Pachuco Book Review

Book Review
Title: Pachuco
Author: Shaw, Weldon
Copyright Date: January 2015
Illustrator: Unknown
Number of Pages: 317
Fiction, History, Latino Studies, Criminal Justice, Sociology, Chicano Studies
Pachuco is an intriguing fictional odyssey that takes readers on an enlightening tour of essential
facets of the Latino cultural experience in the East Los Angeles community. A former
correctional officer, gang investigator and parent, Shaw has produced an exceptional treatise on
the circumstances that are conducive to crime in this geographic center of the Chicano
experience. Octogenarian character, Emilio Cerna starts the reader with an overview of the early
years of the East Los Angeles area beginning with a detailed account of the hardships his
grandparents endured during their migratory trek from Chihuahua, Mexico to East Los Angeles.
Shaw devotes a great deal of the early book to an in-depth narrative of the family’s journey
through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in route California. The excruciating detail Shaw
utilized when describing the perils of extreme heat, dehydration, bandits, and rattlesnakes,
transformed readers into the experience of these travelers aspiring for a better life. Through this
immersion in the struggle of Jose Cerna’s family, readers are compelled to examine their own
lives bursting at the seams with opportunity, when hearing this harrowing account of death and
misery others were willing to undertake to have just a chance to experience a piece of the
American dream. The character, Mr. Stillman, is the classic “good guy” archetype, and his
efforts left readers with a redeeming sense of the force of good in the proverbial battle of good
vs. evil. Stillman’s interventions on Jose Cerna’s behalf, assured readers that in a world filled
with despair and exploitation, there are still those who act for the sake of the common good.
Shaw’s depiction of Los Angeles of the 1860’s was vibrant, and foreboding. Readers were
able to sense the diminished value of life in this dangerous and constantly churning human
landscape. High concentrations of impoverished people besieged by a climate of anti-Mexican
sentiment, was a perfect elixir for the flourishing of criminal street gangs. Corruption in law
enforcement was nicely illustrated by the reprehensible murder of Ricardo Cerna, and this
homicide illuminated the type of occurrences at the root of the East Los Angeles community’s
distrust of the Los Angeles Police Department and the government in general. Shaw’s fictional
account of the Cerna family also provided an excellent chronology of how 19th century and pre-
World War II events, provided the foundation for the explosion of gang violence in the late 20th,
and early 21st century. Readers are reminded of aspects of Edward James Olmos’ cinematic hit,
American Me, which covered some of this period and many of the same issues for movie going
audiences. Shaw’s address of the precursors of the Zoot Suit Riots was tremendously accurate
and left readers with an excellent idea of how unequal application of the law by the police,
elected officials, and courts, can lead to wholesale eruptions of violence. A dominant sense of
isolation caused by unfair practices by the police and the criminal justice system, coupled with
immigration patterns organized along the lines of regions of origin in Mexico, created a network
of insulated Barrios (aka Varrios). These Barrios were characterized by a cliquish mentality and
an entrenched distrust of outsiders. Poverty, discrimination in hiring, and low levels of
education were the final ingredients that provided ideal conditions for gangs to flourish. Shaw
nicely illustrates that gangs are a sociological phenomenon spurred by desperation, a desire for
self-protection, cultural pride, and the need to unite to confront a common struggle or adversary.
Shaw’s choice to base the book on the premise of an older man telling his life story to younger
man was witty. This tried and tested, age old formula of the older wiser man conveying his
accumulated wisdom to a younger man with the hope the younger man takes these insights and
does something of significance with them, worked quite well. The fact that Shaw chose to make
the younger man a reporter interested in writing about East Los Angeles was an interesting twist
in light of the fact that the media and particularly newspapers, fanned the flames of violence for
years in Los Angeles by perpetuating stereotypes of Latinos, that heightened the East Los
Angeles community’s sense of exclusion and disenfranchisement. With changes in the
perception of the Latino community in East Los Angeles, it is hopeful that mainstream society
will embrace the need for providing legitimate career opportunities to young people in the
barrios. Despair, poverty, and systemic exclusion from better opportunities in mainstream
professions has kept multiple generations of Latino young people under the “spell of success”
that gang members cast with their flashy materialistic lifestyles. What is little known, or
understood by those same young people is that gang members live short lives of “material
success” that often end with death, drug addiction, or long prison terms. These negative life
outcomes bring not only heartache to their love ones, but their absence from their families also
compounds the poverty, desperation, and harships that was at the root of the problem to begin
with in the barrios. Shaw’s effort to tackle the complex social dynamics that constitute the
isolation and desperation of the East Los Angeles community is commendable, and first rate.

Suggestions for Classroom Use/ Curriculum Connections
Curriculum applications for Pachuco are varied and numerous. The text is appropriate for
students ranging from junior high school to those pursuing advanced graduate degrees. Shaw
outlines multiple areas that could serve as fodder for classroom assignments such as essays, short
stories, presentations, reports, and theses. Persons ages 10-55 are the demographic whom would
benefit most from this insightful treatise on sociological dynamics of the communities of East
Los Angeles.


NYS & Commom Core Standards Connections – Social Studies, History, Literature,
Chicano/Latino Studies

Recommended Grade Level(s) – Grade 7 – Graduate School. I highly recommend this book
for this grade range with no reservations.
Reviewed by – Dr. Abdul M. Isira – 3/13/15


2 thoughts on “Pachuco Book Review

  1. Pingback: Pachuco Book Review | weldonshawauthor

  2. Pachuco has been a long time coming. With immigration being such a hot such across the nation, Pachuco is a timely release. A story about love, broken dreams, death, migration, culture, morals and much more. This novel gives the reader a better understanding about the history of the Hispanic culture of Alta California to the current time.


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