Octavio Paz opens his first chapter with a claim: each one of us believes that our existence is unique—that we are special—and that this often occurs during our adolescence. Whereas children and adults can escape into the world of work or play, however, the adolescent is trapped in the middle....
Octavio Paz opens his first chapter with a claim: each one of us believes that our existence is unique—that we are special—and that this often occurs during our adolescence. Whereas children and adults can escape into the world of work or play, however, the adolescent is trapped in the middle. Paz transposes this existential doubt into nations and peoples at certain levels of development. Answers, like people, are mutable depending on the situation and temporality.
Paz then segues into the existence of Mexican Americans in Los Angeles, whom he calls pachucos, akin to a pendulum that ‘has lost its reason and swings violently and erratically back and forth.’ The pachucos are youths of Mexican origin who band together to form gangs in southern cities. They possess an ‘obstinate, almost fanatical will-to-be,’ but their identity revolves around their determination ‘not to be like those around them.’ An identity that relies on negatives is a tenuous one at best.
His whole being is sheer negative impulse, a tangle of contradictions, an enigma.
The word pachuco reflects his ambivalent identity, ‘saying nothing and saying everything.’ In contrast to African Americans, the pachucos are obstinate as regards sticking to their ‘identity,’ so they flaunt their differences. Paz describes the fashion and the society of the pachuco, which show the ‘obvious ambiguity’ of his identity:
[H]is clothing spotlights and isolates him, but at the same time it is paying homage to the society he is attempting to deny.
Instead of assimilating with the American way of life, the pachuco also tries to stand out by virtue of trying to cause terror, because it ‘is the only way he can establish a more vital relationship with the society he is antagonizing.’ The pachuco is a sadist of sorts but also a masochist: he tries to defy the society that has adopted him instead of uniting with it.
Persecution redeems him and breaks his solitude: his salvation depends on his becoming part of the very society he appears to deny.
In spite of this, however, solitude slowly returns to and permeates the existence of the pachuco. They are truly different and also truly alone.