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An Introduction to The History of The Zoot Suit Riots

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The Zoot Suit Riots started on June 3, 1943, when eleven sailors on leave walked into a Mexican American barrio neighborhood in Los Angeles and got involved in a battle with a group of men thought to be of Mexican decent. During a ten day period in 1943 a series of conflicts between Anglo military personnel and Mexican Americans led to full-scale riots in the metropolis of Los Angeles. Tensions began between the two cultural groups when the local media sensationalized crime in the country and blamed it mainly on Mexican Americans.

First, America was in the midst of World War II and xenophobic sentiment was rampant across the country. Smaller arguments that had burst out between Mexican Americans and armed forces escalated quickly. On June 4, 1943, hundreds of servicemen went downtown and targeted Mexican Americans and other minorities and beat them savagely. The armed forces had lost command over their men and complete chaos ensued. The violence continued until the United States State Department eventually got involved and declared Los Angles off-limits to military personnel. A question that emerges from this incident is what drives ordinary civil people to revert to primordial savagery and destroy the very society that they created? Miscommunication between cultures leads to violence and civic unrest. The cultural differences, media reporting, and political climate all contributed to the hostility and dissension of the Zoot-Suit riots that overwhelmed wartime Los Angeles. Misunderstanding of one another’s culture spurred conflicts between Anglo and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles. During World War II Southern California served as a hub for the military. On any giving weekend up to fifty-thousand soldiers could be found in Los Angeles.

Second, the vast majority of the military at the time were Anglo-Americans who had not had interaction with Mexican Americans or other Hispanic groups. This led to misunderstandings which evolved into animosity. In the 1940’s the style and dress of Mexican American adolescents was distinct from that of mainstream Americans. Long jackets, high-waisted baggy pants, long watch chains began to be recognized as “Zoot-suits”. Mexican Americans and other minorities sported the Zoot-Suit to express their identity, freedom, and youthful rebelliousness. To Anglo-Americans the Zoot-Suit was perceived as a symbol of criminality and was frequently linked up with the common street thug. The mounting tension between the two groups was exasperated by the fact they shared a different language, customs, and more frequently than not, a different religion. These cultural misunderstandings led to deeds of ferocity. On June 3, 1943 eleven military personnel brought into a physical altercation with a group of Mexican American Zoot-Suiters, in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. Smaller bits of violence, such as this case, helped construct the creations for a howler that would bring the city to its knees and leave a permanent imprint on the Mexican American community.

Tierce, the most celebrated of all cases sensationalized by the Los Angeles Times, was the “Sleepy Lagoon” trial. On August 2, of 1942, the body of Jose Dias was found in the Sleepy Lagoon Reservoir in Los Angeles. Hundreds of Latino teens were initially held for allegedly having links to the murder of Dias. Twenty-two Mexican American teenagers were indicted on charges of murder and put on trial by an all Anglo jury. Dozen of the youths were convicted of murder while five received assault charges. There was no evidence that teens had murdered deals. In fact, there was little evidence that a homicide had even happened. Finally, an appellate court overturned the convictions because of their unjust nature. Despite the result of the appeal, the case had a profound outcome on society in Los Angeles and is instantly seen as a predecessor to the Zoot-Suit riots. The media created hysteria regarding the font and its slanted coverage influenced many Angelenos to distrust the Mexican minority. This miscommunication of news from the press would later lead to the violent acts of the military and civilians in the oncoming riots.

Most Americans are fearful of soaring crime, random violence, daily murders and the presence of youth gangs, not just in the inner cities, but in calm rural and suburban regions. The ground for this concern is the violent crimes committed by gangs are unpredictable, victims are often randomly selected, and usually people who are unable to fend for themselves and the assailants are increasingly younger. Clothing today is very ware for many citizens or victims in the globe today. “Colors”: Obvious or subtle colors of clothing, a particular clothing brand, jewelry, or haircuts are a few signs of violence today.

In Conclusion, the Zoot-suit riots can be demoted to a minor footnote in World War II history and be forgotten by most. Alternatively, they can stand for the broad proposition that the media and citizens have a responsibility to understand the cultures of minorities and engage in productive communication when problems emerge. In addition, when a nation is at war, citizens and the media cannot use patriotism as a guide to target minorities. Other than the same devastating effects that the Mexican American community in Los Angeles felt as a consequence of the Zoot-suit riots, will be seen by other minorities within society.

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An Introduction to the History of the Zoot Suit Riots. (2018, May 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
“An Introduction to the History of the Zoot Suit Riots.” GradesFixer, 26 May 2018,
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