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Zoot suit riots : blood on the pavement

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Title:
Zoot suit riots : blood on the pavement
Series Title:
This week in history
Creator:
Castro, Richard T.
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Publisher:
Richard T. Castron
Publication Date:
Language:
English

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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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Copyright [name of copyright holder or Creator or Publisher as appropriate]. Permission granted to University of Colorado Denver to digitize and display this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.

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Full Text
THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
Zoot Suit Riots: Blood On The Pavement
by
Richard Castro
On June 3, 1943, a group of eleven sailors got into a fight with Mexican American youth in Los Angeles. What
FOLLOWED WAS TO BE CALLED THE ZOOT SUIT RACE RlOT, WHICH LASTED, IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER, FOR A WEEK IN LOS ANGELES. On the night in question, 14 POLICEMEN stayed at the police
STATION AFTER THEIR DUTY WAS OVER. THEY FORMED WHAT WAS CALLED THE "VENGEANCE SQUAD," AND SET OUT "TO CLEAN UP" THE
Mexicans.
In order to understand the dynamics of what started this
RACE RIOT WHICH LEFT NEARLY A THOUSAND YOUNG MEXICAN AMERICANS BEATEN AND INJURED BY MEMBERS OF THE POLICE AND MILITARY CORP, WE NEED TO REVIEW THE ROLE THAT THE PRESS HAD IN RACIALLY POLARIZING THE L. A. COMMUNITY AND HOW MEXICAN
American youth bore the brunt of this "scapegoatism."
In March of the previous year, Japanese Americans were
ROUNDED UP AND PLACED IN RELOCATION CENTERS (CONCENTRATION CAMPS) BY AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ISSUED BY PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT.
It was war time and despite all the evidence which showed
THAT THE JAPANESE WERE NOT DISLOYAL TO OUR COUNTRY, OVER 110,000 WERE HERDED INTO THESE CENTERS WHICH WERE LOCATED IN THE INTERIOR OF THE UNITED STATES.


2
Carey McWiliams in his book "North from Mexico" writes that, "In Los Angeles where fantasy is a way of life, it was
A FOREGONE CONCLUSION THAT MEXICANS WOULD BE SUBSTITUTED AS THE MAJOR SCAPEGOAT GROUP ONCE THE JAPANESE WERE REMOVED. THUS, WITHIN A FEW DAYS AFTER THE JAPANESE HAD LEFT, THE LOS
Angeles newspapers, led by the Hearst press, began to play up "Mexican" crime and "Mexican" juvenile delinquency. They
DID THIS AS THOUGH THE MEXICAN ELEMENT IN CRIME AND DELINQUENCY COULD BE CONSIDERED APART FROM THE ORDINARY CRIME EXPERIENCED BY A LARGE, CONJESTED METROPOLITAN AREA IN WARTIME."
Besides the "Yellow Journalism" that was being pushed
BY THE PRESS AGAINST THE MEXICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY, THE CHIEF
of the Los Angeles Foreign Affairs Bureau added fuel to the fire. A Captain E. Ayres, issued a report presumably prepared
UNDER THE INSTRUCTION OF HIS SUPERIORS. IN THE REPORT,
Captain Ayres explained that violent nature of Mexican Americans was linked to their Aztec Indian ancestors. Ayres,
IN HIS REPORT, EXPLAINED HOW ANGLOS AND MEXICANS VIEW STREET FIGHTING DIFFERENTLY. HE WROTE, "ALL THE MEXICAN ELEMENT KNOWS AND FEELS IS A DESIRE TO USE A KNIFE OR SOME LETHAL WEAPON."
Captain Ayres said while Anglos and those from Northern Europe
SOMETIMES RESORT TO FISTICUFFS, "MEXICANS HAVE A DESIRE TO KILL, OR AT LEAST LET BLOOD." HE CONCLUDED HIS REPORT BY
stating, "When there is added to this "Inborn
characteristic", which has come down through the ages, the
USE OF LIQUOR, THEN WE CERTAINLY HAVE CRIMES OF VIOLENCE."


