The real Orange County

Got a spicy question about Mexicans?
Letters will be edited for clarity cabrones—unless you’re a racist pendejo. And include a hilarious pseudonym, por favor, or we’ll make one up for you!

Dear Readers: The Mexican’s new book, Orange County: A Personal History, is in bookstores 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 forgot to explain the word’s origins. Thankfully, many of ustedes aren’t tontos like me and wrote in with etymological theories. Below are the two most accepted by linguists:

Hey, ese: I liked your explanation about pachucos. One correction, however: They’re called pachucos because the vatos in East Los Angeles originated from a neighborhood in El Paso, Texas, which was primarily populated by folks who had emigrated from Pachuca, Hidalgo. Those vatos were the first ones to begin la moda that ultimately became the zoot suit.

—Sacra Memo

I appreciated your explanation of the word “pachuco,” noting that it is derived from our reference to our beloved city of El Paso, Texas.

I do want to mention that you omitted Lalo Guerrero in your reference to the pachucismo that our youth in those days embraced. He is often called the Original Chicano, and he owned a nightclub in East L.A. that was all the rage for pachucos and their rucas during that period of time.

—Chuco Suave

Dear Gabacho: 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), stuff so scintillating it makes Gene Krupa seem as tame as the Mills Brothers.

Now, on to a question:

Dear Mexican: Why, despite the richest of Spanish colonial, Mexican-era heritages and histories in California, is Orange County so seriously lacking in public awareness and presentation of that history? Sure, we have a few streets named after mis primos—Yorbas, Avilas, etc.—but where are the park statues of vaqueros y mujeres, the replica carettas, the public PA systems blaring “This Land Was Our Land” in Spanish? 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 precedent to the more-famous Brown v. Board of Education. This is a landmark in American civil rights, an important part of the American experience, yet for decades, the only history book that mentioned it was Carey McWilliams’ 1949 North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States. In Orange County last year, original plaintiff Sylvia Mendez asked to be included in Huntington Beach’s Fourth of July parade but was rejected because organizers said she didn’t provide enough entertainment! The contributions of wabs to our national tapestry are traditionally neglected outside of conquistadors and Manifest Destiny for the same reason why other subaltern histories get short shrift: Any examination forces gabachos to deal with the actions of their ancestors. Know Nothings argue 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 did their damn job.