Ask a Mexican: What a Pendejo!


Dear Readers: 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 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 a pendejo and thus forgot to explain fully the word’s origins. Thankfully, many wrote in with etymological theories:

They’re called pachucos because the vatos in East Los originated from a neighborhood in El Paso which was primarily populated by folks who had emigrated from Pachuca, Hidalgo. —Sacra Memo

In East L.A., our gente would say, “Vamos pa’ El Chuco” (“Let’s go to El Paso”), and the word “pachuco” was born. Here in El Paso, we still speak caló on a daily basis—the real deal, not new made-up stuff. I do want to mention that you omitted Lalo Guerrero in your reference to the pachucismo. Lalo Guerrero is often called the “Original Chicano,” and he owned a nightclub in East Los Angeles that was all the rage for pachucos. —Chuco Suave

Dear Gabachos: I’m such a pendejo! 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, onto a question:

Dear Mexican: Why, despite the richness of Spanish colonial, Mexican-era heritage and history in California, is Orange County so seriously lacking in public awareness and presentation of that history? 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 Long-Time Californio

Dear Readers: 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 a precedent to the more famous Brown v. Board of Education. The contributions of wabs to our national tapestry are traditionally neglected outside of 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 lead to the balkanization of America—a false dichotomy that never acknowledges that disciplines like Chicano studies would’ve never emerged if previous generations of gabacho instructors had done their damn job.

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