Phyllis Estrella, remembers hearing the word "Pachuco" for the first time when she was just five years old. It was during the 1940's, and she recalls the word "Pachuco" being used with neither a negative nor positive connotation. It was in her predominantly white first grade class when she noticed that the Mexican-American boy who sat next to her was named "Chukie." The name "Chukie" was outside of the norm, and as her curiosity had finally gotten the best of her, she summoned up the courage to ask him where his name came from. He told her that when he was born he had a head full of hair, so his mother said he looked like a "Pachuco." Little did she know that this word would end up becoming a fixture within her life forever.
In the 1950's when she became a teenager, rock and roll was born and the boys in the neighborhood started wearing baggy pants and calling themselves "Pachucos." She remembers hearing the neighborhood teenagers using "Pachuco" slang. One example of this slang was the word "simón." If you did not use slang when talking to the neighborhood teenagers, you were considered a "square." She thought these self-named "Pachucos" were "cool." She also recalls several songs referring to "Pachucos" being played constantly on the radio.
It was a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1978, and Phyllis was driving down the street in Los Angeles when she saw a billboard advertising the play "Zoot Suit," featuring the main character, "El Pachuco." She couldn't believe her eyes! She excitedly turned to her husband, Ray "Big Ray" Estrella, and said, "We have to go see that play!" She had never been to a play at all, much less a real Broadway play.
After patiently waiting for four long weeks, the day of the play was finally upon her. An excited Phyllis remembers driving up to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and seeing the huge crowd of well-dressed Latinos. She remembers seeing the red carpet and her heart pounding from the vision. Once inside, she finally got into her seat, and the '40's music started playing. As the play began, "El Pachuco," played by Edward James Olmos, walked out onto the stage and started talking in "Pachuco" slang. The suit, the slang, the attitude, the image, suddenly it all came together for Phyllis. This was the true essence of a real "Pachuco" in her mind, and Phyllis was impressed. She enjoyed the play thoroughly, but most of all, she was enamored with the actual Zoot Suit, the official dress code of the "Pachuco."
Had it not been for the play "Zoot Suit," Phyllis would have never seen a "Pachuco" wearing a Zoot Suit represented on stage. She was convinced that other people must share with her the same fascination about the Zoot Suit. She was so compelled by these suits that she felt this sudden urge to purchase a Zoot Suit. Phyllis realized that her husband wouldn't wear it, he was much too conservative, and she knew she couldn't wear it, so she immediately thought of her younger brother. Her younger brother loved to dance and she could picture him being the center of attention wearing a Zoot Suit.
Phyllis always considered herself to be a risk taker and she definitely loved a challenge. During this time in her life, she was self-employed as a jewelry storeowner, but willing to explore new ventures. Her father, Elbert Duran, was a World War II veteran with a Purple Heart who became a jeweler with his rehabilitation training. Phyllis and Elbert had been in the jewelry business for five years and were ready for a change. She was instantly attracted to the ideaof creating and selling Zoot Suits. She decided, along with the support of her husband, father and family, to take on this new venture, and was committed to making it a success. It was at this point that the journey began...