Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Latinos: Zoot Suit Riot

Primary Sources
Letter from Orson Welles to California Parole Board
Newsweek June 21,1943
Newspaper article
The Zoot Suit Riots were riots that erupted in Los Angeles, California during World War II. It was between sailors and marines and Latinos, also known as Zoot Suits. While Mexican Americans were primary target, so were African Americans and Filipino Americans. On May 31, 1943 a group of white sailors on leave clashed with a group of young Latinos, and problems started. Sailors and Marines specifically targeted young men dressed in Zoot Suits and called themselves "pachucos" (a precursor to the term Chicano). These attacks went on, and The Los Angeles Police Department didn't do anything about it even though there were daily newspaper articles about them, and it was entirely blaimed on the pachucos.
There was an eyewitness to the attacks, journalist Carey McWilliams, and she described the scene like this:
"Marching through the streets of down town Los Angeles, a mob of several thousand soldiers, sailors, and civilians, prosuited to beat up ever 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 from there seats, pushed into the streets and beaten with sadistic frenzy"

The local press were talking about the attacks saying that the servicemen were describing the assaults as having a "cleansing effect" that was getting rid of Los Angeles's "miscreants" and
May 31, 1943 Zoot Suit Riot News Paper article.

Attackers Roamed the streets and entered bars, restraunts, and theaters in search of victims wearing distinctive zoot suits. (very baggy pants and oversized, almost knee-length coats with wide lapels and heavy shoulder pads), and when they found them they beat them and ripped of there suits. By the end of the riots the service men would assault all Mexican-Americans between there teens and twenties indiscriminatley whether or not they wore zoot suits. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) did barely anything to stop the riots, except arrest over six hundred Mexican-Americans.
The Zoot Suit was an exaggerated version of the typical double-breasted buisness suit (two rows of button down the front) of the 1940s, altered to make both more casual and more hip. Alot of young African-American and Mexican-American (also known as Chicanos) men and others trying to look hip and young wore the Zoot Suit. The suit had a long jacket with wide shoulder pads and narrow hips, with high-waisted baggy trousers with tightly pegged, or narrow, cuffs. They were often made in bright colors and worn with long watch chains, brightly patterend neck-ties, flat topped "pork pies" hats, and shoes with thick soles. It was closely identified with jazz music and the casual youth style of the 1940s.
Many different people say they were the inventor of the zoot suit, but nobody knows for sure.Harold C. Foxx(1910-1996), who was a tailor and bandleader in Chicago,Illinois claimed to have made the first zoot suit in 1941 because he like the style of cut down suits on poor urban teenagers. Fox and others liked the style because it was tight enough to look cool, and loose enough for dancing jazz.
The style was probably really had its roots among poor black youth of the Gread Depression (1929-41). People who were not able to afford clothing, many young African-American's suit belonged to their older relatives so usually weren't fit for them. So they took them in at the waist, hips, and ankles. This new suit style became part of the African-American jazz culture and was part of the New York Renaissance style. It was common jazz slang to put a "z" at the beginning of words, so suit became zoot.
The new type of suit spread through the West Coast so Mexican-Americans (Chicanos) took up the style of the Zoot Suit. The pride of the sense of identity for youth colors was threatening to many conservative whites, and some even reacted violently to seeing these distinctive suits. Thats when the "zoot suit riots" began, in Los Angelas, California, in June 1943. It began from a fight between a few sailors and a few young people in zoot suits.


1 comment:

  1. Latinos in zoot suits are really pleasing for my eyes. Love them, and I love to collect various zoot suits.