Author: Luis Miguel Valdez
First published: 1992
Locale: Los Angeles, California
Time: The 1940's
El Pachuco (pah-CHEW-koh), a mythical figure, the zoot-suited spirit of the Pachucos, alienated gangs of Mexican American youth living in the Los Angeles area. A rebellious, street-smart, young Chicano, El Pachuco is master of ceremonies of this play set in the World War II years, as well as a leading figure, chorus, and the alter ego of Hank Reyna. In his “cool” outfit (long jacket, baggy trousers, and lengthy watch chain), El Pachuco preaches, with bitter humor, fidelity to one's own culture and language and defiance of the Anglos. It is the Anglos, Americans not of Mexican origin, who seek to control the lives of his people (la Raza), robbing them of ethnic pride and manhood while exploiting them and discriminating against anyone with a brown skin.
Henry (Hank) Reyna (RRAY-nah), a twenty-one-year-old Chicano with Indian features, the gang leader of the Thirty-eighth Street Pachucos. Hank is arrested on the eve of joining the Navy, along with a number of other gang members, for the alleged murder of a Chicano one summer night in 1943 at a lakeside gathering spot. He is convicted in a rigged trial. Rebellious, angry, and resentful of authority, which represents for him discrimination against Chicanos, Hank does nothing to placate those in control of his fate. Although he presents an impenetrable façade to his persecutors and jailers, Hank is extremely confused about his own identity as an American in a country at war that regards him, too, as a foreign enemy. In his puzzled state, Hank seeks guidance from El Pachuco, who urges rejection of America and faith in his own heritage. After a successful appeal and release from prison, Hank remains uncertain whether integration into American life or rejection of it is the answer for himself and his people.
George Shearer, a dedicated yet realistic young public service lawyer. George volunteers to defend the Pachucos in their murder trial, convinced that they are victims of racial prejudice and irrational war hysteria. He finds, however, that before he can help them he must first overcome Chicano mistrust of him; he is, in their eyes, just another “gringo.” During a ludicrously one-sided trial, the judge badgers George mercilessly, making no effort at impartiality, while the Press convicts the young Chicanos in the pages of Los Angeles newspapers. When a guilty verdict is handed down despite his best efforts, George plans an appeal but is drafted into the Army before he can proceed.
Alice Bloomfield, an attractive young Jewish activist and leftist reporter who organizes the Pachucos'defense effort after their original conviction by raising funds and enlisting the support of American liberals, including prominent Hollywood figures. An uncertain relationship begins between her and Hank in the months she works in behalf of his cause. The gap between their backgrounds, Hank's alienation and anger, and his commitment to Della, a Mexican American girl, make it unclear whether the two young people have a future together.
Rudy Reyna, Henry Reyna's hero-worshiping younger brother, who longs to don his own zoot suit, which for him is the symbol of manhood and defiance of Anglo hegemony. A marauding band of servicemen strip Rudy of his flamboyant zoot suit and his dignity as they rampage through the streets looking for brown-skinned “foreigners” who, they believe, do not sufficiently respect the American way of life in wartime.
Enrique Reyna (ehn-REE-keh), Dolores Reyna, Lupe Reyna (LEW-peh), and Della Barrios (DEH-yah BAHrree-ohs), Hank's family and girlfriend, who support and sustain him.
The Press, the malevolent forces of yellow journalism that perpetuate feelings of Anglo racial superiority against Chicanos and incite injustices.