A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 28, 2008
Pelado

"Pelado” means “to peel.” Pelados were the shirtless of Mexico, the underclass. The slang term has been used frequently in parts of Texas, especially along the border.

“Pelado” has been cited from at least 1824.


Wikipedia: Pelado
In Mexican culture in society, pelado is “a term invented to describe a certain class of urban ‘bum’ in Mexico in the 1920s.”

Mexico has a long tradition of urban poverty, beginning with the léperos, a segregated caste of Mestizos, and Indians, and illegitimate Criollos during the colonial era. The léperos, viewed as unrespectable people by polite society, supported themselves as they could through vending or begging, but many resorted to crime. They established a thieves market across from the viceregal palace, which was later moved to the Tepito area of the working-class Colonia Guerrero. They spent much of their time in taverns, leading to the official promotion of theatre as an alternative.

Initially, many of these plays were organized by the church, but the people soon set up their own theaters, where the humor of the taverns survived. The rowdy, often illegal stagings were no place for sophisticated plot lines or character development, and the carpa ("tent") theatre relied heavily on stock characters who could deliver quick laughs. The pelado became one of them.

Literally meaning “pealed”, the term referred to the penniless urban slum-dwellers, uprooted from the countryside and un- and under-employed. Like the léperos before them, they represented an underprivileged element with criminal tendencies—a threat to Mexican society. But in addition to their predecessors’ problems adjusting urban life and surviving, the pelado of the early twentieth century was also wedged between traditional and modern societies.

As Mexico sought to define itself as a modern nation, the philosopher Samuel Ramos saw the pelado as a symbol on Mexican national identity. “The pelado belongs to the lowest of social categories, and represents the human detritus of the big city.”

In philosopher Samuel Ramos’ 1934 ontological study of the Mexican national character, the pelado is described as “the most elemental and clearly defined expression of national character.”

One shrewder, gentler subgenre of the pelado archetype is the peladito, a type epitomized by Cantinflas. According to the comedian, “The peladito is the creature who came from the carpas with a face stained with flour or white paint, dressed in rags, the pants below the waist and covered with patches, the belt replaced by an old tie, the peaked cap representing a hat, the ruffled underwear that shows at any provocation, the torn shirt, and gabardine across his left shoulder.”

Urban Dictionary
pelado
Spanish word for punk, dude, etc. Other examples could be vato, guay…

Jose: Oye Pelado, dame ese naranja, me la quiero comer!
Hey Dude, give me that orange, I wanna eat it!

Sorro: No Pelado, vete a comer una manzana!
No Dude, go eat an apple!

by maritza girly 3111989 Washington Aug 29, 2007

Dictionary of American Regional English
pelado n Pronc-spp palao, pee-low [Span] chiefly SW usu derog
A low-class Mexican; hence adj pelado low-class.
1848 (1855) Ruxton Life Far West 197 NM, The hunters have the floor all to themselves. The Mexicans have no chance in such physical force dancing; and if a dancing Pelado steps into the ring, a lead-like thump from a galloping mountaineer quickly sends him sprawling. [Footnote to Pelado:] A nickname for the idle fellows hanging about a Mexican town, translated into “Greasers” by the Americans.
1892 DN 1.192 TX, Pelado...the word is generally pronounced palao, the first a being very much obscured or entirely slurred, and the d silent. The term is applied to Mexicans of the lower classes, the rabbble, and is more generally used in the plural.
1929 Dobie Vaquero 44 West, Once, for instance, he killed three pelados (a contemptuous named used by many border gringos and resented by all Mexicans) on the north side of the Nueces [River]. Ibid 52, The Mexicans killed five citizens, turned a dozen pelado culprits out of jail.
1932 Bentley Spanish Terms 178, Pelado...A disparaging term applied to persons of the poorer class...By extension it is used to describe anything low class as for example “his language was pelado.” Pelado is used with good effect where the significance of the word is generally understood.
1962 Atwood Vocab. TX 73, Person of Mexican origin...Pelado (7 [examples]) is concentrated in Southwest and South Central Texas. [Footnote:] Pronounced pee-low. Ibid 128, Pelado. Commonly used in Spanish with a derogatory meaning, implying that a person is ill-bred, unmannerly, or vulgar..--a bum or a ruffian...[One informant] states that in the familiar speech of men it may often imply no more than a guy or fellow. It may have been the frequency of this latter usage that led to the adoption of the word in Southwest Texas.

17 February 1824, North Star (VT), pg. 1:
The lower class of people in that country (Mexico—ed.) are called pelados, who get their livelihood by stealing and murdering.

