Zoot Suit Riots

From Academic Kids

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 Mexican American youth gangs headed by pachucos, recognized because of the zoot suits they favored.

The riots began in the racially charged atmosphere of Los Angeles, where the sailors, soldiers and marines returning from the war had already come into conflict with the local Mexican zoot suiters. On June 3, 1943, a group of servicemen on leave complained that they had been assaulted by a gang of pachucos. In response, they gathered together and headed out to downtown and East Los Angeles, which was the center of the Mexican community. Once there, they attacked all the men they found wearing zoot suits, often ripping off their clothing and burning it in the streets. In many instances, the police intervened by arresting beaten-up Mexican-American youth for disturbing the peace. Several hundred pachucos and nine sailors were arrested as a result of the fighting that occurred over the next few days.

Of the nine sailors that were arrested, eight were released with no charges, and one had to pay a small fine. The Mexican-Americans were not as fortunate. Many died in jail from their injuries because they were in dire need of medical attention. Many more were convicted of crimes that they did not commit.

The government finally intervened on June 7, by declaring that Los Angeles would henceforth be off-limits to all military personnel. In response to the riots Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her weekly column about the problems faced by the Mexican American community as a result of racism in the United States.

There was a play based on the riots, and a 1981 movie made from the play. There was also a murder mystery novel called The Zoot Suit Murders by Thomas Sanchez which employed the riots as a backdrop to the main mystery.

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