What is the significance/meaning of El Pachuco's quote in the beginning of the play? (quote starts with "Ladies and gentlemen the play you are about to see is a construct of fact and fantasy...")
Luis Valdez’s play Zoot Suit was inspired by the Mexican American immigrant experience during the 1930s and 1940s, an experience that included racial discrimination at the hands of the country’s Caucasian majority and anti-Mexican riots that broke out in Los Angeles in 1943. As with many books, films, and plays inspired by actual events, Valdez employed “poetic license” in shaping his story of one particular Mexican American, Henry Reyna, the play’s protagonist. Henry is not only the play’s protagonist; he serves as the personification of the Latin American archetype of Los Angeles during the period portrayed. That archetype was characterized by the “zoot suit,” a colorful suit with high-waisted baggy pants and a prominent coat with wide lapels. Zoot suits were a symbol of heritage as well as of outsider status in America.
While Zoot Suit is based upon real-life events, it is a work of fiction. That is why, in the play’s opening scene, the character Pachuco addresses the audience with the following comment:
“Ladies and gentlemen
the play you are about to see
is a construct of fact and fantasy.”
El Pachuco is an amalgam of literary devices. He serves as a sort of Greek chorus and narrator while also injecting himself directly into the action, in which he plays the roles of devil/temptation and angel/conscience. It is in his role as narrator that El Pachuco, shifting from Spanish into English in his opening monologue to address the likely English-speaking audience, notes that the play that is about to be performed is a mixture of fact and “fantasy,” denoting his own fantastical role in the production.
In this quote, El Pachuco reveals his role throughout the play. He also explains the importance of the archetype "pachuco" in Chicano culture. Essentially, he sets up the ideas of freedom, control, and power that will permeate the narrative.
El Pachuco presides over the entire play, acting as Henry's alter ego. He interrupts the action or speaks to the audience directly, and sings narration at different points. El Pachuco is the consummate Mexican-American pachuco figure, a zoot-suiter who is tough, cool, slick, and defiant. He tells it like it is and is meticulous and vain about his appearance.
The author explained the role of El Pachuco this way: "The Pachuco is the Jungian self-image, the superego if you will, the power inside every individual that's greater than any human institution.... I dressed the Pachuco in the colors of Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of education, the dean of the school of hard knocks." El Pachuco achieves mythic proportions when he is stripped of his zoot suit by the Anglo rioters. Dressed only in a loincloth, he adopts a regal majesty as he exits, walking backward, from the stage. When he returns, he is not content to accept the damning prediction that Henry will return to prison. At his prompting, the other characters recite alternative futures for Henry. He controls the action of the play and embroiders the events of Henry's life.
El Pachuco's quote is significant in the sense that it highlights his role as a compensating fantasy figure throughout the play. El Pachuco's role is to emphasize the strength of the human spirit as "an awesome force eluding all documentation."
Essentially, El Pachuco's proclamation that the play is a "construct of fact and fantasy" alerts us to the importance of a compensating fantasy figure, one who embodies Chicano masculinity and defiance. This mythic figure is both "profane and reverential"; it defies stereotype and transcends persecution. El Pachuco is a redemptive figure, an inspiring presence who is not circumscribed by prejudice, fear, or pain.
El Pachuco's indefinable presence in the play is a nod to the "secret fantasy of every bato in or out of the Chicanada...to play the Myth." Here, the Myth represents the average Chicano's ability to transcend the challenges of racism and oppression and to emerge a victor in the struggle for equality and social relevance. By highlighting the play as a "construct of fact and fantasy," El Pachuco invites the reader to decide how he will interpret Henry's story. Therefore, El Pachuco's quote highlights the importance of inspiration as a motivating influence on the human psyche.