that is tied to the pachuco and pachuca subcultures. A chuco or pachuco is a subculture that started in Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, TX– neighboring border cities. The subculture started in El Paso in the 1930’s and later on moved up to California, especially in Los Angeles. Along with other cultural trends, the pachucos led to creating a slang of Mexican spanish, caló, and helped pave the way for the Chicano Movement.

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Photo Credit: https://www.kcet.org/departures-columns/seventy-years-later-the-zoot-suit-riots-and-the-complexity-of-youth-culture

Pachucos were often seen in zoot suits, these were very oversized pants and coats, and were often called zooters. The clothes were inspired by the 1920’s Chicago gangsters. Chucos were often associated with gangs, although most of them were not related to any illicit activities. The clothes were more about the trend and for dancing. It would have been very hard to dance to the music emerging from swing and bebop of the 1940’s in tight pants.

When the pachuco trend started, the trend also led to questioning one’s identity. Being bicultural has always been difficult for Mexican-Americans. Si no eres de aqui ni eres de ella, so how do you prove your American pride? Chicano boys signed up for the army during WWII as much as the Anglo boys did.According to Senator Robert Mendez, more than 9,000 Latinos died during World War II. However, statistics are problematic because, unlike African Americans that served in segregated units, Latinos were counted with the white males that served.

Now, about the chucas. These girls were tough, ok? In the way that they were cool, strong and non-traditional girls. Since girls were expected to stay at home, chucas defied society’s standards and would often go out and spend time with their Mexican-American boyfriends and other chucas and chucos. Women were constantly told by their mothers that they should stay at home, out of trouble, and out of those short skirts.

Chucas broke a lot of the social rules during this era. Women, at least a respectable woman, was expected to be at home, but pachucas often appeared in public with their boyfriends and wore loose pants like their male counterparts. Yeah, stay home flipping tortillas? No, thanks.

The history of chucos and chucas are an important part of our Mexican-American culture. The next time you see the word “zoot suit,” know that it’s not just a piece of clothing. It is a way of life that helped pave the way for Mexican-Americans in the U.S.

Letter to a Younger Me

Young girl,

You never walk alone, just misunderstood.

Yes, you are unique,

But life’s conditions, those are few and we’re all afflicted.

So don’t be scared to tell about yourself,

You’d be surprised when people open about themselves

How much like you they are.

That being said,

Always take their good advice,

And be able to tell wrong from right.

And if you fall get back up,

And if you fail…

Well lets just say, you shouldn’t,

Because every day, every hour, every second,

That’s a second chance.

And if for some reason you look back and feel regret,

Well then that’s a reason to try again.

And once you do that you have no longer failed,

You simply had a minor set back.

As for where you’re going,

You probably don’t know yet,

And if you do,

well I wouldn’t be surprised if the destination changed.

But what I will say is that that’s OK.

Follow your dreams,

Do what makes you happy,

And do all you do with passion,

I know that sounds cliché.

But it’s true,

in life everything falls into place,

even chaos has some order to it.

So in the meantime just be.

Just Be you.

Favorite Cultural Traditions

Chicas share their favorite cultural tradition. 

“My favorite Mexican culture tradition is the food. Which is not exactly a tradition, but it’s the best thing ever.

Mexican food is great! What I love the most about it is how there’s a classic dish that we all love at every family gathering. This is what makes me feel happy, not only for enjoying the food, but also because of what it means. After years and years of trying different types of food, nothing tastes as good as Mexican food to me. I always go back to tacos (the real ones), to enchiladas, mole or whatever is on the table.

Mexican food makes me proud because it is recognized everywhere in the world. This food is from where I belong. Mexican food is best prepared in my home country and, even if someday I get to be far from home, I’ll always remember my family and my hometown because of it.” – Fandi Zapien, 19

 

“My grandmother has always been devoted to La Virgen de Guadalupe. Since we were young she taught us her story, her prayers and how much faith she had in her.

I remember loving when December 12 would come around. Buñuelos, calientitos, champurrado, and posole were some of the food items that were never missing. My favorite part, of course, were the matachines guadalupanos, dancers that would move to the beat of the drums. They would make  so much noise with their colorful attires with every step they took. Also, they would dance in front of a statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe, decorated with flowers and twinkly lights, and would carry her with so much love and care and would dance for her and in her honor. Then, these men dressed in black and with very peculiar masks would dance around, play tricks on people and try to distract the dancers with no success. My mother would tell me it was all part of the performance and it would reassure everyone’s faith.

