Zoot Suit Riots Outline Essay Example
Mexican-Americans during World War II faced a litany of ethnic tensions across the United States as well as in the military
The Bracero program, a worker’s visa program for agricultural workers to temporarily work in the American southwest, was in full effect. Contrary to former U.S. policies that sought to drive Mexicans back across the border during the 1920s and 1930s, the U.S. government recruited them to work in the agricultural sector in which they suffered in squalid working conditions.
Workers were hired on a one year contract that offered wages at a prevailing rate and depended on transportation provided to and from the agricultural work sites. More than 200,000 Mexicans entered the United States during the war both legally and illegally to perform necessary agricultural labor at an extremely cheap rate.
This influx of Mexicans laborers fomented ethnic tensions, which subjected them to segregation and forced them to live in shanties and barrios. Moreover, they were barred from good jobs and paid menial wages (Ngai 175-180).
Newspapers in Los Angeles, California ginned up fear by underscoring the ubiquity of Mexican crime waves in major American cities, as several anti-Mexican editorials were printed and circulated. Mexican-American men joined “Pachuco” gangs to gain both security and status. They dressed in zoot-suits, which became identifiers of cultural and national identity.
Thesis: To many Anglos, these zoot-suits--a sartorial style that became in vogue during this epoch amongst young Mexican and Mexican-American men and women—threatened law and order because of their prejudicial beliefs that linked Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to criminality during this time period. As result, despite their contributions in the economic arena at the expense of their quality of life, Mexican Americans faced negative stigmas based on racial attitudes towards them. The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 were catalyzed by an amalgam of forces including purported gang violence and racial discrimination.
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During the 1930s, young Hispanics residing in California established a thriving youth culture that the media pejoratively termed ‘Mexican.’
This subculture defined by a spirit of rebelliousness produced their own sartorial fashions, language, music and style. The Zoot Suit Riots emerged as a response to the infamous Sleepy Lagoon murder trial that followed the death of a young Latino male which took place in a Mexican barrio near Los Angeles, California (Pagan 242-243).
The case has achieved national recognition about the 38th street gang was charged with murdering Jose Diaz in a quarry pit. As a result, anti-Mexican sentiment escalated
murder of Jose Diaz as a tragedy due to the unchecked rebellion and lawlessness amongst Mexican and Mexican-American youths who distinguished themselves through their flashy sartorial choices.
Both the media and the police viewed Mexican-American youth as hooligans and thugs. In the aftermath of the murder, the Los Angeles Police Department decided to round up and incarcerate over one hundred Mexican-American youths who proudly donned zoot suits.
This response to the murder of Jose Diaz is a poignant example of racial profiling during the twentieth century.
In the middle of 1942, “the Los Angeles press began to build a ‘crime wave’ among Mexican-American youth which was unsubstantiated by any official records. Stories of arrests were played up on the front pages.
“pachuco” became commonly used in contemporary lexicon as a pejorative stereotype associated with young Mexican Americans
. The so-called pachuco donned flashy clothing, which later emerged as a signifier of criminality, chaos, and anarchy.
1943, a series of riots took place most poignantly in Los Angeles that quickly spread thereafter to other cities and reflected heightened racial tensions during World War II and the escalating anti-Mexican sentiments that dominated during these tumultuous decades.
Riots broke out between Anglo-American marines and sailors
. Several days and nights of violence between the two groups persisted until the American military prohibited U.S. servicemen from coming to Los Angeles in order to curtail the escalating violence motivated by racial antagonisms (Cayton 100).
The escalation of these riots underscores the unfortunate reality that Southern racism had clearly travelled westward. The riots were initiated by Southern, white men in the navy who had been stationed in Los Angeles, and they hailed taxies to East Los Angeles to attack these so-called “pachucos,” or Mexicans who they perceived to be gangsters and thugs that threatened the stability and peace in one of the country’s largest and most bustling cities.
Official discourses: relied on stereotypes of the Mexican gangster, a pejorative image that permeated public discourses in order to denigrate those who donned the infamous zoot suits.
Zoot suits reflected racial pride of Mexican youth and demand that the United States is their country too, not just a home for the modal subject: white, protestant, Anglo-Saxons.
The police did very little to stop or curtail the escalation of violence and rather chose to imprison the Mexican youths instead. Intergenerational divisions for zoot-suiters were unequivocal, as Mexican youths donned longer suits in response to the war effort, which required fabric rationing
Zoot suits refer to a group of youths belonging to sub-cultural movement of minorities who were not ideal citizens by hegemonic standards (single men).
The riots, according to several chroniclers, were reminiscent of the public lynching of African-American males as a spectacle enjoyed by public audiences. The style of the zoot suit was perceived as threatening to the nation and retained a sexual element in the eyes of white observers. Taking off the suit and emasculating the individual who donned it became paramount to official discourses that proliferated during this epoch. In almost every case of lynching, the black man being lynched was castrated, which suggests that sexual violence was indeed at play.
Within the Mexican community, those who donned zoot suits were perceived as traitors and as a problem to the nation. The rise of the Chicano movement during the 1930s and 1940s is viewed as cultural nationalism because Mexican culture was viewed as a race and a people, or La Raza.
Adelitas refers to a group that had started in 1970s that broke off from Brown Berets, a group of Mexican-Americans that were primarily led by males even though women participated in it, thereby underscoring its place in a masculine culture.
Such critique developed within the Chicano movement, thereby revealing how counter narratives that developed within the identity politics was very powerful. Identity politics create a basis for solidarity that emerges between ethnic groups.
The Zoot Suit Riots took root in Los Angeles, California during a time period in which escalating tensions between the Mexican-American population and the white servicemen who had been stationed in southern California during the 1930s and 1940s.
Although a large sector of Mexican-American men served in the United States military, many white servicemen conveyed overt resentment at the sight of subaltern men socializing in distinct and extravagant clothing that was rendered unpatriotic during a time of war.
The Zoot Suit riots dramatized how polarized two groups of youths became within the American military community.