From the OC to KC
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 the day 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 penedejo and forgot to explain the word's origins. Thankfully, many of ustedes aren't tontos like me and wrote in with etymological theories.
I liked your explanation about pachucos. One correction, however: They're called pachucos because the vatos in East Los Angeles originated from a neighborhood in El Paso that 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.
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.
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). Now, a question.
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 Longtime Californio
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 v. Westminster, a 1946 case that desegregated schools in California for Mexicans and served as precedent to the more-famous Brown v. 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 that 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 conquistadors and Manifest Destiny, for the same reason that other subaltern histories get short shrift: Any examination forces gabachos to deal with the actions of their ancestors. Know-nothings argue that ethnic studies will lead to the Balkanization of America, a false dichotomy that never acknowledges that disciplines such as Chicano studies would never have emerged if previous generations of gabacho instructors had done their damn jobs.
Submit your spicy questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.