The Texanist Asks, “Why IS El Paso Called ‘Chuco Town’? “
In the May issue of Texas Monthly David Courtney, who writes The Texasnist column, gets to the bottom of why El Paso is called “El Chuco” or “Chuco Town”.
There are two main claims about the Chuco sobriquet. The first one is that it’s a shortened version of “Pachuco”. The second is that it’s a misunderstanding about an El Paso sign that could be seen from Juarez. The first version is almost certainly the correct answer.
They refer to Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles in the 1930s and 40s known for their flamboyant style of dress, hairstyle, and love of jazz and swing. Do you know that song by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies called “Zoot Suit Riots”? The lead singer in that video is wearing a bright blue zoot suit.
Also, every cartoon wolf you’ve seen with his eyes actually shooting out of their sockets while making an “AyOOOGa” sound effect was probably wearing a zoot suit.
The song “Zoot Suit Riot” is actually based on a series of confrontations that happened in L.A. in 1943. The short version is that American soldiers and sailors on leave got into it with some youths who were dressed in the zoot suit or “Pachuco” style.
The soldiers say the Pachucos started it and the zoot suiters say the soldiers attacked THEM. However, it STARTED, within the next few days THOUSANDS of servicemen and white residents marched down the streets, entered bars, and physically assaulted any Mexican American young men they saw wearing zoot suits.
No servicemen were arrested in the assaults and there were reports that uniformed police also took part in the attacks. But, don’t worry... the Los Angeles City Council took swift action: they voted to make zoot suits illegal within the city limits.
So, it really seems that “Chuco” came from “Pachuco”. But where did “pachuco” come from? This is where the second theory comes into play.
This is the theory that ties “pachuco” with El Paso. The story goes that in the 1930s and ‘40s there was a sign in downtown El Paso that said, “Shoe Co.”. People migrating from Juarez to the U.S. would refer to the sign when they would say, in Spanish, that they were going “pa’ El Shoe Co”. Said quickly, that would sound like “pachuco”.
“Chuco” is probably derived from “pachuco”. Did “pachuco”, in turn, come from the “Shoe Co.” sign? Possibly.
“Shoe Co.” sounds like it could have been a joke made up after the fact. I couldn’t find any definitive photographic proof or first-hand eyewitness accounts, though.