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Steinbeck's "The Pearl" was written around 1944 and was inspired by the plight of the Mexican after the Zoot Suit Race Riots in Los Angeles in which American servicemen, especially sailors and Marines, clashed with pachucos on May 31,1943. While a serviceman had killed a Hispanic, the riots were blamed on the pachucos (Chicano is the modern version of this nomenclature).
The introduction to the Penguin Classic mentions that the main character's name, Kino, is taken from Eusebius Kino, the Jesuit missionary and explorer of the Gulf region who proved that lower California is a peninsula--a baja--rather than an island.
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