Response #5

Alexandra Troiano

Professor Alvarez

English 255

12 May 2012

Reclaiming Identity: Performing and Mimicking a Pachuco Border Culture in Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera

Abstract

            The pachuco culture that emerged in the 1940s Southwest United States highlighted the ambivalence of those with mixed cultural identities. In my essay I will suggest the ways in which the group divulges into neither Mexican culture nor American culture, but rides the line in between and creates a unique border culture. In my essay, I will analyze Javier Durán’s “Nation and Translation: The “Pachuco” in Mexican Popular Culture: Germán Valdéz’s Tin Tan” to suggest the practices of the pachucos create a culture of excessiveness that both hides and exposes the pachucos in society. Luis Valdez’s “Zoot Suit” clearly expresses the practice of the pachuco culture as well as the notion that the pachuco culture represents a hybrid of two cultural worlds through the use of “Spanglish.” I will analyze this cultural identity through the lens of Judith Butler’s notion of the “performative.” In other words, I suggest the ways in which pachucos perform identity.  The pachuco’s reclaim and rebuild a specific cultural identity that gives them a specific place in culture and society. I will discuss Gloria Anzaldúa’s “Borderlands/La Frontera” and the ways in which her ideas of “border culture” parallel the ambiguity of the pachuco culture.

PIE

            In Gloria Anzaldúa’s excerpt from Borderlands/La Frontera, Anzaldúa addresses the U.S – Mexican border as not only a literal division, but also a metaphorical border “where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds” (1493).  The tension creates in the “border,” both literally and metaphorically parallel the tension created by the pachuco culture. Durán discusses how the pachuco represents this “border culture” linguistically and culturally:

As a “border crossing” subject […] the pachuco is constantly translating cultural, linguistic, and economic realities on both sides of the border. Appropriating a constructed border language-slang (caló) -that is already a reflection of the multiple realities they inhabit, pachucos translate culture and politics into a theatrical performance […] so as to produce and represent the unstable, marginalized, and marginal conditions of existence on these multiple borders, both in reality and as cultural metaphor. (Durán 42)

Durán refers to the pachuco as a “border crossing” subject, implying the pachuco’s inhabitance of not American or Mexican culture, but rather an “in-between” culture, or “border culture.”  According to Durán, the pachuco “translates cultural, linguistic, and economic realities” on both the American and Mexican side of the border. The word “translates” places important on the pachuco’s unique language, “caló, or a mixture of both Spanish and English slang; “a reflection of the multiple realities they inhabit.” Through this mixed language, the pachuco clearly does not inhabit one culture or the other, but a mixture of the two, a unique language and “reality.”  Pachuco not only translate language, but also “culture and politics into a theatrical performance.” Durán implies the notion that the pachuco identity is somewhat “performed,” or fabricated, to represent their “marginalized” condition.  In other words, the performance of their identity, linguistically and culturally, allows their culture to represent their “border culture” clearly in society. Durán uses the words “unstable, marginalized, and marginal conditions” to describe the pachuco’s condition.  Clearly, society marginalizes or pushes the pachuco to the outskirts of society because of the culture’s unique representation of the border.  Durán emphasizes the use of the “performance” of this liminal state of the pachuco allows the pachuco to represent this marginalization.

Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria. “From Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.” The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 1491-1508. Print.

Butler, Judith. “From Gender Trouble.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Eds. Vincent B. Leitch et al. New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2010. 2540-2553. Print.

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. Web. 1 May 2012.

Valdez, Luis. “Zoot Suit.” The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 1246-1300. Print.

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