Wednesday, 3 June 2020

zoot suit riots

On this day in 1943 in Los Angeles and continuing for the next five days, US sailors and Marines stationed there (either on rest and recuperative or transitioning for deployment to the Pacific theatre) and white residents, enervated by sensational coverage of the so-called Sleepy Lagoon murder trial of the summer prior, and ostensibly over the extravagance of their flamboyant clothes and accessorising that was seen as using up valuable fabric during wartime rationing, clashed with Mexican-American youth.
The attacks spread to other industrial cities across the US, expanding to other minority populations. The violence subsided by mid-June but tensions remained high and concern for the economy of southern California was brought to the forefront, given its reliance on the inflow of inexpensive labour in order to harvest produce, eventually leading to the papering-over of the underlying problems, with local authorities squarely assigning blame to delinquent and idle youths rather than systemic racism contrasted with the inquiry launched by the federal government into the riots which had the aims of determining whether Nazi or Axis agitators were not stoking unrest and sponsored the protestors. The defiance of the Zoot Suitors in the face of this unrelenting violence and antagonism is regarded as a pivotal moment for El Movimiento and related civil rights movements to combat institutional racism and disenfranchisement. As young men, civil rights leaders Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X were both Zoot Suiters.