Zoot Suit Riots



The Zoot Suit Riots (1943) took place in Los Angeles and lasted for about a week. It started out as fighting between White US servicemen and pachucos, Mexican Americans who wore zoot suits. But soon Mexican, Black and Filipino Americans were being beat up whether they wore zoot suits or not. And Whites, some of them off-duty policemen, were helping the servicemen. Amazingly, no one was killed.

Zoot suits had a long jacket, wide lapels and baggy trousers with tight cuffs (pictured below). They were sometimes worn with a long chain and a wide-brimmed hat. It was a Black American fashion that soon became a Mexican American one.


Pachucos were Mexican Americans who wore zoot suits, listened to jazz, had their own slang, hairstyles, dances and so on. Their female counterparts were pachucas. Like many youth subcultures, it offered them an oppositional identity counter to their (square Mexican) parents and the (racist Anglo American) mainstream.

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“Maybe Wesley Morris could do a brief follow-up piece (or a bit of performance art?) on the subject of all the comments so far to his article. They make his point, and miss his point, in a way that is tragic because they simply do not hear. Or seem afraid. I’m sure part of it is simply inability to see/contemplate the human body in general, but much of it also has to do with refusing to accept or look head-on at how racism still shapes our culture, decades after abolition and the civil rights movement. They want this racism, and the intimate way it threads through our culture, to remain unspeakable. Triply ironic since, due to the fact that the slavery was so closely tied to rape, black and white Americans are not just fellow citizens but also biologically family, kin — we are deeply related.”- CS

Also from I Am America:

“There are some, even within the pop culture firmament, who are not perplexed by/afraid of the black penis. Black women know it from sonograms, from infancy and childhood, to fully endowed adulthood, at its most tender and at its most hostile. It’s understandable yet disappointing that the perspective of some of those who are most supportive of black male sexuality is absent from this essay. Moreover, the author alludes to it, but it bears reinforcing that the most destructive, yet paradoxically productive male organ in the history of this country has been white. Women in my family were taught to fear white men as predators based upon empirical evidence.”

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