What was the significance of the Zoot Suit Riots?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial