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Answer just one of the two questions below in a paragraph or more, and then include the REFLECTION (another paragraph or more) described below them. The first two questions take a comparative race & ethnicity approach to the zoot suit youth culture by looking at the larger social and cultural conditions experienced by young people of color in the U.S. in the early and mid-20th Century. The third question provides a space for students to be creative and share their experiences of participating in a youth culture. According to Luis Alvarez, what is the social context or connection between African-Americans and Mexican-Americans adopting the zoot suit style in the early 1940s and the idea of having a sense of dignity? In other words, what were the social conditions that influenced their decision to express themselves in this manner, through what Alvarez calls “body politics”?According to Catherine S. Ramirez, what was the significance for young Mexican-American women in the 1940s in dressing as a “pachuca” and being out in public? What were the specific social and cultural barriers that they confronted both outside their communities and within them? REFLECTION: Based on which question you chose to answer, how does what you’ve learned about the Zoot Suit youth culture differ from or present a different perspective than what you may be familiar with from what you were taught in high school or from old Hollywood moves and American pop culture, i.e. swing music, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The Mask, etc. Do you see any parallels between the histories of the youth cultures of the 1940s and the youth cultures and lived experiences of young people in the U.S. today?


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:,-::—:.o slang. In-
Chapter z
– ,-::rch most of
they saw as
Pachuca Style and Spectacle du ring World War ll
::’* :’l s expressed
i- *1: leginning of
Zoot Suit (fo, My Sunday Gal)” is about looking good. In this
duet, the male vocalist announces that he wants “to look sharp
enough to see my Sunday gal,” while the female vocalist stresses
that she wants to “look keen so my dream
:,::-: :-eir and attire
,” –
-=ien referred
:. -=’-:Jed both the
*-i: – .. sire put it, “I
l: :::atgd
Zoot Suit, to
M *.’:—:-g
StOrieS. My
* : =ld Zoot Suit
say I
‘Ain’t I the lucky
fellah’ I So keen that he’ll scream, ‘Baby’s in Technicolor!”‘ This
rg42 swing hit, which was populanzedby, number of singers and
musicians includirg the Andrews Sisters, Dorothy Dandrig”, and
Benny Goodman, is not only about looking good; it is also simply
about seeing and being seen. The female vocalist tells her “walkin’
rainbow” that he wants a “reef sleeve with a right stripe I And a rare
square, so the gals will stare / When they see you struttin’ with your
Sunday pal.” Likewise, she aspires to be the object of attention and
envy: she desires “a scat hat and a zagbrg
And a slick kiss, so the
will b. iealous when I’m with my Sunday rnart.”l
A Zoot Suit (fot My Sunday Gal)” is an important cultural artifact because it shows women participating alongside men in the
wartime zoot subculture. Moreover, it paints a vivid picture of the
zooter girl in her “brown gown with a zop top.”2 Other contempoother chicks /

