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Zoot Suit is a play based on the Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles, California, in 1943. The Zoot Suit riots were a series of riots between servicemen, Marines, and young Mexican-Americans (pachucos). The female equivalent to a pachuco is a pachuca. Pachucos favored the wearing of zoot suits, with their long, baggy pants and mid-thigh length jackets. At the time, zoot suits were symbols of ostentatious fashion and rebellion. The Zoot Suit riots were a frustrated response by Mexican-Americans (mostly young men) against the injustices of the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon Trial, where members of the 38th Street Gang were wrongly accused of the murder of Jose Williams.
Henry Reyna is the protagonist of the play; his character is based on the real-life leader of the 38th Street Gang, Henry Leyvas. Henry Leyvas died in 1971. El Pachuco is Henry's alter ego; he is also the master of ceremonies at dances as well as the embodiment of the Aztec deity of the night, Tezcatlipoca.
SO, how does El Pachuco transgress in this play? You would think that Henry's alter ego would support Henry staunchly throughout his ordeal during the trial and his time in prison; however, El Pachuco sometimes surprises us. When Alice tries to tell Henry that she is on his side, El Pachuco is dismissive; he scoffs that Alice is just a 'dumb broad' and implies that she is only good for taking to bed. In the play, El Pachuco is always skeptical that Henry will get the justice he deserves. He embodies the deep distrust Mexican-Americans of the time possessed towards law enforcement and towards mainstream American society. The press also portrayed pachucos and pachucas as threats to societal integrity; during WWII, they were viewed as unpatriotic (many of them never deployed), un-American, and worse, vicious gang members intent on destabilizing society.
When Henry finds himself in solitary confinement, El Pachuco tells him point-blank that Henry is in for life, and that he will never get out of prison, no matter how many appeals are made on his behalf in court. He brutally lays out the cold reality of Henry's situation. He doesn't want Henry to have any illusions about the chances for any reprieve.
So, you could say that El Pachuco's one great transgression is that he is too much of a pessimistic realist; he is so focused on the reality of Henry's ordeal that he forgets to encourage him nor to sympathize with Henry's plight. Although his pragmatism serves to shield Henry against lethargy and nonchalance, his stance is entirely antagonistic and violent. When Henry tells him to get away, El Pachuco leaves Henry to his own devices, a seeming betrayal of trust. However, they are reunited later, with Henry sheepishly admitting that he thought he had lost El Pachuco forever.
El Pachuco, who was stripped of his zoot suit by the servicemen in the riots, proudly tells Henry that it would take more than naval servicemen to wipe him out, indicating that the Mexican identity will always be intact and strong despite the harsh trials of life.
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