What is the significance of Alice’s rhetorical question that starts at line 116 (“Do you realize…”)?

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In act 2 of Zoot Suit, Alice, a white reporter, says to Henry, a Chicano man wrongly convicted of murder:

Oh, Hank. All the love and hate it's taken to get us together in this lousy prison room. Do you realize only Hitler and the Second World War could have accomplished that? I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Alice's question is significant because it sums up the complex political and racial elements that drive the plot of the play.

Zoot Suit is based on a murder that took place in 1942 and the wrongful conviction of several young Latino men that followed. In 1942, the US found itself in the middle of World War II, fighting overseas to stop, among other things, the extermination of Jewish, Roma, and other populations in Europe.

At home, however, the US had its own race-related problems. Japanese Americans were being put in internment camps, African Americans were denied basic rights, and Hispanic Americans were often the targets of violence and harassment in Los Angeles and other cities.

Within this context, the play presents a budding romance between Alice, a white woman, and Henry, a Chicano man and (by act 2) a convicted felon. Before his conviction, Henry believed in the American cause in World War II and had plans to join the armed forces. His unfair treatment in the courts sours him somewhat on this plan, but it also allows him to build meaningful relationships with Alice and with his white attorney, George, which the segregation of the era would not otherwise have supported.

World War II upset the previous order of race relations in the US. Alice's question underscores this upheaval by pointing out that, were it not for the war and the ways in which it both reinforced and questioned racism, she and Henry never would have met—much less shared the passionate kiss that occurs just after Alice asks the question.

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