"I love to live, and I live to dance!" Eduardo Carrasco says. Anybody who has attended the swing dances at the USS Hornet in Alameda has probably seen the 79-year-old bopping to the big bands in his zoot suit. In recent years, Eduardo's story has gotten some exposure thanks to the Oakland Museum's Latino Oral History Project, who have documented the tale of this true-blue pachuco.
"I'm an original pachuco from El Chuco," says Carrasco, who grew up in the notorious Segundo Barrio neighborhood of El Chuco, as El Paso, Texas is called in the calo jargon of the young Mexican-American zoot-suiters. "It was Tin Tan [German Valdes] who started it all. He was from Juárez, and went on to become a famous comedian in Mexican movies. He wore a zoot suit, and we picked up on that."
This Sunday, Carrasco will be in full pachuco regalia, dancing up a storm for Fruitvale's Eighth Annual Day of the Dead Festival. He will be part of Dr. Loco's Pachuco Boogie Revue featuring his Rockin' Jalapeño Band and the legendary Don Tosti (Edmundo Martinez). For Carrasco, this mid-afternoon performance at the Fruitvale Stage is a flashback to his coming of age in the early 1940s, when he boogied from El Paso to West Oakland to work in the shipyards during WWII. On Sundays he danced at Sweet's Ballroom, at the famous tardeada afternoon dances. He saw Count Basie, Harry James, and Xavier Cugat. The fledgling boxer talked the lingo, wore the clothes, and got in a scuffle or two.
But in 1943 Eduardo saw a picture on the cover of Life magazine of a friend, Jose Salas, from El Paso, whom he nicknamed "Alley Oop." The image showed Salas stripped of his zoot suit and left naked, beaten, and humiliated on the street. In May and June 1943 the infamous Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles had begun as sailors, soldiers, and Marines went on a rampage looking for supposedly unpatriotic zoot-suiters.
"I didn't like that!" Eduardo says. "Jose was in the Navy but wasn't in uniform, and just happened to have his zoot suit on.
I was nineteen and cocky. I was boxing a little and even took a knife with me. When I got off the Greyhound Bus at Olivera Street in LA, there was this crowd there who told me to go back. They eventually made a wall and wouldn't let me get through, yelling 'pa'tras' [go back]. They stopped me. So I didn't see any action at all."
At Fruitvale's Day of the Dead Celebration, stories and people from Oakland's rich Mexican-American past are remembered. Altars to the dearly departed abound, and five stages host Bay Area musical groups, including O-Maya, Mystique, and Orixa. The late salsa queen Celia Cruz is to be honored, and tours of the new Fruitvale Transit Village will be ongoing. But it's Dr. Loco's Pachuco Boogie Revue, with Carrasco and Tosti, that will summon the spirits of pachucos and pachucas past to this daylong festival for one more boogie around the block.
The action takes place on International Boulevard between Fruitvale and 40th Avenue, Oakland, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Call 510-535-6900 or visit UnityCouncil.org for further information.
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