Zoot Suit Riots Essay Contest
California Legislature 1945, published by the state legislature’s Committee on Un-American Activities in California, reflects the formal position of elected officials: that the violence was not racially motivated but was instead the result of pro-fascist operatives who provoked social discord among civilian youth. The novelist Chester Himes challenged such official denials in Himes 1943. The Hollywood screenwriter Guy Endore fundamentally shifted the focus in Endore 1944, by accusing the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst of using his Los Angeles newspapers to promote “anti-Mexican hysteria.” This interpretation substantially influenced nearly all subsequent works. McWilliams 1949 expands on Endore’s thesis, claiming that Hearst sympathized with Adolf Hitler and that city police and military officials colluded with Hearst to foment racial hatred against Mexican Americans. Acuña 2011 modifies the Endore thesis in dropping the accusation that Hearst was behind the violence and carrying forward the thesis that all of Mexican American history (which includes the Zoot Suit riot) is a long sequence of anti-Mexican hysteria. Mazón 1984 adds psychoanalytic theory to explain why sailors experienced mass hysteria against Mexican Americans. Both Sánchez 1993 and Escobar 1999 continue the anti-Mexican thesis but strive to place the riot within a larger social and political context. Sánchez explores the process of cultural appropriation and invention, whereas Escobar places the riot within the historical context of the Los Angeles Police Department’s harsh treatment of Mexican Americans. Pagán 2003 rejects the anti-Mexican hysteria thesis as the sole explanation for social tensions and argues that the Zoot Suit riot, as well as the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial, instead derived from competing social tensions that grew out of demographic pressures, city planning, and a street-level insurgency against white privilege.
Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 7th ed. Boston: Longman, 2011.
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The first overview of Mexican American history from a Chicano nationalist perspective, originally published in 1972, which utilizes the anti-Mexican thesis to interpret Mexican American history (including the Zoot Suit riot) and to explain how white Americans came to dominate land that once belonged to Mexico. Devotes a chapter to the riot.
California Legislature. “‘Zoot-Suit’ Riots in Southern California.” In Second Report: Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in California. By California Legislature. Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1945.
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The Un-American Activities Committee launched its own investigation into the cause of the riot to discover whether “fifth-column” fascist sympathizers were behind the escalating series of street conflicts between Mexican American youth and military men. They also probed the connections that the Communist Party USA had with the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee.
Endore, Guy. The Sleepy Lagoon Mystery. Los Angeles: Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, 1944.
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This 1944 booklet, written by a well-known Hollywood screenwriter and progressive activist, provided an enduring interpretation of why military men attacked zoot-suited youth. Endore alleged that the jury and military men were being controlled by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, who held a personal grudge against Mexican Americans. Reprinted as recently as 1980.
Escobar, Edward J. Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity: Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900–1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
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Devotes several chapters to the riot and argues that sweeping political reforms in reaction to the rampant vice of the 1920s and 1930s led to the creation of stringent police policies that affected the minority neighborhoods of Los Angeles with special harshness. The crackdown on criminalized social practices led to the perception that minority youth of the 1940s were out of control, and military men responded in attacking so-called zoot suiters.
Himes, Chester B. “Zoot Riots Are Race Riots.” Crisis 50.7 (July 1943): 200–201.
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Himes rejected the official declarations of city officials that the Zoot Suit riot was not the result of prejudice against Mexican Americans, and sought to describe clear examples of racial animosity directed toward Mexican American youth that he witnessed in the weeks leading up to the riot.
Mazón, Mauricio. TheZoot-Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984.
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Uses psychoanalytic theory to explore why sailors experienced anti-Mexican hysteria in rioting against zoot-suited youth, and argues that they were enacting rituals of erasure against civilian youth that they themselves had been subjected to in being inducted into the military.
McWilliams, Carey. North from Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1949.