I also loved how the whole neighborhood would gather around. After the dancers performed they were invited to eat with us. We would serve them and everyone would eat together all the delicious food my grandmother and her vecinas cooked all day long.

At that age I only understood that it was a religious tradition. Something my grandmother, tías, mom, and everyone I knew, had so much faith in. When I grew up I learned more about it. Why people dance for her, why they continue to have faith in her and her whole story, which many don’t know goes way back to when her name was actually Tonantzin. I was so glad to find out that this was something that connected us to our indigenous roots, something I’ve always loved, and it only made me love this day and her story even more.

Now it is my favorite tradition. To me it is more than a religious ceremony or event. It is about family traditions, cultural values and indigenous roots. Things I believe one should never forget.” – Itzel Barraza, 24

 

“My favorite cultural tradition is September 16. I love Mexican food, so I really enjoy this celebration, as well as the dances. I think that this celebration makes people who are far from Mexico become close with their beloved country. The food is so delicious! I love the taquitos, enchiladas, churros, entomatadas, the beverages like limonada, jamaica. GOD! I can go over everything. I really enjoy that people dress as charros and adelitas. I mean, what other cultural tradition can be better than this one? If I were far from my Mexico, this would be the tradition that I would celebrate to get close to my culture. Mexico has many rich and colorful cultural traditions that make it unique and special.” – Ariadne Venegas, 23

 

“My favorite part about my culture is definitely the food. It’s what makes me, me. I love it, I worship it! (not really) but it is awesome! The Enchiladas, the tacos, tostadas, the spiciness, flautas, guacamole, and everything in between! When I think of the food, my face transforms into the emoji with the heart eyes and a smile!– Polet Espinoza, 23

Hispanic Heritage Month Video

This Hispanic Heritage Month, Latinitas show off their cultural pride, talk about their heritage and share their culture vision board describing what makes up their culture. Check out the videos created by Latinitas below. This video series is sponsored by Sprint.hhm-latinitas-videos

 

Benefits of Community College

College Chica, 2013

College Chica, 2013

Towards the end of my sophomore year, I began the process to enroll into Austin Community College as an Early College Start student. When I began my junior year of high school, I started the year enrolled in Composition 1301 and U.S. History 1301, basic college freshman courses. The second semester I was enrolled in college sophomore courses and during my senior year, I earned enough credit hours to be in sophomore standing when I enroll as a full time college student this upcoming fall.

Without community colleges offering these programs, a lot of low-income students would have to spend an extra year that they cannot afford in higher education. Because of my sophomore standing, I will be able to double major and still graduate within four years.

While high school students like to boast about being enrolled as Early College Start students when they are juniors, come senior year they look down on the same community college that offered them opportunities and gave them the necessary tools to succeed in the first place.

Many of my peers whom also took college level classes with me scoffed at the notion of enrolling full time in community college post graduation, saying that community colleges are too “easy” and only for slackers. It’s funny how things change – I don’t recall our community college classes being easy at all. In fact, as a top Advanced Placement student, I struggled to make my way into an A in all of my dual enrollment classes.

Community colleges shouldn’t be looked down on because they’re an equalizer. Community colleges open so many doors for low-income students, especially, when it comes to cost. I have so many friends who could have gone to the University of Texas at Austin or A&M but opted instead for Austin Community College because of little to no cost.

Community college, for many, is the smartest choice anyone can make and I will always be grateful for the opportunities it offered me. Without Austin Community College, I wouldn’t be about to enroll in Texas State on a near-full ride as a double major while pursuing a teaching certificate and an interpreter’s license. It simply wouldn’t have been possible at all.

Attending community college isn’t something to be ashamed of. You’re furthering your education and that’s all that matters in the end.

Mastering the English Language

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These Latinas from El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico share the problems they encountered during the process of mastering the English language. From not having enough time to practice speaking and/or writing English in school to lacking confidence, learning a new language is incredibly challenging with a lot of obstacles.

Grammar & Finding Ways to Practice: Claudia and Edith
“Learning English at first was intimidating to me, especially because you have to think in both languages when speaking and sometimes you have to translate the things you are going to say first, and then you tell them to people. This was the greatest and worst challenge I had to face when learning English,” said Claudia Romero, 19. She adds that practicing her English skills at her elementary school helped her immensely.