-:… Th.y show
:: :.:_ ‘-lst pawns in
😮 the world
*i ; _:_:.
. : -:i-ctirg
and within
rary accounts provide equally detailed albeit more comprehensible
descriptions of the female zooter (to most twenty-first-century readers at least). For example, in his ess ay “Gangs of Mexican American
Youth” (t943),Emory Bogardus, a sociologist at the University of
: -r*res, outspo-
Southern California, observed that pachucas wore “a modified ‘zoot
suit,’ with black skirts and hose, includirg the broad-shouldered
and longer coat of the boy’s costume.”3 And accordirg to the social
worker Beatrice Griffith, “The girls wore their own style of dress,
consisting of a long finger-tip coat or letterman’s sweater, draped
slacks or a short, full skirt above or just to their brown knees, high
bobby socks, and huaraches or ‘Zombie’ slippers. They usually made up
heavily with mascara and lipstick, and the favorite hairstyle was a high
pompadour with flowers and earrings.”4 At the time, a skirt that exposed
the knees was considered short, if not indecent, and American women
generally did not wear pants, especially outside the workplace.s These and
other factors determined the meanings of the zoot look in wartime Los
Angeles for the young Mexican American women who sported it and for
those who observed them doing so.
during World War I I.
-:– : –:-“=
fine “politics” broadll –. = ::;
tain that “style ma)-be s’-^: :-
direct political campa—-:–. ‘
argued , for African A:: -:: – : ,. :
stitute for politics. B.r: -:– -::
political discourse ar-j. -r- : i’:
ficial channels of ‘de::-: -:..: :
In this chapter, I scrutlnlze the zoot suit as spectacle, with a focus on
wartime pachuca style politics. By “style,” I refer to a signifyingpractice, in
this case, the display of the zoot subculture’s codes via clothing, hair, and
perience-blacknes s-1:-
cosmetics. And by “style politics,” I refer to an expression of difference via
suit was not meant 3s 2
style. The British cultural theorist Angela McRobbie has lambasted early
cultural studies scholars for defining style “as a male [and] never unambiguously masculine prerogative” and for equating “‘yotJth culture”‘ with
Followirg Merce: ar–: i
everyday life” and
“male youth cultural forms.”6 Within Chicano studies, few scholars have
examined, much less acknowledged, pachuca style or the participation
Mexican American women in the zoot subculture. In contrast, el tacuche
(the masculine zoot suit) and its wearer have received considerable atten-
tion. As Vicki L. Ruiz observes, “Among Chicano historians and writers,
there appears a fascination with the sons of immigrants, especially as po,chucos.”7 Yet, as the historian Dionne Espinozawarns, “‘Without an analysis of gender and women in youth culture, we miss seeing how cultural
resistance is a gendered project in which women find spaces to embrace . . .
democ rattztng po s sibilitie
across cultural suCac=s
: :::
social bloc.”to Simila:–. — : : *

political statement r-==.:– -: X
experiences did it re-:-: -::=:
ity among Mexican –::–::::*
the complicated mear–:–a. ::
who wore it or canre -: =,-= *:

also study the wa-s ::-=. – “., ::
pachuca (the iconic :: :: – — : :
I examine represen:a:::-:

:: : ::.:
y’outi:s -::
newspapers, acader:–
use these texts to il-‘-l:r—:-: :
s. ”
Like the previous chapter, this chapter offers an analysis of gender and
women in youth culture . La pachuca, ts at its center. Yet, where chapter r
explores the ways in which Y/orld War Il-era Mexican American women
can American
great part by fears

:: ::–:r
categories, nonnom-a:-,
: i:lu
i;-r:= .: :
attempted to appropriate privileged cultural categories from which they
had been barred, such as “American,” “lady,” and “patriot,” this chapter
cross-dressed pachr-lc. -. – —**:
offers a close examination of their exclusion from these categories as it
patriot,” Rosie the R—,=.=:
brings into relief the nexus of nation, race, class, gender, and heteronormativity. I argue that the zoot suit was construed as a sign of an aberrant femininity, competing masculinity, or homosexuality during the early
r94os. As a nonwhite, working-class, and queer signifier, it was perceived
iconic pachuco)-l
as un-American.
To make this argurnent, I look at the clothes, hairstyl.t, and makeup
worn by many working-class Mexican American youths
Pachuca Style and Spectacle
Los Angeles
By comparing the

To highlight paci-‘-::.,
pachuca and pachr-ic,r,. -r- -: – 4
with her male counte-::- :, :l
American zoot subcil:–:: ; ai
that was neither “tr–l–. .:-:and pachucos culir
– -” :*
$e ;- ,rl)-made up
T;:l:,-= \-aS a high
;. : r-i -lrat expOSed
-: -=.: These and
– rr, -:- ‘*-artime
;:,::ed it and for
r: ;.::iL
–:: g
a fOCUS On
practice, in

