Two volunteers stepped forward from the crowd, and the man with the microphone handed them an elongated black, zip-closed bag with clothes inside.
They fumbled to unzip it and took turns pulling out the bag’s contents one by one to dress the naked mannequin: a hat, a dress shirt, suspenders, wide-legged trousers that gathered at the bottom and a long coat.
Slowly, it became clear that the ensemble made up a zoot suit.
“The Pachucas and Pachucos had their own unique style,” Chicano and Latino studies professor Nicholas Centino told the crowd at the first Pachuca Swing event presented by the Chicana/o Latina/o Studies Student Association on Friday evening. The association held the fundraiser at the Soroptomist House on campus.
The event was free of charge under one condition: no suit, no swing.
For one night, the backyard of the Soroptomist House became a scene from the ‘40s. Jazz music blared as fedora-capped men adorning zoot suits with chains danced with ladies rocking pompadour up-dos. Contests clarified who was the “most firme,” a Chicano slang term meaning cool, with titles awarded to Most Firme Pachuca, Most Firme Pachuco and Most Firme Couple.
The association sold traditional Mexican foods such as tamales, nachos and arroz con leche and raffled off baskets full of assorted goods as part of the fundraiser.
Not all students in attendance were affiliated with Chicana/o Latina/o studies department or CHLSSA.
Freshman Valerie Garcia, a pre-graphic design major at CSULB, said that she heard about the event earlier that day in her social dance class. Garcia’s dance partner, Francisco Juarez, a sixth year civil engineering major at CSULB, said that they chose to come to the Pachuca Swing event over a night in Los Angeles, unaware that the event was a fundraiser.
“I hope they do more of these because I had a lot of fun,” Garcia said. “If they continue [to have Pachuca Swing nights], I will come.”
Co-president of CHLSSA Janine Solano said that the event served a dual purpose of raising money for their association’s student center on campus and to educate students about Chicano/Latino culture.
Solano said that when people think of Pachucismo, they tend to think of 1940s gangsters that started the Zoot Suit, which is not necessarily the whole story.
“It was a fashion statement—it was a style that Latinos wanted to have,” Solano said, looking around at the guests who were all dressed in Pachuca garb. “Pachucismo is a very misunderstood part of Mexican culture because people either have a negative stigma about it or they have the wrong history.”
Dressed head-to-toe for the occasion was Luis Guerrero, the social chair for CHLSSA.
“The style was a resistance,” Guerrero said. “At the time, Pachucas and Pachucos were seen as unpatriotic vagabonds; they empowered themselves through their suits.”