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In this comprehensive survey of Mexican American history, McWilliams argues, in his chapter devoted to the Zoot Suit riot, that publisher William Randolph Hearst used his sensationalistic Los Angeles newspapers to turn public opinion against Mexican Americans because of his fascist sympathies, and that key city officials, including the Los Angeles Police Department, colluded with his plan to rid the city of Mexican American youth gangs. New edition, updated by Matt S. Meier, published in 1990 (New York: Greenwood).
Pagán, Eduardo Obregón. Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime L.A. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
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Provides a comprehensive study of the riot. Arguing against the anti-Mexican thesis as the sole cause of the Zoot Suit riot, Pagán explores how a number of social tensions prior to and during the war, such as demographic pressures, city planning, and a growing street-level revolt against white privilege, culminated in the Zoot Suit riot.
Sánchez, George J. Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
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Arguing against earlier scholarship that saw resistance as the main theme for Mexican American history, Sánchez documents a complex process of social and cultural assimilation for Mexican immigrants and argues that they both resisted and accommodated American culture. Devotes a chapter to the riot, drawing on the anti-Mexican thesis.
The Mexican American Experience: The Zoot Suit Riots
Throughout the last two centuries every (ethnic) group of non Anglo - American descent had to struggle and fight for acceptance within the American society, and for the self-confidence of their own ethnic and cultural identity.
In the 20th century, both within their own community and the public arena, African - Americans and Mexican - Americans have presented their bodies in culturally distinctive ways. Distinctive in comparison to Anglo - American styling. As an expression of identity and to demonstrate “pride” in the face of Anglo-American discrimination and exclusion from Anglo-American society they had their own styling, made up of a special hairdo, bright colors, long watch chains and outrageous suits for example.
One of these movements was the Zoot Suit Riots.
The Zoot Suit Riots and were important for the recognition of African - Americans and Mexican-Americans in the United States. It had a positive effect on ethnic consciousness among Americans of Mexican descent, and also for the recognition of separate MexicanAmerican identity, but no linguistic impact.
The aim of the paper is to determine the Zoot Suit Riot’s social and linguistic significance for Mexican-Americans.
I will start the paper with a short definition of the terms identity and minority, because they will occur throughout the whole paper and are important for its understanding. In the third chapter I will give a backdrop of the political and social situation of the United States in the 1940s in general, so that the reader gets an idea of the circumstances in this time. In chapter four the social and linguistic significance of the Zoot Suit Riots for Mexican-Americans will be discussed.
2. Identity construction in general and in minority settings
Identity means who or what somebody is.(Oxford Advanced Learner’s) Personal and group identities are not monostral but are made up of several components such as ancestry, color of skin, age, profession, gender, political orientation, sexual orientation, place of residence and language.
Given the wide variety of components available it is difficult to classify people into distinct groups. Identities are not just added up but are part of an integrated system. Thus cultural groups cannot be established on the basis of ancestry itself but constitute themselves in and through everyday interactions. They are highly changeable too.
In order to talk about identity construction in minority setting, one has to explain what a minority is, who it defines and how do they came into existence.
A minority is a smaller group of people compared with another group. (Oxford Advanced Learner’s) Because of distinct characteristics, for example, religion, language or color of skin, people are classified as a minority. Minorities are mainly defined by technological and financial superior groups.
Usually minorities come into existence when, for example, (technological) superior group enters a country or continent. The conquest of America would be one such example: in this case a small group of Europeans were able to conquer a far larger group of indigenous people. Even if the Spanish were numerical the minority in comparison to the Indians, in time they became the majority and the indians the minority. Why or how could this happen? The Spanish conquerors had a huge advantage over the Indians due to their great arsenal and weaponry. Although the indigenous nations clearly outnumbered the Spaniards they were no match against the force and power of the Spanish conquerors. However, minorities do not only arise when a nation is conquered, but also when a group of people migrate to another country. For example, Mexicans who immigrated to the United States are a minority in the U.S.A. What makes them a minority is, as I already mentioned before, is their different culture, religion, ancestors and language.
3. The socio-political context of the United States in the 1940s
During World War II. the economic and political situation in the US was difficult. While Europe and Asia were at war America tried to distance themselves from it, but eventually became more involved.
