[puh-choo-koh; Sp. pah-choo-kaw]

Pachucos are Mexican American youths who developed their own subculture during the 1930s and 1940s in the Southwestern United States. They wore distinctive clothes (such as Zoot Suits) and spoke their own dialect (Caló). Due to their double-marginalization stemming from their youth and ethnicity, there has always been a close association and cultural cross-pollination between the Pachuco subculture and the gang subculture. For this reason, many members of the predominant (Anglo) culture assumed that anyone dressed in pachuco was a gang member. A famous pachuco is the bass player and ex-Mothers of Invention Roy Estrada.


The Pachuco style originated from Pachuca Hidalgo Mexico from the actor Germán Genaro Cipriano Gomez Valdés Castillo better know as Germán Valdés or Tin-Tan, specifically following the line of migration of Mexican railroad workers ("traqueros") into Los Angeles, where it developed further in USA.

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.

The word "pachuco" originated on the a derivation of Pachuca, the name of the city in the Mexican state of Hidalgo where Mickey Garcia, thought by some to be the originator of the Zoot Suit, befriended a local of the town known as "El Hueso". El Hueso was an elderly man known only to have a tattoo on his right shoulder Mexican Spanish slang term for a resident of the city of El Paso, probably early in the 20th century. Another theory, the word "pachuco" Even today, El Paso is still called "El Chuco" or "El Pasiente" by some. It is unknown what the tattoo says but few have claimed that it bears two names. One name begins with a J and the other with a B. Mickey Garcia brought his style from Pachuca, Mexico to San Diego. 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."

The Mexican comedian and film actor Germán Valdés, better-known by his artistic name "Tin-Tan," introduced Pachuco dress and slang to the Mexican population through his Golden age-era films. The influence of Valdés is responsible for the assimilation of several Caló terms into Mexican slang.

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 in 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 neighborhoods. It is typically worn at a prom, or in some cases, at informal Latino university commencement ceremonies.

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 Latinos in the United States to this day.

The same word "pachuco" is used in Costa Rica to define Costarican slang. It nevertheless differs from the Mexican slang. In Costa Rica the term "pachuco" refers to a vulgar or a indecent person.

La Pachuca

The "Pachuca," the female counterpart of the Pachuco, had as strong an aesthetic sensibility as the male zoot suiter. The Pachuca's hairstyle tended to be a high "coif" (a more pronounced version of the typical hair style of the time), sometimes using hair grease. Her makeup was heavy, particularly the lipstick. The preferred color of clothing was black. One very loud version of the Pachuca look entailed wearing the masculine zoot suit, albeit with modifications to fit the female form. This was very subversive at the time because of long-held gender roles that dictated how a person should dress. Another variation included full, knee-length skirts with the standard zoot suit finger-tip jacket. Sometimes, she donned the standard heavy gold pocket chain.

This style was associated with gang membership and activity. The idea of gang membership and gang activity came from the Zoot Suit Riots that took place mainly in Southern California. The negative image of the male zoot suiter as a "violent gangster" naturally extended to the Pachuca as well. The promiscuous image came from contravening the traditional "see and be seen" fashion aesthetic — the Pachuca's high public visibility during a time when the "good" [minority] woman belonged in the home was seen in a scandalous light.

The Pachuca's challenge to the dominant perception of femininity came during the period between the advent of women's suffrage in 1920 and the upsurge in feminist activism of the 1960s and 1970s.

See also


  • Barker, George Carpenter. Pachuco: an American-Spanish argot and its social functions in Tucson, Arizona. University of Arizona Press, 1950.
  • Cummings, Laura L. "Cloth-Wrapped People, Trouble, and Power: Pachuco Culture in the Greater Southwest" In, Journal of the Southwest, 45 (Autumn 2003).
  • Fuentes, Dagoberto and José A. López. Barrio Language Dictionary. La Puente: El Barrio Publications, 1974. ]
  • Madrid Barela, A. In Search of the Authentic Pachuco. An Interpretive Essay, Part I. Aztlan, Spring, 4(1), 31 60. 1973.
  • Paz, Octavio, translated by Lysander Kemp. "The Pachuco and Other Extremes" in The Labyrinth of Solitude. Grove Press, Inc., 1961; originally published in Spanish by Cuadernos Americanos, Mexico, 1950.
  • Ramirez, Catherine Sue Crimes of Fashion: The Pachuca and Chicana Style Politics. Meridians Vol. 2, No. 2 (2002): 1-35.
  • Salinas, Raul, Un Trip Through the Mind Jail y Otras Excursiones. San Francisco: Pocho Ché, 1980.
  • Sánchez-Tranquilino, M. "The Pachuco’s Flayed Hide: Mobility, Identity, and Buenas Garras" In J. Tagg - Cultural Studies, New York: Routledge, 1992
  • Serrano, Rodolfo G. "Dictionary Of Pachuco Terms". California State University, 1979.
  • Manuel Cantú - Pachuco Dictionary, ISBN 978-0-615-15944-7. Pachuco Dictionary Home Page

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