It’s 7:15 p.m. on Saturday that I enter the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., for the Chicano Soul Legends concert. And it’s about 7:18 p.m. on Saturday that I realize I’ve technically stepped into an enclosed sampling of the east LA Chicano community. It’s amazing. I arrive with a giant grin on my face and a feeling of excitement, happiness, love, friendship and security.
Cholos and cholas, pachucos, rucas, homies, esseys, patrons—they’re all there. Are they all from East Los Angeles? I don’t know, but I think back to Stand and Deliver, and I can’t help but see a clear association. Guys wear flannel shirts buttoned all the way up to the top with pressed-and-dry-cleaned, $29.99 Dickeys pants, sparkling white adidas and fitted caps. Some sub the flannel for a 1990’s striped Tommy Hilfiger polo. All of them have swagger, a lazy leg. Other guys—old guys—presumably dubbed OGs in their circles, are more refined, more tailored. The OGs wear dry-cleaned white, pressed and tailored shirts with nice vests, all buttoned up. Dress slacks. A straw hat and a thin mustache.
And yet there’s more. So many zoot suits. Zoot Suit Riot is more than a Cherry Poppin’ Daddies song. It was a real thing. And it happened in LA. Mexican Americans living in LA—to the chagrin of many—wore zoot suits in the ‘50s, and it’s still going strong. There’s a history there. And it’s the whole, head-to-toe ensemble. Hats with feathers, suspenders, pressed shirts, long, baggy jackets, short, squatty, over-sized pants. Chains—long and hanging all the way to the floor.
And then there’s me, with Chad, the lightest beige in the Crayola box. The rest of us, a rainbow of mediums to darks. But Chad and I fit in. Me because I’m brown and have smeared a little crimson on my lips. Chad because he’s wearing a flannel and has his hair slicked back. We walk through the stadium feeling something beyond words, out-worldly. We, like everybody else in the crowd, came to watch and hear legends, “Soul Legends.” Better yet, “Chicano Soul Legends.” All the artists are likely over 50, but we cannot wait to hear Rene Y Rene, Sunny Ozuna (Smile Now, Cry Later), The Notations (A New Day), The Madlads and Joe Bataan (Under the Streetlamp) to name a few.
We’re all excited. We all clap loudly. We all say “oh yeah!” when the MC beckons. And we all sing along to the same songs. Slow songs. Songs about love and lost loves. Songs about poverty, songs about friendships, songs about dreams and hope. And songs about God. There was even a song that’s basically the Our Father, and everybody sings and prays, collectively.
That’s it. All my expectations were met—all the artists sounded great and the feeling of community with complete strangers was overwhelming. I laughed, smiled, sang and clapped too fast. I left with a full heart and starry-eyed elation. What an experience.