“I started dominating English by the time I was eight years old. I had a bit of a problem with fluency at certain points of my learning process, but there is nothing that practice wouldn’t take away,” she said.

While Claudia was able to practice to better her language skills, Edith de la Torre, 18, had a more difficult experience. Edith studied at a bilingual school in Juarez, but lived with a complete Spanish environment both at home and sometimes in school.

“[When I was learning English], homework wasn’t enough. I realized it was just some checklist of the various topics and after those ‘to-do’ lists we didn’t really go over the chapters again, so this was useless for me.”

For Edith, she learned English through music and movies. “For my own methods of practicing, I had to help myself through music on the radio or by changing the language at the movies I saw at home. I still having problems with grammar and writing, but at least the part of vocabulary I wanted to dominate is done.”

Being a Translator: Glenda
“I was born in-between the two languages because all of my mom’s family talks in Spanish and all the members from my dad’s family talk in English. It was a little chaotic once family got reunited sometimes, but I don’t think I had a first language; I was bilingual because of this feature in my family,” Glenda Cobos said. She shares that she was aware of the differences inside her families’ cultures, and, because of these problems, she always tried to bring her family together despite cultural differences.

“I wanted both of my families to be able to interact with each other without problems of communication, so this is why I had to be the translator of the family (for both sides),” said Glenda.

“I don’t think there are people who talk 100% of either language at the place we live in right now,” said Glenda, referring to the border of Juarez-El Paso.

Cultural and linguistic differences being the main problem for Glenda, time and patience towards her family were the key in overcoming this challenge. “It was hard in the beginning,” she said, “but you get used to it.”

Lacking Confidence & Always Questioning Yourself: Edith
“I still find myself in situations where I am talking to a native speaker and I am not sure if what I said is correct. I have the habit of asking my classmates in my English class about some words or how to write certain things. This is because I still don’t have enough confidence in myself because I realize I am still learning, and I prefer to ask instead of keeping the doubt alive,” said Edith.

Being called “pocha”: Claudia and Irely 
Pocho/a is a derogatory term used to refer to someone, specifically an “Americanized” Mexican, who is trying to “act white.” “Acting white” can mean several things — from dressing to speaking “English,” this term is meant to question your cultural heritage.

“People who use this word are ignorant because they don’t know the struggle of having to learn another language. Instead of criticizing us they should admire us because we want to speak fluently in both languages,” said Claudia Romero.

To deal with these critics, Irely Lara chooses to ignore them. “We should stop criticizing upon others firstly. Then, if we ever get criticized for saying one word in English when talking in Spanish, just ignore them. Any person talks the way they want so it’s ok to be like that,” said Irely, who was constantly shifting schools between communities in El Paso and Juarez.

“I practically grew up between El Paso and Juarez communities, so I was constantly speaking both languages yet people around me called me pocha. It didn’t really make any sound in me.” For Irely, the safest choice was not to pay attention, and her choice surprisingly worked for her.

Whether you are learning English for the first time or are trying to improve your English language skills, it takes time and effort. Everyone’s journey is different, but, as long as you preserver, you will get the results that you want.

Latina Beat: Speaking Kriol

Butterfly logoA brief explanation of my culture background: My Spanish-speaking paternal grandparents are originally from Mexico. My maternal grandmother, also originally from Mexico, spoke Yucatec Mayan and Spanish. My maternal grandfather was born in China and spoke Cantonese. My paternal grandparents gave birth to my father in Belize, and my father and his brothers were raised in Belize by my great-grandmother who was also Mayan, but spoke Spanish to my father and uncles. My mother was raised in Belize as well and grew up speaking English, Spanish, Mayan, Cantonese and Kriol. Kriol is the most popular language in Belize. It’s sort of a broken English dialect spoken with a thick Caribbean accent. My father used to speak Kriol, but he is now only fluent in Spanish and English.

Whew. I hope you got that.

Growing up in a multicultural family, I celebrated a lot of holidays, including traditional American holidays like Thanksgiving and Fourth of July. I celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday every year because my mother is Catholic. I also celebrate Mexican holidays like Cinco de Maya and Dia De Los Muertos, and I visit Belize every couple of years to celebrate the country’s Independence Day on September 21. And of course, I celebrate Chinese New Years, too!

