Response #4

Alexandra Troiano

Professor Alvarez

English 255

1 May 2012

Border Culture: Pachuco Identity in Javier Durán’s “Nation and Translation: The Pachuco in Mexican Popular Culture: Germán Valdéz’s Tin Tan” and Laura L. Cumming’s “Cloth-Wrapped People, Trouble, and Power: Pachuco Culture in the Greater Southwest”

            In the 1940s, in the ghettos of the Southwest United States, a Chicano culture emerged. This “pachuco” culture highlighted the ambivalence of those with mixed cultural identities. The group did divulge into neither Mexican culture nor American culture, but rode the line in between and created a unique border culture. Javier Durán explains how the pachucos found their own place in society:

The pachuco’s strategies of survival – appropriation, transgression, reassemblage, breaking, and restructuring the laws of language with caló and pochismos – are reflected in the codified language of the body (hair style, tattooing, dress, gestures, and dance) and in the equally codified language of space (marking territories with graffiti in the city, the barrio, and the street) (Sanchez -Tranquilino and Tagg)…. all are exaggerated to such a degree that they become an exercise in mimicry…In the case of the pachuco, the camouflage and mimicry make him visible, give him a location in (and out of) culture. (Durán 42-43)

Durán’s use of the word “survival” in the first line implies that the pachuco’s have a life or death obstacle they must overcome in order to “survive.”  Durán notes their strategies of survival as “appropriation, transgression, reassemblage, breaking, and restructuring the laws of language with caló and pochismos.”  According to Durán, the pachuco’s must “appropriate,” take something, in this case “the laws of language,” from those who own it, in order to survive.  They must also “transgress,” or go against these laws, “reassemble,” “break” and “restructure.”  Durán implies that in order to “survive,” or continue to stay alive, the pachuco’s must reclaim and change, through breaking down and reconstructing, the laws of language.  The pachucos reclaim the laws of language “with caló,” a form of “border language” (Durán 42).  According to Durán, the “codified language of the body…and […] the equally codified language of space” displays these “strategies of survival.”  This implies that in addition to reclaiming spoken language, the pachucos reclaim the laws of language of body and space through their “hair style, tattooing, dress, gestures, and dance” and through “marking territories with graffiti in the city…” Clearly, pachuco’s must perform these “strategies” in order to culturally survive. According to Durán, this “codified language” of body and space “became an exercise in mimicry.” The exaggeration of these practices created a culture of excessiveness that “camouflages” the pachucos yet makes them “visible.” These languages of space and body create the pachuco culture and give them “ a location in (and out of) culture.” In other words, the pachuco’s reclaim and rebuild a specific cultural identity that gives them a specific place in culture and society.

            The pachuco’s culture faced negative attitudes from both Mexicans and Americans. In the eyes of Mexicans, pachucos relinquished their Mexican identity for an American culture. In the eyes of American, the pachucos failed to assimilate into American culture and society. Laura L. Cumming presents both views in this excerpt:

In Mexico the existence of pachucos has been attributed to cultural contamination […] from the United States. Other causes cited are “disintegration of the family,” ignorance, lack of culture, lack of responsibility, lack of respect, laziness, brutishness […] In the United States, the existence of pachucos and pachucas has been attributed to crowded conditions, language problems, “normal” urban dynamics, and “incomplete acculturation. (Cummings 331)

Cummings presents two views of the pachuco’s culture, the view from people in Mexico and the view of people in the United States; both “Mexico” and the “United States” view pachucos in a negative light.  According to Cummings, Mexicans attributes the birth of pachuco culture “to cultural contamination,” or the presence of American culture. Mexicans also attributes the existence of the pachuco culture to “‘disintegration of the family,’ ignorance, lack of culture, lack of responsibility, lack of respect, laziness, brutishness.” Evidently, “Mexico” associates the pachucos with negative attributes and most importantly, “lack of culture.” On the other hand, “the United States” attributes the birth of pachuco culture to “crowded conditions, language problems, ‘normal’ urban dynamics, and ‘incomplete acculturation’.” While Mexico sees pachucos as a contamination of American culture and lack of native culture, the United States sees pachucos as “incomplete acculturation,” not completely assimilated.

Works Cited

 Durán, Javier. “Nation and Translation: The “Pachuco” in Mexican Popular Culture: Germán Valdéz’s Tin Tan.” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 35.2 (2002): 41-49. JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2012.

Cummings, Laura L. “Cloth-Wrapped People, Trouble, and Power: Pachuco Culture in the Greater Southwest.” Journal of the Southwest 45.3 (2003): 329-348. JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2012.

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