Document Type

Honors Project


Pachuquismo was a counterculture born in the barrios of East L.A. in the 1940s. Mexican-American youth created their own social group defined by specific clothing (zoot suits), music fusions (mambo and swing), and linguistic dialects (caló). However, on both sides of the U.S. and Mexican border, pachucos had a poor reputation. In the U.S., mainstream media portrayed pachucos as juvenile delinquents and domestic threats. In Mexico, pachucos were mimicked and heavily criticized for their Americanization. In this essay, I identify how U.S. and Mexican mainstream media reacted to pachucos, and what those portrayals can tell us about the imagined national identities in both countries. I use Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities” to address the fluidity and subjective nature of defining “American,” “Mexican,” national or subnational identities. I center my analysis around three main research questions: (1) How did U.S. mainstream media portray pachucos, and what can that tell us about the imagined “American” national identity in the 1940s? (2) How did the Mexican film industry portray pachucos, and what can that tell us about the imagined “Mexican” national identity in the 1940s? (3) How do pachucos portray themselves through their music, and what does this tell us about their self-imagined national identity? To answer these questions, I look at three media sources from the 1940s to analyze the ways pachucos were criminalized, rejected, and celebrated: a Disney cartoon, a Mexican comedy movie, and a music album compiled by pachuco musicians from Los Angeles. Taken together, these sources demonstrate that the U.S. and Mexico were creating imagined national identities that were in direct opposition to each other, and excluded pachucos for their fusion and hybridity. I argue that contrary to the messages in mainstream media, pachucos were not purely rebels without a cause. Pachucos had agency: they asserted their belonging and cleared space for future generations of Mexican-Americans.



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