Background Japanese-Americans were the target of terrorist acts. Japanese people were assigned to American concentration camps. Shortage of labor in California during the 1940s.
Who’s going to work? Bracero Program: 200,000 Mexican- Americans were sent to LA in 1943, to work The U.S. forced rationing (to share). Goods such as wool, gas, butter, and sugar were limited.
The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of riots that erupted in Los Angeles, California during World War II, between sailors and soldiers stationed in the city and Hispanic youths, who were recognizable by the zoot suits they favored. http://www.chicano.ucla.edu/center/events/Sleepy_Lagoon/SleepyLagCol.htm
While Mexican Americans were mostly beaten, African American and Filipino American youths were also targeted. http://www.library.ucla.edu/special/scweb/slwar11.htm
The riots began in Los Angeles, amidst a period of rising racial tensions between American servicemen stationed in southern California and the Los Angeles’ Chicano community. http://www.picturehistory.com/find/p/13038/mcms.html
Many of the tensions between the Chicano community and the sailors existed because the servicemen walked through Chicano neighborhoods on the way back to their barracks after nights of drinking. http://www.library.ucla.edu/special/scweb/slwar14.htm
The discrimination against the Chicano minority community was compounded by robberies and fights during these drunken interactions. http://www.library.ucla.edu/special/scweb/slwar12.htm
In July 1942, a group of Hispanic youths fought back against the police who attempted to break up a street corner gambling game.
In October 1942, over 600 Chicano youth were arrested, and dozens charged, in the killing of Jose Diaz in a supposed gang brawl at the Sleepy Lagoon reservoir. Jose Diaz http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/zoot/eng_peopleevents/e_murder.html Henry Leyvas arrested and convicted in a police round-up for the murder ofJose Diaz. Later, the courts would reverse his conviction.
This led to a court trial whose convictions were later overturned. During the case, sensationalist press accounts (yellow journalism) inflamed hostility towards young Chicanos. http://www.calstatela.edu/orgs/mecha/zoot-suit.htm
The following year, clashes between white servicemen and Hispanic youths increased. In May 1943, sailors claimed that “zoot suiters” stabbed a sailor, and they retaliated by beating young Hispanics leaving a local dance. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/zoot/eng_timeline/timeline2.html
On May 31, 1943, a group of white sailors on leave clashed with a group of young Hispanics in the downtown area. One sailor, Joe Dacy Coleman, was badly injured. In response, 50 white sailors gathered and headed out to downtown and East Los Angeles, which was the center of the Hispanic community. http://www.1947project.com/blog?from=245
The sailors attacked young people, especially targeting males in “zoot suits.” In many instances, the police intervened by arresting Hispanic youths for disturbing the peace. The police left the sailors to the military justice system. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/zoot/eng_timeline/timeline2.html
The violence escalated over the ensuing days. Thousands of servicemen joined the attack. Many African Americans assisted the Chicano community by providing vehicles and weapons to fight back against the Caucasian sailors. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/zoot/eng_peopleevents/e_murder.html
Several hundred “pachucos” (as the young Hispanic men were known) and nine sailors were arrested as a result of the fighting that occurred over the next few days. http://www.calstatela.edu/orgs/mecha/zoot-suit.htm
An eyewitness to the attacks, journalist Carey McWilliams, described the scene as follows. “Marching through the streets of downtown Los Angeles, a mob of several thousand soldiers, sailors, and civilians, proceeded to beat up every zoot suiter they could find. Pushing its way into the important motion picture theaters, the mob ordered the management to turn on the house lights and then ran up and down the aisles dragging Mexicans out of their seats. Streetcars were halted while Mexicans, and some Filipinos and Negroes, were jerked off their seats, pushed into the streets and beaten with a sadistic frenzy.” Carey McWilliams. North From Mexico. Quoted in Richard Griswold del Castillo. The Los Angeles “Zoot Suit Riots” Revisited: Mexican Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Summer, 2000), pp. 367-391.
The local press commended the attacks by the servicemen, describing the assaults as having a “cleansing effect” that were ridding Los Angeles of “miscreants” and “hoodlums.” Carey McWilliams. “Blood on the Pavements.” In: Fool’s Paradise: A Carey McWilliams Reader. Heyday Books, 2001. “Two pachuco zoot-suiters, one stripped to his underwear, lie beaten and humiliated in a Los Angeles street.” http://www.themote.com/viewThread.asp?thread=168&Last=1
The violence only subsided when military authorities intervened on June 7. They declared that Los Angeles would be off-limits to all military personnel. Of the nine sailors that were arrested, eight were released with no charges and one had to pay a small fine. Zootsuitriot.jpgZootsuitriot.jpg
A week later, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt characterized the riots, which the local press had largely attributed to criminal actions by the Mexican American community, as in fact being “race riots” rooted in long-term discrimination against Mexican Americans. This led to an outraged response by the Los Angeles Times, which accused Mrs. Roosevelt of stirring up “racial discord.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/zoot/eng_timeline/timeline2.html
Zoot Suit rioters: Why didn’t they arrest the sailors?
A Symbol of Resistance By showing the paradox of American society, zoot-suiters were the ones on the front line to demand full membership in society, not just ones convenient to the dominant society. “The Pachuco is the prey of society, but instead of hiding he adorns himself to attract the hunter’s attention.” (33) Labyrinth of Solitude