3
The Ayres report caused much criticism from the Mexican American community. Ayres, in defending his report to a
REPORTER FROM THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, SUGGESTED THAT THE
Japanese, upon being evacuated, had incited the Mexican
POPULATION OF LOS ANGELES TO VIOLENCE. THUS, THE SHERIFF
INFERRED THAT MEXICAN AMERICANS HAD BECOME AGENTS OF THE
Japanese government.
After a year and a half of "Mexican Bashing" by the press
AND PUBLIC OFFICIALS, THE STAGE WAS SET FOR L.A. POLICE AND MEMBERS OF THE U.S. NAVY AND ARMY TO ATTACK MEXICAN AMERICAN YOUTH IN L.A.
Starting on the first week of June in 1943, night after
NIGHT, HUNDREDS OF RESTLESS AND BEACHED SAILORS OF THE U.S.
Armed Forces, bored and frustrated by their inaction in the war against Japan, seized upon the nearest available
DARK-SKINNED ENEMIES --THE YOUNG CHICANOS-- AND BEAT THEM UP.
In his book, "LaRaza," Stan Stiener reported that, "The
WHITE RIOTERS TOURED THE BARRIOS IN CONVOYS OF TAXI CABS, ATTACKING EVERY BROWN BOY THEY FOUND ON THE STREETS, IN BARS AND RESTAURANTS AND MOVIE HOUSES, BY THE DOZENS, BY THE HUNDREDS, WHILE THE LOS ANGELES POLICE LOOKED THE OTHER WAY. NO SAILOR WAS ARRESTED. INSPIRED BY THE INFLAMMATORY NEWS STORIES ABOUT "Zoot Suit roughnecks, the white rioters sought out
THESE MOST OF ALL."


4
ZOOT SUITS WERE AN EARLY HUMPHREY BOGART STYLE,
Mexicanized by Chicano youth and lately revived in its
CLASSIC FORM BY THE MOVIE "ZOOT SUIT."
The youth found wearing a zoot suit were beaten,
STRIPPED NAKED AND IN MANY INSTANCES HAD THEIR HAIR SHEARED
off. This rioting by naval personnel lasted a full week. Finally, the military authorities decided that the police
WERE UNWILLING TO HANDLE THE SITUATION. THEY DECLARED THE ENTIRE DOWNTOWN L.A. OUT OF BOUNDS AND CALLED OUT THE
MILITARY POLICE AND SHORE PATROL TO ENFORCE THIS ORDER.
THE RIOTING ABATED.
On June 8th, Mayor Fletcher Brown stated he thought
THE SITUATION WOULD BLOW OVER. THE CHIEF OF POLICE, TAKING A COUNT OF THE MEXICANS IN JAIL, CHEERFULLY PROCLAIMED THAT "THE SITUATION HAS NOW CLEARED UP."
Unfortunately, "the situation" had not cleared up;
NOR DID IT BLOW OVER. IT BEGAN TO SPREAD TO THE SUBURBS
WHERE THE RIOTING CONTINUED FOR TWO MORE DAYS. WHEN IT FINALLY STOPPED, THE EAGLE ROCK ADVERTISER MOURNFULLY EDITORIALIZED: "IT IS TOO BAD THE SERVICEMEN WERE CALLED
OFF BEFORE THEY WERE ABLE TO COMPLETE THE JOB. . . . MOST OF THE CITIZENS OF THE CITY HAVE BEEN DELIGHTED WITH WHAT HAS BEEN GOING ON."


