Keeping it snappy
Mexico City, Mexico
By Henry Romero
When I saw him walking in his baby blue suit, I immediately recognized the dancer in him – the Mambo move in his hips, his Danzon step, his sense of swing as he walked amongst the hundreds of people rushing past.
Pachuco Nereidas and I had agreed to meet after I encountered him in the Los Angeles dance hall of Mexico City. I was intrigued by the sub-culture of men like him, who are known as “Pachucos”. Their elegant attire, their passion for dancing, and their gentlemanly behavior reminded me of myself when I was a teenager back in Cali, Colombia.
Dancing is part of everyday life, especially in Cali. We would get dressed in tailor-made flares and shirts, and go to a dance hall every Saturday night with a group of friends.
We behaved like real gentlemen towards the ladies and they loved it. Those were the times when you would send girls messages on “esquelas”, little colored cards sometimes in the shape of hearts, to invite them to go out or come to a dance.
Some say that “Pachuco” comes from the Nahuatl word “Pachoacan”, which means “place where one rules.” Maybe that was an important statement to make for the Mexican migrants who are supposed to have popularized this movement, while living in the racist and hostile environment of segregated Los Angeles neighborhoods in the 1930s and 40s.
Many modern Pachucos continue the customs of their fathers or uncles who crossed the border many decades ago, and they use the outfit not only to go dancing but also as a sign of continuing protest against the treatment of Mexican immigrants in the United States. The length of the chain that holds their pocket watch represents to many Pachucos today the length of discrimination Mexican migrants have suffered – and continue to suffer – north of the border.
And Pachucos spend a lot of money on their passion and their statements. Everything from the suit to the shoes is handmade and can cost a small fortune – the shoes can be anything from $60 to $120, the suits some $300, each shirt another $30, the hats between $40 and $130. It adds up little by little, especially when you have several dozen outfits like my Pachuco friend Jose de Jesus Gonzalez de la Rosa, a.k.a. Pachuco Nereidas.
But the money pays off in style. I wouldn’t mind getting some of those beautifully handcrafted two-tone shoes myself and heading out to the dance floor one more time.