Yeah, never forget that the whip snapped your back
Your spine cracked for tobacco, oh I'm the Marlboro man, uh
Our past blastin' on through the verses
Brigades of taxi cabs rollin' Broadway like hearses
Troops strippin' zoots, shots of red mist,
Sailors blood on the deck, come sista resist
From the era of terror check this photo lens,
Now the city of angels does the ethnic cleanse
Heads bobbin' to the funk out your speaker, on the one Maya, Mexica
That vulture came to try and steal your name
But now you found a gun, you're history, this is for the people of the sun.
--Zach De La Rocha, "People of the Sun"
When I heard them play this song at Coachella, Zach called out, "What up, raza?" My blood started to pump and I almost wanted to cry with pride.
Every time Zach raps, "Troops strippin' Zoots", I always think of my grandfather, my mama's dad. He wasn't a gangster, or a cholo. He was a zoot-suiter, a pachuco. Probably because it was the hip thing to be. It's what was in style at the time, in the early 1940's.
My mom often tells the story about how he would wear his zoot suit, how he stood a tall six foot one, with curly hair and a handsome face. Sadly, he would have to be very careful and strategic when he made his way home because there were always white soldiers home on leave, looking for any brown-skinned man with a pompadour and a zoot suit to beat up. They would assault them and then strip them of their fashionable attire. How degrading. It makes me infuriated every time I think of it.
I think of the movie Zoot Suit, how Daniel Valdez's character is innocently getting ready for a night out on the town, ironing and making sure his creases are straight. His mother calls him from the kitchen to eat dinner and he heats up a tortilla and makes himself a taco. Little did he know what would happen to him that night, unfairly accused of killing a man at Sleepy Lagoon. Then there were the flashback scenes from American Me, when Edward James Olmos' father is in a tattoo shop, decked out in his zoot suit. Riots break out, sailors come in and attack them and rape his mother. It's such a sad legacy. But the movies vividly portray the times.
Little did my grandfather know--as he crept through the streets of East L.A., trying to get home safely--he would marry a beautiful, curvy woman who people called Honey...she was also his neighbor. Together they would share seven children. They would eventually own a rancho, complete with cows, horses, chickens, geese, turkeys, and pigs. Later, there would be twenty-five grandchildren. And later still, forty-nine great-grandchildren.
I look at this photo of my grandfather and I always feel an immense swell of love and pride.