However, there were some downsides. I was picked on in school for speaking odd. I spoke mostly Kriol at home, but I also spoke English and Spanish, and the languages sort of got mixed up in me. Instead of saying “three” I would say “tree” or instead of saying “thumb” I would say “tum” and I never knew native English speakers can distinguish simple mistakes. It didn’t help that my Asian features are most prominent. And the problem wasn’t just with my friends at school. When I went to Belize, my Belizean family made fun of me for speaking too “American.”  And my Spanish-speaking family always complain about how I cannot roll my r’s properly and that I speak Spanish like a gringa, but my accent was definitely not “white,” it was Caribbean. For a long time, I felt like I wasn’t fluent in any language.

As you can see, it’s a mess.

However, now I’ve learned that the different cultures that are a part of me is what makes me uniquely beautiful. ‘Til this day, Kriol is still the language I’m most comfortable speaking. I do not care what people think about my accent because I know I can speak English, Spanish, and Kriol – just in my own way. And that’s okay.

Casting My First Ballot

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On October 31, 2012 I voted for the very first time. I was so excited I chose to do it the long way, though I technically cast a straight ballot; I even saved the neat little sticker with the Presidential seal and the year on it. I knew that the fact that I was able to vote at all was thanks to brave women who just under a century ago fought with everything they had for the right, as well as men and women who fought for minorities to be able to vote. People in other countries would give anything to do what I was doing at that moment. Even some former students and younger friends were itching to get to polls, but they will have to wait until the next election.

Still excited, thankful, and hopeful, I walked out of the voting center feeling quite patriotic. I was with a friend so we went out for a snack and talked, as usual. Our conversation inevitably went back to the polls as we were both first time voters; we wondered how people, especially women and minorities, would chose not to vote. Personally, I was so consumed with this election that my mom would tease me saying how I should become one of the pundits on TV making their predictions and analyzing the campaigns.  As I mentioned, I was excited to be doing my civic duty as an American citizen. After all, there were so many issues at stake starting from the economy to social policies. How could opinionated people not make their voices heard? As one of my favorite presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” As my friend and I chatted, we realized one reason why people wouldn’t vote was common.

The biggest reason that people we knew weren’t going to vote was because they believed their vote didn’t matter, or that the candidates were corrupt no matter which party they belong to. For example, my mom did not vote until the 2008 election, and only because I had to sort of guilt her into going. (I told her that not only did her future matter, but mine did too.) My dad on the other hand, still won’t vote because he can’t stand politics and doesn’t think his vote truly counts,. Likewise, my maternal grandma, who became a citizen when she was about my age, never voted either because she believes even the best politician is crooked.

My friend and I reasoned that while it is true that there are many “crooked” politicians out there, it is not true that our votes do not matter. The only way we can keep dishonest or greedy people from becoming leaders is to speak up. Educate ourselves about the candidates and pick the one that has the best intentions for our respective communities. Another friend of mine put it beautifully when he said “A good politician tries to make today better; a great politician tries to make tomorrow better too.” Because of this, I was excited and proud to cast my ballot for the first time that day and will be equally proud to cast it in the next elections. And you should, too!

Latinas Contra el Bullying

November 15, 2015, Facebook user Miguel Marquize Howell posted a video with the caption, “OK that was a grown up move… Kids was getting bullied and ragged on about his shoes…. so another student bought him some Lebron’s the next day…💯💯💯.” 180,104 likes and 229,624 shares later this video continues to go viral. But why?

According to “Latina Teen Suicide and Bullying,” published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, bullying is an issue prevalent across many different races and even across countries. In a sense, bullying is a universal problem, but the effects of bullying seem to take a different toll on Latinas. “Compared to national trends, [the] state-wide data of Latina adolescents, predominantly of Mexican descent, [indicated] higher than national rates of suicide ideation, plans, and attempts.”

While Latinas had higher rates of suicide attempts, which were associated with being victims of bullying, they also had higher rates of plans and ideation, which were associated with being the actual bully. Con cuidado chica; don’t let this be you, being a bully is nothing to be proud of.

As a Latina, however, you may also be susceptible to different kinds of bullying.