The “Storm on the Pacific” in 1940 finally ended America’s defensive participation in World War II. After the Nazi victories in spring of 1940, America’s relation with Japan also took a turn for the worse. (Tindal: p.900-918)
With the “Gentleman’s Agreement” of 1907, the relationship between Americans towards Japanese, and Japanese towards Americans was organized in an acceptable way for both sides. In 1906 the San Francisco school board ordered students of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent to attend a separate public school. The Japanese government protested this show of prejudice, and President Roosevelt managed to talk the school board into changing its mind. For its part Japan then agreed to limit sharply its issuance of passports to the United States. This “Gentleman’s Agreement” halted the influx of Japanese immigrants and brought some respite to racial agitation in California.(Tindal: p.724) During the war Japan needed a huge amount of raw material. In the vastness of China, Japanese militaries saw a possibility to get the needed raw material .With forced help of the French government they incorporated into their “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” among other things the oil and strategic materials their homeland lacked. Japan depended on the United States for important supplies, including 80 percent of their oil. The United States responded with a loan to China and the Export Control Act of July 2, 1940, which authorized the president to restrict the export of arms and other strategic materials to Japan. By September the oil restriction had tightened into a complete embargo. ( Tindal: p.900- 918)
Forced to secure oil supplies elsewhere, the Japanese army and navy began to plan attacks on the Dutch and British colonies in southwest Asia. Actions by both sides put the United States and Japan on the path a war neither wanted.
However, Japanese warlords, for their part, seriously misjudged the United States. The wish of America to stay out of war might still have enabled the Japanese to conquer the British and Dutch colonies before an American decision to act. With the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the war moved in the Pacific. On December 11 Germany and Italy declared war on the United States and by then America’s isolation was cast away. (Tindal: p.900-918)
The Japanese attack on Pearl harbor ended a period of uneasy neutrality for the United States. Even more important, of course, it launched America into an epochal world event that would transform the nation’s social and economic landscape.
The most volatile issue ignited by the war was that of black participation in the defence effort. From the start black leaders demanded full recognition in the Armed Forces and defence industry. About a million African-Americans served in the armed forces, in every branch, but most served in segregated units that mirrored the society from which they came. Every army camp had its separate facilities and its periodic racial “incidents”. The most important departure from this pattern came in a 1940 decision to give up segregation in officer candidate schools, except those for air force cadets. 8Tindal: p.900-918) War industries were even less accessible to black influence and pressure, although government policy in theory opposed discrimination.
About 2 million blacks were working in war plants by the end of 1944. The demand for black labor revived migration out of the South and large numbers of southern blacks now headed for the Far West as well as the North. States with the highest increases of black population in the 1940s were, in order, California, Michigan, Oregon, Washington and New York.
African-Americans quickly broadened their drive for wartime participation into a more inclusive and open challenge of all kinds of discrimination, including racial segregation itself. Black militancy growing out of this aroused antagonism from some whites. The proceeding racial violence, for example, sparked two days of fighting, until federal troops arrived on the second evening to stop it, in 1943 in Detroit.
