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View Full Version : Remembering the Zoot Suit Riots: When Whites had a Racial Identity



Nordhammer
Monday, July 5th, 2004, 12:41 AM
On the night of June 3, 1943, eleven sailors on shore leave stated that they were attacked by a group of Mexican pachucos. In response to this, a group of over 200 uniformed sailors chartered 20 cabs and charged into the heart of the Mexican American community in East Los Angeles. Any zoot suiter was fair game. On this and the following nights, many a zoot suiter was beaten by this mob and stripped of their clothes, their zoot suits, on the spot. Nine sailors were arrested during these disturbances, not one was charged with any crime. On the following nights of June 4th and 5th, the uniformed servicemen (by this time the sailors had been joined by soldiers) again invaded East Los Angeles, marching abreast down the streets, breaking into bars and theaters, and assaulting anyone in their way. Not one was arrested by the Police or the Sheriff. In fact, the servicemen were portrayed in the local press as heroes stemming the tide of the "Mexican Crime Wave." During the nights of June 6th and 7th, these scenes were again repeated. Time Magazine later reported that, "The police practice was to accompany the caravans of soldiers and sailors in police cars, watch the beatings and jail the victims." According to Rudolpho Acuņa in Occupied America, "Seventeen-year-old Enrico Herrera, after he was beaten and arrested, spent three hours at a police station, where he was found by his mother, still naked and bleeding. A 12-year-old boy's jaw was broken. Police arrested over 600 Chicano youths without cause and labeled the arrests 'preventive' action. Angelenos cheered on the servicemen and their civilian allies."3 Finally, at midnight on June 7th, because the navy believed it had on actual mutiny on hand, the military authorities did what the city of Los Angeles would not, they moved to stop the rioting of their personnel. Los Angeles was declared off limits for all military personnel. Though there were little consequences for the rioters (servicemen and local law enforcement authorities alike), there was some public outcry. On June 16th, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt commented in her column that, "The question goes deeper than just suits. It is a racial protest. I have been worried for a long time about the Mexican racial situation. It is a problem with roots going a long way back, and we do not always face these problems as we should." Los Angeles' response was typified by the June 18th headlines of the Los Angeles Times, "Mrs. Roosevelt Blindly Stirs Race Discord," and she was accused of communist leanings in the accompanying editorial.

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