5
County Supervisor Roger Jessup told the newsmen: "All
THAT IS NEEDED TO END LAWLESSNESS IS MORE OF THE SAME ACTION AS IS BEING EXERCISED BY THE SERVICEMEN!" THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY
of Ventura, an outlying county, jumped on the bandwagon with
A STATEMENT TO THE EFFECT THAT "ZOOT SUITS ARE AN OPEN INDICATION OF SUBVERSIVE CHARACTER." THIS WAS ALSO THE OPINION
of the Los Angeles City Council which adopted a resolution
MAKING THE WEARING OF ZOOT-SUITS A MISDEMEANOR! ON JUNE llTH, HUNDREDS OF HANDBILLS WERE DISTRIBUTED BY MILITARY PERSONNEL AND ASKED THE STUDENTS TO PUT THEM ON THE BULLETIN BOARDS IN A HIGH SCHOOL ATTENDED BY MANY BLACKS AND MEXICANS WHICH READ:
"Big Sale. Second Hand Zoot Suits. Slightly Damaged. Apply
AT NEAREST U.S. NAVAL STATION. WHILE THEY LAST, WE HAVE YOUR
Size."
It should be remembered that while this rioting by U.S. Armed force personnel was taking place against young Mexican American youth, thousands of Mexican Americans were fighting
FOR FREEDOM IN THE PACIFIC AND EUROPE. WE POINT WITH PRIDE TO THE FACT THAT THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF CONGRESSIONAL MEDALS
of Honor have been given to Mexican Americans. While it is
ADMIRABLE TO FIGHT FOR FREEDOM OVERSEAS, LET US ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM MUST START AT HOME. We'VE COME A LONG WAY SINCE THE ZOOT SUIT RIOTS, BUT LET US NEVER FORGET
WHAT CHAOS HYSTERIA CAN CREATE.


Full Text

PAGE 1

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY ZOOT SUIT RIOTS: BLOOD ON THE PAVEMENT BY RICHARD CASTRO ON JUNE 3, 1943, A GROUP OF ELEVEN SAILORS GOT INTO A FIGHT WITH MEXICAN AMERICAN YOUTH I N Los ANGELES. WHAT FOLLOWED WAS TO BE CALL ED THE ZOOT SuIT RACE RIOT, WHICH LASTED, IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER, FOR A WEEK IN LOS ANGELES, ON THE NIGHT IN QUESTION, 14 POLICEMEN STAYED AT THE POLICE STATION AFTER THEIR DUTY WAS OVER. THEY FORMED WHAT WAS CALLED THE "VENGEANCE SQUAD," AND SET OUT "TO CLEAN UP" THE MEXICANS. IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF WHAT STARTED THIS RACE RIOT WHICH LEFT NEARLY A THOUSAND YOUNG MEXICAN AMERICANS BEATEN AND INJURED BY MEMBERS OF THE POLICE AND MILITARY CORP, WE NEED TO REVIEW THE ROLE THAT THE PRESS HAD IN RACIALLY POLARIZING THE L.A. COMMUNITY AND HOW MEXICAN AMERICAN YOUTH BORE THE BRUNT OF THIS "SCAPEGOATISM," IN MARCH OF THE PREVIOUS YEAR, JAPANESE AMERICANS WERE ROUNDED UP AND PLACED IN RELOCATION CENTERS (CONCENTRATION CAMPS) BY AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ISSUED BY PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT. IT WAS WAR TIME AND DESPITE ALL THE EVIDENCE WHICH SHOWED THAT THE JAPANESE WERE NOT DISLOYAL TO OUR COUNTRY, OVER 110,000 WERE HERDED INTO THESE CENTERS WHICH WERE LOCATED IN THE INTERIOR OF THE UNITED STATES.

