Pachuco painting by Ana B. Chavez
I, Roberto Gomez, was a pachuco. I bet the first thing you
thought was big, violent, Mexican. All I can really say is that you
thought wrong. I am 71 right now. I was born in 1926 and I was 16 in
1942. I grew up in the age of pachucos. I'm going to start my story when I
was accepted into my so called "other familia."
The year, as I said, was 1942. I was hanging around the corner store
when I saw one of my best carnales. Extending my hand he shook it
as a gesture of respect, pride, love, and unity of our friendship. Jimmy
and I have been friends since 1-C. We've been through everything
together. I was stunned at the threads he was wearing. He had on a black
suit with pin stripes and a chain that started at his hip and ended at his
"Where did you get those clothes, carnal?" I asked.
"I got them downtown, ese."
He said it so nonchalantly that it seemed as if it were no big deal to be
the best dressed in all of Barrio Hollywood. I remember I was about to say
something else but that's when two other vatos walked out of the store like
they owned the place. They were dressed the same as Jimmy. One of them
asked Jimmy who I was. I remember the voice was that of a ruler or a
leader. It had a distinct spark that made you listen to him.
Jimmy said, "This is my carnal, Roberto Gomez."
I nodded my head in his direction. He looked me up and down. Finally he
spoke, "Do you like the way I'm dressed, ese?"
"Well, you want to be one of our carnales? You have to be down
with our cliqua, but you can't be afraid to throw your fists up when
you have to."
"Don't worry, ese." I guess he could read my mind because, you
see, I wasn't much of a fighter -- I was more of a ladies' man. "We hardly
ever fight," the leader said. "You think I want to get this suit dirty?
Chale! I want to look good for the rucas."
"Simon," I said with a slight chuckle.
Jimmy spoke up, "Hey, ese, meet us at the river at five o'clock,
we'll fill you in on what's going on in the barrio."
As they walked away from me I saw that the way they were dressed didn't
fit with their environment-the unpaved streets, the cars spilling oil on
the people's front yards. They seemed like they belonged in the real
Hollywood, the one in California. I couldn't wait to meet them at the
river. I went home and waited till five.
I remember walking out of the house at about 4:45. Walking through one of
the alleys I saw Mrs. Lopez tending to her chiltepin plants and Mr. Romero
working on his corn crop. Reaching the river I looked around and saw no
one. Then I looked into the river and saw Jimmy and the two other vatos
from the store standing around and looking dignified. They spotted me and
with a gesture of Jimmy's hand, waved me down to the river bed. The
leader's name was Beto, and his carnal was Frankie, a good fighter who was
Beto's right hand man. Then I saw that they had an extra suit. "Here you
go holmes." I took the suit with pride. I stripped down and put it on. It
Beto said: "Now you are a true carnal."
Everybody shook my hand to welcome me into the cliqua. I remember
at everyone and I remember them pointing toward the top of the river.
"Here comes the other Hollywood cliqua," Frankie said, disgusted.
The five of them walked up to us and we all stood there staring at each
other. Finally the one who seemed to be the leader spoke up, "Who's the
chavala that joined the fake Hollywood cliqua?"
"Roberto Gomez, ese, and I'm not no chavala, punk."
"We'll see if you're not a chavala." He motioned to one of the guys
behind him. "Paco, show this punk how we do it in Hollywood."
He nodded to me, and I nodded back. I took off my suit and handed it to
Jimmy. "Watch out," he said. "This punk can fight."
We danced around each other while everyone looked on. "Let's go,
chavala, make your move." Believe me, he made his move. He threw
a straight right punch that landed on my nose. I shook it off but I felt
something pouring down my mouth and my neck. Blood. He busted my nose.
Filled with all the rage and anger that had been bottled up inside from
all the discrimination against my Chicano people, I dove toward him,
landing punches on his temple, nose, jaw, and neck. By the time Beto and
Frankie pulled me off of Paco, he was bleeding from most of the places I
had hit. Everyone from my cliqua shook my hands and were proud of
Now I am old and too tired to be running around in the barrio fighting
other guys for recognition and respect. Jimmy moved to Northern California
to get away from all the violence there is today; he grew old with five
children running around the house. Beto was diagnosed with cancer at the
age of 35, he died at the age of 38. Frankie changed his ways and became a
college professor in Chicano history; last I heard he was working at
Georgetown. I'm trying to take it day by day, trying to wake up alive in my
old home. Trying to keep the spirit within my old body. As I look around
at all the teenagers running around killing each other and using drugs, I
see that all the cliquas have lost their meaning -- the meanings of
unity, pride, love, and companionship.