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Mexican Ethnic Labels: Chulo, Pachuco



I received this message from George Gehling, in response to something Bob Crow wrote. George, who seems to be involved in welfare work, says: "Very interesting. I grew up in south Los Angeles, between Watts and Compton. Attended 118th Street School, Gompers Jr High and J.C. Freemont HS. Quit school in 1956...but that's another story.

Growing up in the barrios of Los Angles in the 1950s was an adventure for a cavacho like me. At age 61 I look often at the pachuco cross tattooed between the thumb and first finger of my right hand to remind myself what it was like in those (not so wonderful) days. That symbol was a free pass for the huda to harass and "persuade" the vatos that we were not heading down the road success and knowledge. That too is another story.

Bob Crow has our appearance down pretty well. Although, in Watts we wore khaki pants without cuffs that were altered just enough to cover all but the toes of our highly shined French-toe shoes. A size-too-large, long-sleeved shirt was worn over the white t-shirt, (not unlike Chulo garments today), but left unbuttoned or only buttoned at the neck. We were proud to be called "Pachuco" but I can't say the same for our parents.

Mr. Crow also struck a chord with the qualifications to become a Pachuco -"Many of us were Chulo (Pachuco)[sic] wannabees, but we couldn't make it if we got good grades and stayed out of trouble." I would add that one also had to suffer an "initiation." Based on those prerequisites I guess I really was a Pachuco. The next time you see Mr. Crow ask him about WPLJ. Brings back memories ".

I asked George Gehling for an explanation of some terms used and some information about his background.. He replied: "The words are mostly Mexican slang terms used almost exclusively by gang members:
cavacho(sp) - Caucasian.
huda(sp) - police
vatos - guys
WPLJ - White Port and Lemon Juice
Alawatcho(sp) - see you around

I am the senior researcher for a nonprofit association. My name is George (Jorge) back then); very definitely not Hispanic. Of Germanic (Romanian) descent with some American Indian and a little Irish thrown in for good measure. My street name was Blondie, and breaking in to the gang was no easy task. I was never accepted by some and only casually acknowledged by others. But, when they needed help I was never excluded. As a matter of fact, I "made my bones" and gained respect for not being knocked down during my initiation and never turning down an opportunity to join in the melees.

Pachucos came into their own in post-World War II. They were kids who grew up without male supervision and all from the same low socioeconomic class. They were a tightly-knit group of Mexican/American youth with nothing to do and nowhere to go; sequestered in the barrios more by choice than chance. Proud, macho and extremely territorial. They retaliated massively and disproportionately (to borrow from Jean Kilpatrick) to what they perceived as the slightest incursion in their neighborhoods or the most meaningless provocations. Drive-by shootings, stabbings and massive gang fights were the prices paid for these insults. Hatred of neighboring gangs was permanent, as was membership in the gangs. Many of us were called Pachuco by the unknowing, but we were really offshoots. Pachuco's faded along with their Zoot-Suits largely because they grew up and because the police did all they could to eradicate them. Pachucos were a breed apart and would consider being called "Chulo" an insult. We were loosely organized with the most charismatic as leaders if you could call them leaders. We referred go them as vetrianos(sp) (veterans), a title I envied but never earned. I could write volumes".

Ronald Hilton - 7/25/02


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