They had their spot in the stairwell. They were Chicano kids—Mexican Americans—growing up in Tucson in the 1950s. They were The Chasers. You either were, or were not, a Chaser.
The story of the Chasers is told by Renato “Chico” Rosaldo in a new collection of prose poetry releasing this month. The story is about Rosaldo and his band of 11 friends, students at Tucson High from 1956-1959. The poems are distilled from interviews conducted after their 50th high school reunion. Each member of the Chasers speaks in their own voice, sometimes in duet with Rosaldo.
According to Rosaldo, the story needed time to pass before it was ready to be told.
“The 50 years that passed made us see how significant our relationships and our camaraderie were in giving us the support and morale we needed in high school and the years after,” he said.
“The Chasers” is at once a snapshot of Chicano culture in the ’50s, and contemporary in its humanity. The members struggle to figure out what it means to be Chicano, hovering between their parents’ generation and their own, and daring to own up to their future.
Together, they share experiences of otherness as Mexican Americans, the ache of losing the ability to speak Spanish like their parents and the low expectations held for them at school. They harness their otherness and shape their own reputation, as a brotherhood, as Chasers.
The Chasers cruised around in a ’51 Dodge, crashed parties, schemed to get beer and most emblematically, wore the jacket.
“Our jackets make us who we are, visible, guys on the wild side,” said Dickie Cota-Robles, the member who designed the Chaser logo. The jackets were picked up at Dave Bloom & Sons, members-only wool jackets with their logo embroidered on the back—a martini glass with pink champagne, “three bubbles, one bursting from tilted glass, toothpick in olive.”
The process of creating “The Chasers” as a work of prose poetry was circuitous. Rosaldo wanted to tell the story through a documentary or ethnographic film compiled from the videotaped interviews, but the video quality was too low. He then decided to use transcriptions of the interviews from which he would write the accounts as poetry, first as lyric poems, and then found that prose poetry was more suited to the story.
The story is slowly pieced together through anecdotes from each new and distinctive voice, from Chasers themselves, from friends, from girlfriends, each accompanied by a yearbook picture. Where the name “Chaser” came from, who the founding members were, and what made them—at their core—Chasers; all of these questions are answered as the story progresses.
In the poem “Observing,” Rosaldo writes “Marinating in years of time, all was not lost.” That is, his difficulty in being confident and tough—“hard-assing,” as he puts it, “became the ultimate test of being a Chaser, of being Mexican-American,” and would develop years later. Bobby Shoumaker, founding member of the Chasers was “a master of hard-assing: mock aggression, rapid-fire retorts, verbal virtuosity.“ In time, Rosaldo’s uncertainty matured.
The narrative weaves and separates, transcending high school to jobs, military service, marriage, kids. One member becomes a neurologist, another a principal, a contractor, a fireman and paramedic. Each member reflects on their time as a Chaser, and how they carried that identity with them through time.
The stories are set in familiar landmarks in Tucson; the Chasers eat at Crossroads Restaurant in South Tucson, swim at El Encanto Estates, end up at Mother Higgins the Pima Juvenile Court, and have their anniversary at The Shanty on Fourth.
In the poem “Never Chicano Enough,” Rosaldo talks about the pride people have in being Chicano now in contrast to how it was when he was a student: “Young people in MeCha, organ of the Chicana/o student movement, flaunt badges of belonging: East L.A., farmworker, gang member.”
“My feeling of being an imposter as a Chicano has evaporated,” Rosaldo said. “I feel that I actually learned how to be a Chicano and that I genuinely became who I was trying to be.”
Renato Rosaldo is a Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at NYU, and the author of many anthropological works as well as “The Day of Shelly’s Death,” a book of poetry.
For more information, visit dukeupress.edu/the-chasers.
Meredith O’Neil is a University of Arizona journalism grad student and Tucson Local Media intern.