What cultural/racial themes are portrayed in Luis Valdez's Zoot Suit and "My Ride, My Revolution"?

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Luis Valdez's play Zoot Suit is primarily about the relationships among justice, race, ethnicity, and cultural representation. The flamboyant young men who enjoy displaying their style through the unique, elaborate suits they wear are using fashion as an arena of competition amongst themselves. The specific style also emphasizes their group solidarity.

Members of the dominant white society, however, associate this fashion trend with a set of negative stereotypes they have about Mexican Americans. The European American characters seem to believe that all young Mexican American men are gang members or “pachucos.” The resentment extends to the their very presence. They be inconspicuous, and they should not show up to certain locations.

The 1940s era in which the play is set provides the historical context for actual events that inspired the play. The volatile situation relates to the conflicts over military service and patriotism among men who were often judged to be foreign and incapable of patriotism. The injustices levied against them is like salt in their wounds. When the stabbing occurs in the Sleepy Lagoon, the police officers do not arrest any of the white people present. A Latino man is assumed to be guilty, and Valdez portrays the trial as a sham.

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Zoot Suit follows the historical events of the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial and the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 in Los Angeles. During the trial, the defendants were not allowed to communicate with their attorneys, and the judge ordered that the jury should see the defendants in the zoot suits worn only by "hoodlums." The zoot suit becomes a symbol for inequality, worn by protesters during the riots. The Zoot Suit Riots saw American servicemen challenge Mexican American youths and minorities that made up the civil rights organization The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee.

Valdez's short story "My Ride, My Revolution" counters the perception of glamor surrounding Hollywood, establishing a picture of this city's drug addicts, gang members, and people experiencing homelessness. He refers to the city as "Hollow-wood," and the story calls attention to the unique circumstances of the Chicano population and the need for equality. Luis Valdez's works have an important place in El Movimiento (Chicano civil rights movement) and Mexican American empowerment, advocating for the Chicano community through literature and theatre.

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