–‘–11g, hair, and
-.:::baSted eafly
during World War II. In other words, I study style politics. Although I define “politics” broadly, like many other students of popular culture I maintain that “style
be subversive, but it can never become a substitute for
direct political campaigning.”e As the cultural critic I(obena Mercer has
argued, for African American zooters in the r94os, “style was not a substitute for politics. But, in the absence of an organtzed direction of black
political discourse and in a situation where blacks were excluded from official channels of ‘democratic’ representation, the logic of style manifested
across cultural surfaces
in everyday life reinforced the terms of shared experience-blackness-and thus a sense of collectivity among a subaltern
social b1oc.”10 Similarly, Robin D. G. I(elley maintains that “while the zoot
suit was not meant as a direct political statement, the social context in
which it was worn rendered it
Followirg Mercer and I(elley, I treat the zootsuit
as a “cultural surface in
life” and “political statement.” What did this cultural surface and
political statement mean in World War Il-era Los AngelesP V/hat shared
experiences did it reinforcel And how did it express a sense of collectivity among Mexican American youthsl In the previous chapter, I analyze
the complicated meanings of the zoot suit for Mexican American women
who wore it or came of age in Los Angeles at the peak of its popula rtty. I
:r -:= :articipation of
: : :::ast, el tacuche
“-i. – -irout an analy-
also study the ways these women engaged wartime public discou rse on la,
pachuca (the iconic pachuca). In this chapter, I focus on this discourse as
-,:-s of gender and
I examine representations of la pachuca, in “official channels”: Angeleno
newspapers, academic treatises, and photographs from the early r94os. I
use these texts to illuminate the social and political milieu in which Mexican American youths wore “rats” arTd draped pants, a context defined in
=: n-here chapter r
*— -:-merican women
S,–=. ::om which they

: .’:-ot. ” this chapter
categories aS it
:l- ‘ “l’ during
the early
great part by fears concerning the instability of class, race, and gender
categories, nonnormative sexualities, juvenile delinquency, and sedition.
By comparing the figure of the pachuca,
cross-dressed pachuca, to three contemporary archetypes-the “feminine
patriot,” Rosie the Riveter (the female war worker), and el pachuco (the
iconic pachuco)-I argue that it came to embody these multiple fears.
To highlight pachucas’ transgressions, I juxtapose the figures of the
pachuca and pachuco. Although rny focus ts la pachuca, I drscuss her along
with her male counterpartin order to emphasize that the wartime Mexican
American zoot subculture was not only
:;:sl-les, and makeup
: *-‘-s in Los Angeles
in particular the figure of the
a raced
gendered proiect, one
that was neither “truly separatist” nor homosocial.i2 Together, pachucas
and pachucos cultivated a style that articulated a distinct working-class,
Pachuca Style and
Mexican American identity shaped by the experience of the Second V7orld
productively (r) frorr: a ::rj
War. However, rather than rejecting conventional (white, middle-class,
(z) as an evidence of
widely acceptable) styles outright, these youths drew upon them and used
tion to appearing as -: –:.. , .

them “in ways that alter[ed] or subvert[ed] their intended use-va1ues.”13 As
a contemporary observer noted, “Looking at the zoot suit, one is impressed
words, appeartng ls7-..–‘,’
by its exoggaration and distortion.”l4 The masculine zoot suit exaggerated
could “keep econon–:
the conventional business suit, while pachucas’ up-dos, pencil-thin eyebrows, and dark lips distorted a look populartzed by some of Hollywood’s
leading ladies of the time, such as Veronica Lake and Carol Lombard. Inspired in part by movie-star gLarnour and enabled by the thriving wartime
economy, young, working-class Mexican American women of the early
r94os laid claim to an American identity, one defined in great part by
leisure, consumption, and the conspicuous occupation of public space. By
doing so, they undermined exclusionary definitions of ladyhood and U.S.
citizenship and, at the same time, forged a noticeable and unsettling collective identity. StudyLng this collective process of identification, along
At the same time
anthropologist Lau:a — l;;
“a symbol of the u’c :-‘ : -1-rl
hours and saved thc-: :-.: I
enjoy a few hours c: – –:- iJ
called that she couic
.:: : :-
juggling multiple : – :. –:d
the hours she passe; -a-. 1:,r
remembers that he :.: -:–l
first zoot suit. His s::: r- l
or eighty dollars’- z :.:-.;:
with “official” responses to it, is crucial to understanding the multivalent
readings of pachuca style by the Mexican American women who created
and observed it, this style’s erasure in cultural production of the Chicano
of trousers, and pa-: -: .:,l
movement, and its eventual recuperation by Chicana feminists.
ond zoot suit on cr.i.-.
rg4os.21 Hower-er. :a-‘–::
As Kelley has nc:::
Leisure and Conspicuous Consumption
A Zoot Suit (for My Sunday Gal)” attests that the zoot suit was emblematic of leisure and conspicuous consumption during World War II.1s In
their “drape shapes” and”hip slips,” zooters couldbe seen dancing on Frid^y and Saturday, then “struttin”‘ (parading) on Sund^y.16 As the historian