23 November 1827, Eastern Argus Semi-Weekly (ME), pg. 2:
In Acapulco, they have all been driven to embark on board such vessels as were in harbor, to save their lives, many had been assassinated, and in Cuennavaca, about a day’s travel from this, they were pursued in the streets with knives and swords by the Pelados.

29 August 1884, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gazette, pg. 7, col. 3:
MEXICO’S UNWASHED.
Description of the Habits and Cus-
toms of “El Pelado.”

(Zacatecas Cor. Globe-Democrat)
In Mexico, the lines of demarcation between the different grades of society are very marked. There is no shading off from one into the other; there is no great middle class. Los curos and los pelados, the upper ten and the shirtless—there is nothing between them. A man who labors for his living is a pelado; one who gets his living without working for it, or by working in some genteel way, is a curo. The lawyers, doctors, clerks and government officials—any one who can wear coat, vest and pants, is a curo, while the great unwashed, the “blanketed thieves” of Davy Crockett, the miners, carpenters, laboring men, are pelados.

Curo is the Mexican name for a priest, and whoever can sport a suit of clothes in a fair state is a curo, for the priests are the best dressed men in the country, as a rule. Pelado means pealed, skinned, and on looking over a crowd of Mexicans no one can doubt its appropriateness. A curo will go without his dinner to buy a necktie; a pelado will eat if he has no shirt to his back. The pelado is a grown up child, generous, improvident and superstitious, passionate and revengeful; he forgets yesterday and care nothing for to-morrow; the idea of accumulation is entirely absent from his mind; raise his pay and he will work less days in the week.
(...)
The pelado is of almost unmixed Indian blood; he knows it and calls himself an Indian, and hates the Spaniards—gachupines he calls them, and all foreigners, and would be glad to drive them from the country.

Google Books
Dialect Notes
Part IV.
Published by the American Dialect Society.
Boston, MA: J. S. Cushing & Co.
1892
“A Contribution towards a Vocabulary of Spanish and Mexican Words Used in Texas” by H. Tallichet
Pg. 192:
pelada, -s. Originally the past participle of pelar, to peel, to strip off, to pluck. The word is generally pronounced palao, the first a being very much obscured or entirely slurred, and the d silent. The term is applied to mexicans of the lower classes, the rabble, and is more generally used in the plural. Cf. French va-nu-pieda, sans-culotte, and Spanish descamisado. Compare this word with colorado and Salado, which are frequently seen in print or (Pg. 193—ed.) writing, and have preserved the d in the pronunciation of English-Speaking Texans, while this, seldom written or printed, has dropped it. Colorado and salado show the influence of the written upon the spoken language.

17 August 1924, San Antonio (TX) Light, “Mexican Slang Much Like That Used in U.S.,” part 2, pg. 4, col. 2:
Don’t call a person a skinned one in Mexico, unless he is well classified. “Pelado,” or skinned one, means a plebian. The “pelado” is ragged and roams the streets. A very low fellow that. The term arose when somebody saw how the poor in Mexico were being “skinned” by the higher ups and aptly coined the term. 

8 August 1926, Fresno (CA) Bee, pg. 7, col. 1:
Pelado means an animal from which the skin has been removed and the term signified that the rich land owners, scientifically and under cover of law, removed the hides from the common folk.

University of Texas Press
Batos, Bolillos, Pochos, and Pelados
Class and Culture on the South Texas Border
By Chad Richardson
1999
6 x 9 in.
314 pp., 16 photos, 10 line drawings, 35 figures, 1 map
ISBN: 978-0-292-77090-4
(...)
When I set out to write this book, I wanted a title that could represent the Valley’s uniqueness and its diversity. Batos, Bolillos, Pochos, and Pelados seemed to fit. Bato to young Mexican Americans means “man,” as in “Oye, bato” (Hey, man). It expresses in-group solidarity and epitomizes the sense of identity found among many South Texas Mexican Americans. Bolillo (white bread roll) and pocho (faded; off-colored), in contrast, are terms used to designate members of out-groups. The first indicates an Anglo and the second a Mexican American who is overly Americanized in speech and culture. In Mexico a pelado (one who is hairless) is someone suspected of criminal activity, possibly related to the practice of cutting the hair of Mexican prisoners. Along the border, however, it means someone disreputable, whether involved in criminal activity or not. These terms are not normally used around members of these groups except in gentle kidding. They are, however part of local culture. Since the book is also about culture and intergroup relations, I felt these terms, each closely related to the border, were appropriate.

Though I do not say much in this volume about pelados, those to whom this term is often applied will be a major focus of a planned second volume. It will deal with, among other things, the criminal element along the border (car thieves, smugglers, coyotes, and youth gangs).

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Monday, January 28, 2008 • Permalink