Language 
Some Latinas are fortunate enough to have been raised speaking two languages, the pronunciation may not always be perfect, pero le haces el intento, but you try. People, however, may try and use this against you. You either speak too much English, or speak it too well, and are shamed for being white-washed. Or you speak with too thick of a Spanish accent, and then are made fun of or judged. Just take for example Vanessa Ruiz, a news anchor, who was torn to pieces by the media for pronouncing Spanish words in Español.

What You Wear

Latinas also have to be really careful of their attire. You can’t wear hoops and dark lipstick simultaneously, or you are automatically perceived as a chola. For some this can be a “fashion statement,” but for others it can be seen as a “negative” portrayal of culture.

Color of Your Skin 

Shades of skin are also an attribute Latinas are critiqued on. “One day, I stayed out too late in the sun and when I came back inside my Abuela flipped. ‘Pareces pan tostado,’ she said. There was a look of horror on her face. I don’t think it was so much so because I was tan. But because now the world could see it,”  says  Daniela, 19.

Standing Up Contra Los Bullies

While Latinas may experience bullying in different ways than others, the experience of being bullied is not unique to Latinas alone. As members of society, we must aim for improvement of our own conditions as well as the conditions of those around us. Bullying may be an issue that will be around for years to come, but you, chica, can make a difference.

Some steps to combating bullying include:

  • Don’t participate in bullying! Consider your actions and the feelings of others during social interactions.
  • Be able to recognize bullying. If you see it, stop it. Speak up and act against it. More often than not, the bully is able to act up because she feels that no one will stop her. But if someone calls attention to her actions the odds of her continuing them will diminish.
  • But most importantly, if you are being bullied, don’t let them get to you, chica. Whatever the reason be for their actions, you are perfect and you should be proud.

Tu voz es poder. Your voice is power, and with it you can build this world up or tear it down. But how awesome is it to know that you alone can do good in this world, that by simply speaking up for others or refusing to act in a hurtful manner, you can shine a light on a hurting soul or even save a life. You never know.

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What I Learned After High School

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There are many things I wish I knew during high school. From one chica to another, here are four things that will make life a little easier in the future:

Don’t take things too seriously

Take serious things seriously and the rest, let it roll. If it’s just a school assignment, a test or a simple homework, do it and don’t stress too much about it, there are more important things to stress about in life. If your friend hasn’t talked to you in a day it’s not because he/she hates you, maybe they’re busy. Don’t get your head too into things that can be easily solved. I’m not saying you should not care about school or your friends, because they’re really important things. But instead, be responsible and get things done, without them taking all the time and importance of your life.

Friends come and go, but the real ones will stay forever

You will always have problems with fake friends, they’ll talk behind you back, create silly gossip, mistreat you and do terrible things. But thanks to those experiences you learn who your real friends are. Your real friends will stay with you through thick and thin and will be there for you when you need them. Don’t get discouraged if you realize that many of the people around you are not true to you, it happens at every stage of our lives. The good thing is to realize it soon so you wont get hurt. Be careful with who you trust. And always be thankful and appreciate the people in your life.

It’s not the end of the world

Even if it feels like that, it´s not. You´re just going through a rough patch in your life, it gets dark for a reason, and you don´t see the light at the end of the road. It feels like your pain doesn´t get to an end. But it gets better, there´s always something better waiting for you after everything. Don´t overthink what happens to you. Every single memory and person will leave something in your life, make sure it´s something good. We’ve all been in situations where it all gets tough and at the end, everything  gets better.

Don’t give up

Work hard for whatever you want in life. Work for your dreams. If you feel depressed and sad because you feel like you’re not trying hard enough, don’t get discouraged! It happens all the time, the thing is to get up and try again. Dreams and things that are worth it don’t come easy. The best that you can do is be patient and never give up. Because in the end it’ll be worth it. When you see what you’ve achieved, you won’t remember or care about how much it took you to get there.

Whether you want to be an actress, singer, doctor, an astronaut, a teacher, etc.  you can make it! Everything is possible.

Sometimes, you and your friends will fall into a routine, you guys will be hanging out at the same places and when you suggest something new, they may reject it. But if you want to do it, do it! Get more friends that share your interests, go out, explore while you can, in high school you’re way more free than you’ll be in college or at work. Take advantage of all the time you have. Because in a few years you may be worrying about a lot of things and you won’t have time to try new things. Your older self will be grateful to you.