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.
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.