The social effects the war had on Japanese-Americans was different to what it had on African-Americans. In contrast to German-Americans or Italian-Americans, Americans of Japanese descent faced the harassment of Anglo-Americans. Few, if any, were disloyal, but all were victims of fear and racial prejudice. This was especially the case in the month following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Because of the public harassment the government demanded all Japanese, citizens or not, into “War Relocation Camps” in the interior. More than 100,000 were eventually removed from their homes and businesses. (Tindal: p.916) The dramatic expansion of defence production after 1940 and the mobilization of millions into the armed forces accelerated economic development and the population boom in the western States. the migration of workers to new defence jobs in the West also had significant demographic effects. Communities that earlier had few African-Americans witnessed an influx of blacks. Many of these new arrivals found that the only available housing was that vacated by the Japanese-Americans being relocated to internment camps. As rural folk moved to the western cities, the farm counties experienced a labor shortage. Therefore, government authorities, who before the war strove to force Mexican laborers back across the border, now recruited them to harvest crops. However, the Mexican government first insisted that the U.S.A. ensure certain minimum work and living conditions before it would assist in providing the needed workers. The result was the bracero program in 1942. Under this bracero program, some 200,000 Mexican farm workers entered the western United States. At least that many more crossed the border illegally. The influx of people created new tension. The rising tide of Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles provoked a growing stream of anti-Hispanic incidents. The second generation of Mexican immigrants had to deal with many different situations in comparison to the first generation. Stripped of their customs, beliefs, and language they were a disinherited generation within a disadvantaged part of the North American society. Many Mexican- Americans faced prejudices within the educational system, welfare and employment opportunities because of their cultural and social heritage. Even though Mexican-Americans fought in the war with great valor, earning seventeen Congressional Medals of Honor, there was constant conflict between servicemen and Mexican- American gang members and teenage Zoot Suiters in southern California. In 1943, several thousand off-duty sailors and soldiers, joined by hundreds of local white civilians, rampaged through downtown Los
Angeles’ streets, assaulting Hispanics and blacks. The violence lasted a week and came to be labelled the Zoot Suit Riots.
4. The Zoot Suit Riots
4.1. The Zoot Suit - its nature and significance to wearer and mainstream America.
What is a Zoot ? The term Zoot itself has no clearly identifiable origin. Zoot is probably a rendering of the word ‘suit’ itself, but also the Dutch zoet meaning sweet has also been proposed as a possible origin, which is less likely as there was not that much contact between African-Americans and Dutch. (Thorne: p.58,59)
In African-American daily language Zoot meant something performed or worn in an extravagant style.
The Zoot Suit is a two piece suit with an extra - long broad - shouldered jacket and baggy pants that are tapered at the ankle. The style of a Zoot Suit is also set apart by accessories such as extra - long (single or double) pocket watch chains reaching down past the knees, a pocket watch, suspenders, a wide brimmed hat with a feather in the band and two - toned spectator shoes (similar to the tap - dance shoes). (Cosgrove: p.3-22) The Zoot Suit fashion has no clearly identifiably origin. Some historians say that the jackets and breeches of the British uniforms were signifying for the Zoot Suit style. Others say that the black busboy, Clyde Duncan, was the first person wearing a Zoot Suit in 1936. Trying to look like Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind” he ordered a tailor to make him a suit with a 26 inch long jacked, wide trousers tampered at the ankles and a broad hat. The Zoot Suit’s typical style was concisely described in the language of rhyming slang of Harlem’s night - life: ‘a killer - diller coat with drape- shape, reat - pleats and shoulders padded like a lunatic’s cell’. (Cosgrove: p.3-22)
Slang is a speech style that contains many informal words and expressions that are more common in spoken language and are not thought suitable for formal situations. It is sometimes restricted to one particular group of people, for example blacks, soldiers. Rhyming slang is a way of speaking in which words are replaced with rhyming words or phrases. For example, “a killer-diller coat” or in Cockney rhyming slang “apples and pears” means “stairs”.(Oxford Advanced Learner’s)
The specific meaning of the Zoot Suit derived from its context, from who was wearing it and were it was displayed.
For the people who wore Zoot Suits, so-called Zooters, the zoot suit style has its origins among young Latinos and African - Americans coming from the East and West coasts, at the end of the 1930s. The youths of this time looked for something to contrast themselves with the (Anglo-American) society. In this time the pictures of Clyde Duncan with his new and strange looking suit were to be seen in many newspapers and the blacks fancied its look that much that they adopted it and it soon became their official sign. (Cosgrove: p.18)
From there it was picked up by American jazz and swing musicians and dancers, Jitterbug fans, sportsmen and pimps and became uniquely identified with the swing movement ever since. In the U.S.A the zoot suit look was again seen among Hispanic / Latino youths in the second half of the 19770s, especially in Miami, Los Angeles and New York. (Thorne: p.58,59)
For the main part of the Anglo - American society the Zoot Suit always had been an affront. They interpreted wearing a Zoot Suit as attitudes against war (World War II), as a sign for not being patriotic. (Cosgrove: p.3-22)
After the United States’ entry into World War II the nation had to face the restrictions of rationing and the prospects of conscription. The rationing affected for example the production of suits and all clothing containing wool. Therefor most legitimate tailoring companies ceased to produce and advertise any suits that fell outside the War Production Board’s (WPB) guidelines. This mainly affected the production of the outrageous Zoot Suits, whereupon a network of bootleg tailors based in Los Angeles and New York continued to produce the garments.
