What was the significance of the Zoot Suit Riots?
Like leather jackets in the Sixties, or Michael Jordan sneaker in the Eighties, the "zoot suits" adopted by the pachucos helped identify members of a like-minded set. The panchucos represented "a rebellious youth culture among Chicanos. Arturo Madrid-Barela describes how the Pachuco became a symbol of resistance against the homogenizing effects of assimilation (Madrid Barela 1973). He notes that the Pachucos' style is derived from elements of urban black culture, such as their suits and the music they listened to, but elements of Mexican culture are maintained, in essence enacting their difference through style." (For images of 1940s zoot suits, go to Google images and type in "zoot suits 1940s").
There is an excellent documentary by PBS on the 1942 "Zoot Suit Riots," which is the subject of Valdez' play. Here is an excerpt, and the link to the PBS "American Experience" website can be found below:
In August 1942 the murder of a young Mexican-American man ignited a firestorm in the City of the Angels. In no time at all, ethnic and racial tensions that had been building up over the years boiled over. Police fanned out across the city in a dragnet that netted 600 Mexican Americans. Among those accused of murder was a young "zoot-suiter" named Hank Leyvas -- the poster boy for an entire generation of rebellious Mexican kids who refused to play by the old rules. As he and sixteen other boys headed to trial, the mood of the city turned violent. The deck was stacked against the defendants, and a verdict of guilty would spark a series of brutal riots. The convictions were ultimately overturned, but the city and its inhabitants would be forever changed."
It was a style that was used by Chicanos to make them stand out, kind of a rebellion, and of course the general population would see these guys dressed in this fashion, and as most of the Chicano peopleare viewed today, right away knew who, and what they were! Branded as bandits, bad guys, or people that are ruthless, and come from a minority!
A true pachuco wanted people to know that he was infact a true pachuco. He did not want to hide what he was. It was in his blood, his heart, his soul, and by wearing the proper attire back then for a pachuco to wear that was his statement. He was stating to his surroundings that he was what he was and he was not afraid to make that statement publicly. What you need to understand is that a true pachuco is never ever intimidated by nothing or no one. So in saying what was just said that was the significance of a pachucos attire. What he was practically saying was that he knew very well in his heart what he was and wanted the rest of the world or his surroundings at least to know what he was. He was not ashamed nor intimidated like I said earlier, even in this era, this time of day i should say, or better yet in this society we have our own class of pachucos. They may not be dressed in nice exspencive zoot suits but they make it known what they are and what they stand for. I really and truly hope that maybe what I just said will give you some kind of insight or better yet answer your question in some way, fashion, or form.