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11.7.9 Mexican American youths detained for questioning

Mexican American youths in "zoot suits" are detained for questioning in a Los Angeles jail after a brawl.
circa 1943
Photographic Print
Mexican American youths detained for questioning. Photograph. Circa 1943. UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, Los Angeles Daily News Negatives. https://calisphere.org/item/ark:/13030/hb809nb56s/

In part due to the increased Mexican and Mexican American population in the United States, and due to the recently arrived white service members in heavily populated cities like Los Angeles, the swelling white population grew increasingly angry about the activities of Mexican American teenagers, many of whom had joined street gangs called pachucos. These teens stood out because they wore long, loose jackets with padded shoulders, baggy pants tied at the ankles, long chains, broad-brimmed hats, and greased ducktail hairstyles. This outfit was known as a zoot suit. In June 1943, a four-day riot in Los Angeles erupted and became known as the Zoot Suit Riots, during which white sailors in Long Beach invaded Mexican American communities and attacked zoot-suiters. Police did little to restrain the sailors, who grabbed Hispanic teenagers, tore off and burned their clothes, cut off their ducktails, and beat them. When the teens tried to fight back, the police arrested them. In the aftermath of the Zoot Suit Riots, the city of Los Angeles passed a law prohibiting zoot suits. Why do you think wartime would heighten conflicts at home?

In part due to the increased Mexican and Mexican American population in the United States, and due to the recently arrived white service members in heavily populated cities like Los Angeles, the swelling white population grew increasingly angry about the activities of Mexican American teenagers, many of whom had joined street gangs called pachucos. These teens stood out because they wore long, loose jackets, with padded shoulders, baggy pants tied at the ankles, long chains, broad-brimmed hats, and greased ducktail hairstyles. This outfit was known as a zoot suit. In June 1943, a four-day riot in Los Angeles erupted and became known as the Zoot Suit Riots during which white sailors in Long Beach invaded Mexican American communities and attacked zoot-suiters. Police did little to restrain the sailors, who grabbed Hispanic teenagers, tore off and burned their clothes, cut off their ducktails, and beat them. When the teens tried to fight back, the police arrested them. In the aftermath of the Zoot Suit Riots, the city of Los Angeles passed a law prohibiting zoot suits. Ask students to make sense of the significance of the riots by posing this question: Why do you think wartime would heighten conflicts at home? Moreover, ask your students to use this photograph — and a variety of other widely available images that document the riots — as a piece of evidence to answer the following questions: Considering that World War II served to advance movements for equality at home and abroad, what does this episode of violence tell you about the state of race relations during the war? How did the war serve to advance movements for equality at home and abroad? How did the American government change because of World War II?