PAGE 2

2 CAREY MeW ILl AMS IN HIS BOOK "NORTH FROM MEXICO" WRITES THAT, "IN Los ANGELES WHERE FANTASY IS A WAY OF LIFE, IT WAS A FOREGONE CONCLUSION THAT MEXICANS WOULD BE SUBSTITUTED AS THE MAJOR SCAPEGOAT GROUP ONCE THE JAPANESE WERE REMOVED, THUS, WITHIN A FEW DAYS AFTER THE JAPANESE HAD LEFT, THE LOS ANGELES NEWSPAPERS, LED BY THE HEARST PRESS, BEGAN TO PLAY UP "MEXICAN" CRIME AND "MEXICAN" JUVENILE DELINQUENCY. THEY DID THIS AS THOUGH THE MEXICAN ELEMENT IN CRIME AND DELINQUENCY COULD BE CONSIDERED APART FROM THE ORDINARY CRIME EXPERIENCED BY A LARGE, CONJESTED METROPOLITAN AREA IN WARTIME." BESIDES THE "YELLOW JOURNALISM" THAT WAS BEING PUSHED BY THE PRESS AGAINST THE MEXICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY, THE CHIEF OF THE Los ANGELES FOREIGN AFFAIRS BUREAU ADDED FUEL TO THE FIRE. A CAPTAIN E. AYRES, ISSUED A REPORT PRESUMABLY PREPARED UNDER CAPTAIN THE INSTRUCTION OF HIS SUPERIORS. AYRES EXPLAINED THAT VIOLENT IN THE REPORT I NATURE OF AMERICANS WAS Ll NKED TO THEIR AZTEC INDIAN ANCESTORS, MEXICAN AYRES, IN HIS REPORT, EXPLAINED HOW ANGLOS AND MEXICANS VIEW STREET FIGHTING DIFFERENTLY. HE WROTE, "ALL THE MEXICAN ELEMENT KNOWS AND FEELS IS A DESIRE TO USE A KNIFE OR SOME LETHAL WEAPON." CAPTAIN AYRES SAID WHILE ANGLOS AND THOSE FROM NORTHERN EUROPE SOMETIMES RESORT TO FISTICUFFS, "MEXICANS HAVE A DESIRE TO KILL, OR AT LEAST LET BLOOD." HE CONCLUDED HIS REPORT BY STATING, "WHEN THERE IS ADDED TO THIS "INBORN CHARACTERISTIC", WHICH HAS COME DOWN THROUGH THE AGES, THE USE OF LIQUOR, THEN WE CERTAINLY HAVE CRIMES OF VIOLENCE."

PAGE 3

3 THE AYRES REPORT CAUSED MUCH CRITICISM FROM THE MEXICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY. AYRES, IN DEFENDING HIS REPORT TO A REPORTER FROM THE NEW YoRK DAILY NEWS, SUGGESTED THAT THE JAPANESE, UPON BEING EVACUATED, HAD INCITED THE MEXICAN POPULATION OF Los ANGELES TO VIOLENCE. THUS, THE SHERIFF INFERRED THAT MEXICAN AMERICANS HAD BECOME AGENTS OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT. AFTER A YEAR AND A HALF OF "MEXICAN BASHING" BY THE PRESS AND PUBLIC OFFICIALS, THE STAGE WAS SET FOR L.A. POLICE AND MEMBERS OF THE u Is I NAVY AND ARMY TO ATTACK MEXICAN AMERICAN YOUTH IN L.A. STARTING ON THE FIRST WEEK OF JUNE IN 1943, NIGHT AFTER NIGHT I HUNDREDS OF RESTLESS AND BEACHED SAILORS OF THE u Is I ARMED FORCES, BORED AND FRUSTRATED BY THEIR INACTION IN THE WAR AGAINST JAPAN, SEIZED UPON THE NEAREST AVAILABLE DARK-SKINNED ENEMIES --THE YOUNG CHICANOS-AND BEAT THEM UP. IN HIS BOOK, "LARAZA," STAN STIENER REPORTED THAT, "THE WHITE RIOTERS TOURED THE BARRIOS IN CONVOYS OF TAXI CABS, ATTACKING EVERY BROWN BOY THEY FOUND ON THE STREETS, IN BARS AND RESTAURANTS AND MOVIE HOUSES, BY THE DOZENS, BY THE HUNDREDS, WHILE THE LOS ANGELES POLICE LOOKED THE OTHER WAY. No SAILOR WAS ARRESTED. INSPIRED BY THE INFLAMMATORY NEWS STORIES ABOUT "ZOOT SUIT ROUGHNECKS, THE WHITE RIOTERS SOUGHT OUT THESE MOST OF ALL."

