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Column: Don’t Make the ‘Bato Loco’ Go the Way of the Zoot Suiter

A bato loco is a zoot suiter with a social conscience.

He may be an ex-con, a marijuana smoker and dangerously defiant. But the difference between the zoot suiter or pachuco of the early 40’s and a present bato loco, literally a crazy guy, is that the bato loco is experiencing a social revolution and so is learning and liking political power.

The difference is so important that unless we understand it we can contribute toward reverting the bato loco to an anarchistic zoot suiter.

An anarchistic zoot suiter, as we learned just before World War II, can be easily driven to violence. A bato loco, though impossible to convert into an Eagle Scout, can be dealt with on a political basis.

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Because of the civil rights revolution, the so-called Establishment has deemed it necessary to accept innovations ranging from Head Start to Chicano Studies.

A countering “silent majority” revolution, however, is trying to reverse this acceptance and the trend today is to junk social innovations because, it is felt, they only “pamper” militants.

What we must realize is that it is easier to open a Pandora’s box than to close it.

The economy slowdown, the lingering Vietnam War and surging “hard hat” militancy are beginning to strip the bato loco of his newly gained social conscience.

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“The gabacho (white man) never really changes,” a bato loco said recently. “He gives you an inch and takes away a yard.”

It is easy to understand the silent majority’s frustration with high taxes, disrespectful militancy and seemingly unending social innovations. But to the bato loco in the barrio this frustration is a luxury which he cannot afford and does not understand.

All the bato loco knows is that things were looking up for a while and that unlike his zoot-suiter predecessor he could get involved in such projects as the Neighborhood Adult Participation Project. Now he knows the heat is on and that such projects are being condemned by political and law-and-order leaders as subversive and money-wasting.

Stripped of his potential political power—and that, after all, is what barrio and ghetto social innovations produce—the bato loco has no way to go but to the dangerous shell of an anarchistic zoot suiter.

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Recently, a front-page story appeared, in of all places, the Wall Street Journal, which warns of possible violence in the Southwest’s Chicano barrios.

According to the newspaper, Jose Angel Guitierrez, a Texas Chicano activist who holds a master’s degree in political science, said that “It’s too late for the gringo to make amends. Violence has got to com.”

This may sound scandalously alarming but the mood in the barrio seems to back it up.

This mood is not being helped by our political and law-and-order leaders who are trying to discredit militants in the barrios as subversive or criminal.

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In the traditionally quiet town of Pomona, for instance, a crowd of Mexican-American parents, not known for their civic participation, recently applauded Brown Beret speakers.

The importance of this is that a year it would be impossible to find Mexican-American parents hobnobbing with Brown Berets. Police chiefs, mayors and other leaders must learn they can no longer discredit a movement by just pointing out that the Brown Berets, or any other militant group, are involved.

In other words, whether we like it or not, Brown Berets are gaining the respect of barrio people at the expense of traditional mores.

But perhaps more importantly, the Mexican-American establishment is finding it more difficult every day to community with barrio Chicanos.

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Before we scrap all the social innovations which gave the bato loco hope we should probe the probable consequences.


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