ionable ghetto ado:r-:–: : :s
Griffith noted that :=’:r. – 3
elry, and flowers ir:
to serious political subjectivity.”lT However, the consumption of time and
things carried profound, even subversive political significance during the
early war years, a moment when Americans were called upon to forgo
of age in the earlr’ -:
As newspapers, magazines, and newsreels featured stories about heroic
Little’s self-transfc,::: -:-* – :
Malcolm X recollec:s : z- :
rural Michigan. U:::– .—-:
Nan Enstad points out, “Consumer culture can seem inherently opposed
luxury and to make sacrifices for the greater good.
::– –
-: :*e
Th. !scr:l–l-: *i
been forced to u-ear – -,;, = — ,:
pleasure in appearar – -: . rlj
than copy middle-c–.. !-“n
with their “rats,”
enjoyed themselves at the Zenda and Paramount Ballrooms, Pike amuse-
shoes. In doing so. –:-=-.
ment park, or simply at a street corner. In short, they were seen participat-
inactltty.In Theory of the Leisure Class,
Thorstein Veblen reminds us that in leisure, “time is consumed non-
activities, including
Pachuca Style and Spectacle
servicemen overseas and patriotic workers at home, zooters in Los Angeles
irg in leisure
he a-.-,
Indeed, a young.
an especially subr e::-‘,
= S:cond World
productively (r) from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work, and
(z) as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford
life of idleness.”18 In addi-
:i-:m and uSed
tion to appe a:nng as if they deemed “productive work” unworthy-in other
words, appearirg Lazy-zooters demonstrated that they had the ability “to
::: -S impfeSSed
Iri,- :-.:-: exaggefated
afford a life of idleness.” Like the rich, they gave the impression that they
could “keep economic necessity,” such as work, “at arm’s length.”te
At the same time, the zoot suit was far from inexpensive and, as the
anthropologist Laura Lee Cummings points out, it could have been read as
“a symbol of the work ethic and pride. “20 In fact, :many zooters toiled long
ir: :-riing wartime
$, : :-::: of the early
-:- Ereat part by
r* ::-.:ood
and U.S.
.’* n:-: ‘-:nsettling col=: *:CatiOn, alOng
r:-=. :ire multivalent
r, – It–=: u’ho created
hours and saved their money in order to purchase the latest styles and to
enjoy a few hours of fun. As I note in the previous chapter, Dee ChSvez recalled that she could afford only one zoot suit, while Mary Lopezrecounted
juggling multiple jobs both inside and outside the home and relishing
the hours she passed at a tardeada. And in his autobiography, Malcolm X
remembers that he carefully saved his earnings in order to purchase his
first zoot suit. His second one, a sharkskin gray ensemble, cost “seventy
or eighty dollxls”-a remarkable sum of money for a hat, shirt, coat, parr
of trousers, and pair of shoes for a working-class youth durirg the early
rg4os.21 However, rather than saving and scrimpirg, he bought his second zoot suit on credit.
As l(elley has noted, the zoot suit was instrumental in young Malcolm
Little’s self-transformation from country bumpkin to big-city hustler.22
Malcolm X recollects that he was “countrified” when he left his home in
rural Michigan. Upon his arrival in Boston, he quickly acquired “fash-
l-:- dancirg on Fri,’- ,
‘ -Ls the historian
ionable ghetto adornments,” such as his zoot suits .23 Across the country,
r::’ -:’-erently opposed
elry, and flowers in their hair. For :many young women and men who came
time and
of age in the early r94os, the zoot suit and its accessories were signs of
affluence. The boomirg wartime economy allowed a generation that had
upon to forgo
been forced to wear “welfare clothes” dl)rrng the Great Depression to take
Griffith noted that pachucas embellished the zoot look with makeup, iew-
pleasure in appearance and to “put its opulence in eviden
Yet rather
.::,:ies about heroic
than copy middle-class styles, these working-class youths amplified them
– -, in Los Angeles
with their “rats,” heavy makeup, shoulder pads, long coats , andthick-soled
I. :-lrns, Pike amusetr’ ;”.:e seen participat-
shoes. In doing so, they created a distinct style in which spectacle trumped