PAGE 4

• 4 ZOOT SUITS WERE AN EARLY HUMPHREY BOGART STYLE} MEXICANIZED BY CHICANO YOUTH AND LATELY REVIVED IN ITS CLASSIC FORM BY THE MOVIE "ZOOT SUIT." THE YOUTH FOUND WEARING A ZOOT SUIT WERE BEATEN} STRIPPED NAKED AND IN MANY INSTANCES HAD THEIR HAIR SHEARED OFF, THIS RIOTING BY NAVAL PERSONNEL LASTED A FULL WEEK. FINALLY} THE MILITARY AUTHORITIES DECIDED THAT THE POLICE WERE UNW I L Ll NG TO HANDLE THE S I TLJAT I ON, THEY DECLARED THE ENTIRE DOWNTOWN L I A I OUT OF BOUNDS AND CALL ED OUT THE MILl TARY POLICE AND SHORE PATROL TO ENFORCE THIS ORDER, THE RIOTING ABATED. ON JUNE 8TH} MAYOR FLETCHER BROWN STATED HE THOUGHT THE SITUATION WOULD BLOW OVER. THE CHIEF OF POLICE} TAKING A COUNT OF THE MEXICANS IN JAIL} CHEERFULLY PROCLAIMED THAT "THE SITUATION HAS NOW CLEARED UP." UNFORTUNATELY} "THE SITUATION" HAD NOT CLEARED UP; NOR DID IT BLOW OVER, IT BEGAN TO SPREAD TO THE SUBURBS WHERE THE RIOTING CONTINUED FOR TWO MORE DAYS, WHEN IT FINALLY STOPPED} THE EAGLE ROCK ADVERTISER MOURNFULLY EDITORIALIZED: "IT IS TOO BAD THE SERVICEMEN WERE CALLED OFF BEFORE THEY WERE ABLE TO coMPLETE THE JOB. • • • MosT OF THE CITIZENS OF THE CITY HAVE BEEN DELIGHTED WITH WHAT HAS BEEN GOING ON."

PAGE 5

• 5 COUNTY SUPERVISOR ROGER JESSUP TOLD THE NEWSMEN: "ALL THAT IS NEEDED TO END LAWLESSNESS IS MORE OF THE SAME ACTION AS IS BEING EXERCISED BY THE SERVICEMEN!" THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF VENTURA, AN OUTLYING COUNTY, JUMPED ON THE BANDWAGON WITH A STATEMENT TO THE EFFECT THAT "ZOOT SUITS ARE AN OPEN INDICATION OF SUBVERSIVE CHARACTER." THIS WAS ALSO THE OPINION OF THE los ANGELES CITY COUNCIL WHICH ADOPTED A RESOLUTION MAKING THE WEARING OF ZOOT-SUITS A MISDEMEANOR! ON JUNE 11TH, HUNDREDS OF HANDBILLS WERE DISTRIBUTED BY MILITARY PERSONNEL AND ASKED THE STUDENTS TO PUT THEM ON THE BULLET! N BOARDS IN A HIGH SCHOOL ATTENDED BY MANY BLACKS AND MEXICANS WHICH READ: "BIG SALE. SECOND HAND ZOOT SUITS. SLIGHTLY DAMAGED. APPLY AT NEAREST U.S. NAVAL STATION. WHILE THEY LAST, WE HAVE YOUR SIZE." IT SHOULD BE REMEMBERED THAT WHILE THIS RIOTING BY U.S. ARMED FORCE PERSONNEL WAS TAKING PLACE AGAINST YOUNG MEXICAN AMERICAN YOUTH, THOUSANDS OF MEXICAN AMERICANS WERE FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM IN THE PACIFIC AND EUROPE. WE POINT WITH PRIDE TO THE FACT THAT THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF CONGRESSIONAL MEDALS OF HONOR HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO MEXICAN AMERICANS. WHILE IT IS ADMIRABLE TO FIGHT FOR FREEDOM OVERSEAS, LET US ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM MUST START AT HOME. WE'VE COME A LONG WAY SINCE THE ZOOT SUIT RIOTS, BUT LET US NEVER FORGET WHAT CHAOS HYSTERIA CAN CREATE.