Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
We are aware of an internet issue impacting our KRTS 93.5 signal and are working to resolve it.

That’s a pachuco!


This episode features one of the most iconic words in Caló, pachuco. Its origin is uncertain, as there are competing versions of its genesis, and it stands on another term of uncertain origin, Chuco, which is the Caló word for El Paso-Juarez, where the culture of Caló has always been very strong. One version of the origin of pachuco is that it’s a contraction for the term para el Chuco or pa’chuco, which means to or for el Chuco, as in she’s moving to or becoming like somebody from El Chuco.

“Why do they dress like that?” a very young El Low Rider asked his mother as they were walking to the open-air market in OJ.

“They’re trying to dress like Tintán Valdez, the actor who comes out in movies from Mexico City as a pachuco,” replied his mother, an elderly woman.

“What’s that, bachuco?” little El Low Rider asked.

He’d never heard that term before.

“Pachuco, son. It means people from Juaritos, where Tintán’s from, who dress in baggy clothes and speak in Caló so nobody understands what they’re saying except other pachucos,” his mother patiently answered him.

“Why don’t they want others to understand them,” little El Low Rider persisted.

“Because they want to live different than everybody. Them in their world and everybody else in another world,” his mother explained.

Little El Low Rider kept silent but kept trudging over the gravel built up on the lanes in the dirt road leading to the market with his mother.

“What’s a world?” the question came up in his mind involuntarily.

A little while later, they passed a group of men idling at a car repair garage.

“Are those pachucos?” little El Low Rider asked.

“No. They’re just men waiting for their cars to be fixed,” his mother answered.

Further on their way, they passed a group of teenage boys hovering around a street bench.

“Those pachucos, mamá?” little El Low Rider asked again.

“No,” his mother said.

“And them?” little El Low Rider pointed at a slow-moving car packed with young men, their radio at high volume blasting out the latest in Lorenzo de Monteclaro.

His mother contemplated what she was seeing briefly.

“No those are just a ball of chundos, madreandose,” she replied.

Little El Low Rider gave up. He didn’t know who the pachucos were. Maybe there weren’t any in OJ.

The market soon came into view. But before he could fully form his next thought, his mother stopped and pulled him close to her.

“Mira, that’s a pachuco,” she announced, pointing to a poster of a man in a zoot suit with a long white plume lashed to a zorro-looking hat casting a silhouette on an ally wall.

Boy was star struck.

“Why do they dress like that?” he asked his mother again.

“Must be they like looking like alley bandits,” she responded sarcastically.

“That’s their world?” little El Low Rider said, mostly to himself.

His mother nodded.

Little El Low Rider didn’t say anything more but smiled widely at the poster.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.