the Leisure Class,
*:::-: -s consumed
d Mexicon American was
an especially subversive sight to behold in wartime Los Angeles, a city
Ind.eed, a young, well-coiffed, lavishly dresse
Pachuca Style and
such as Malcolm Littie i:::
youths, especially rece:-:
her homemade clothes
a status symbol, a “rne:j-:-:
its wearers were fron- ::-= :
zoot suit was excessi’.-e :’ I
However, to “people o:
Mexican Americans:=:
Profligacy and Perfidy
Even though consun-e:
many young Mexica:. –::-::
like the zoot suit. \.e::
In 1=:-:in :-: *n:
whose most impoverished barrios lacked modern amenities like plumb-
dated a reduction
irg and paved streets. In |une of r g$, while reportirg the Zoot Suit Riots,
photograph of trventy-two-year-o1d Frank H.
men’s clothing and a– =;;,;
control yardage” ani –:-::,
Tellez in his zoot suit. The caption beneath the photo noted that Tellez’s
coat was “part of a $ZS suit” and that his “trousers . . . [were] part of a$+5
form dress design tc :”: ; :i
put restrictions on :-:: r :
the New York Times featured
suit.”26 Meanwhile, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press quoted a pachuca who defiant1y
declared, “l paid $ZS for my outfit and nobody is going to take it off
By flaunting their disposable incomes, pachucas and pachucos underscored the instability of class and race categories. Via their expensive cloth-
in the-: ::::
hats, and balloonirg
a flamboyant look
ti:a: :=-
exigencies of the u’o:–;: -= :=
Pachucas were cha:i
attitude as well. —= l:
irg, they demonstrated that Mexican Americans could and would climb
the socioeconomic ladder. In fact, the Second World War saw increasing
itself was the manne: ‘-:- n”
urbanizatronand proletartanrzation in the United States, especially among
centuated the dark bea’-: . , -:
African Americans and Mexican Americans. To some working-class
all males, light or dar.:”
Pachuca Styl” and Spectacle
– ;’
youths, especially recent transplants from rural areas to urban centers
such as Malcolm Little and Mary L6pez (who proudly recalled to me that
her homemade clothes looked store-bought), the zoot suit functioned as
a status symbol, a “method of advertisement”
in Veblen’s words, because
its wearers were from the city, rather than del rancho (from the ranch).28
However, to “people of tasfs”-namely, the middle and upper classes-the
zoot suit was excessive.2e What the “Ioud” zoot suit announced was that
Mexican Americans-especially second-generation Mexican American
adolescents-would not stay in their place-whether that place was social
(fot example, lower class or subservient) or physical. By ridirg in streetcars and loitering on sidewalks, pachucas and pachucos made themselves
visible in their buenos garras (“cool threads,” “glad rags”). As Eduardo
Obreg6n Pagln argues, they claimed public space for themselves. They
also laid claim to commodities that were considered unessential and even
wasteful, especially when consumed …
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