Themes and Meanings
Zoot Suit is a fast-moving, didactic play in a variety of styles that protests Chicanos’ treatment in America. Based on incidents that occurred when Pachuco gangs stirred hostility in Los Angeles during World War II, but concerned with the 1970’s as well, the play lashes society for abusing its own children. For poor, dark-skinned Mexican-Americans, injustice has become a way of life.
Products of slums and victims of discrimination, Chicanos seek escape wherever they can find it—in music, dancing, drinking, and extravagant display of costume. Even Lt. Edwards, a Los Angeles policeman, discerns the root of their problem. “Slums breed crime, fellas,” he announces to an assembled group of reporters, waiting eagerly to chronicle the latest Chicano excesses for a bigoted readership. “That’s your story.” The idea that depressed surroundings produce angry, scared people, that vice and crime can be extirpated only if the environment that breeds them is abolished is hardly a new or radical notion: Benjamin Franklin taught it more than two hundred years earlier in Philadelphia.
As foreigners in their own country, Chicanos suffer not only the arrogance and rejection of Anglo society but also great psychic stress as they struggle, half-unwillingly, to observe the customs of their persecutors, to accept a way of life that they do not really understand. Attempting to adhere to strictures they recognize as socially approved but...
(The entire section is 471 words.)