Anglo - Americans, interpreted wearing a Zoot Suit as a deliberate and public way of flouting the regulations of rationing, what again was seen as a proof for non - patriotic attitudes towards the United States. Not only that it ignored the laws of rationing, Anglo - Americans associated with Zoot Suits also petty crime and violence. But by means of wearing a Zoot Suit, many African - Americans and Mexican - Americans found a way to express their cultural and social identity.
Mexican-American’s appearance on the street were reflected in their style of pachucismo. In order to understand what pachucismo means the term needs to be explained. The term Pachuco derived from the Mexican town El Paso (on the street called El Chuco) and the habitants of El Chuco are called Pachucos, which is a derivation for ‘para El Chuco’ (to El Chuco). Pachucismo is the Pachuco way of life.
Usually Mexican - Americans wearing a Zoot Suit are called Pachucos, which was in the 1940s a neglecting expression for lower - class Mexican - Americans or Mexicans recently migrated to the United States.
4.2. The Zoot Suit Riots
a) What were they?
The term Zoot Suit Riots was coined by the press, to refer to a series of racial disturbances along the Pacific seaboard, in the summer of 1943 and later in northern cities such as Detroit and New York, when mobs of armed servicemen beat up and stripped young African - Americans and Mexican - Americans caught on the streets wearing the ‘provocative garb’ of the Zoot Suit. (White: p.249)
The zoot Suit Riots started on June 3, 1943, when eleven sailors on leave walked into a Mexican-American barrio (neighbourhood) in Los Angeles and became involved in a fight with a group of men thought to be of Mexican decent. Those eleven sailors stated that they were attacked by a group of Mexican Pachucos, which wasn’t true. In response to this, the next day 200 sailors hired a fleet of taxis and circled the Mexican-American neighbourhoods in L.A.. Any Zooter was fair game. The Mexican-Americans fought back, but were often outnumbered and outmanoeuvred. During the week scenes such as uniformed servicemen hell raising Mexican bars or shops, stripping Zooters of their clothes on the spot were common. The police looked the other way and instead of arresting the uniformed hooligans, the servicemen were portrayed as heroes stemming the tide of the ‘Mexican Crime Wave’. Time Magazine later reported that, ‘The police was to accompany the caravans of soldiers and sailors in police cars, watch the beating and jail the victims.’
By June 7th, thousands of civilians of all races, including some Anglo-Americans to show their solidarity with Mexican-Americans, had joined the riots. African - Americans and Mexican - Americans were being savagely attacked. Finally, at midnight on June 7th, downtown Loa Angeles was declared off limits to sailors by military authority and not by the city of Los Angeles, but by then the riots had spread to the suburbs. Soon the rest of the country was caught up in an anti - Mexican wave, for example, “charged” with attacks against Mexican-American properties or beating them up, that sparked attacks in Chicago, San Diego, Pasadena, Detroit, Philadelphia and finally Harlem.
The Los Angeles’ Zoot Suit Riots are now more often referred to as the ‘sailor riots’, which is definitely the better expression. (Novas: p.39)
The expression Zoot Suit Riots implies that Zooters are the initiator of the riots. As the riots were started by some sailors and not by Mexican-Americans or black Zooters the term Zoot Suit Riots gives a wrong impression on what the riots were.
b) Socio-political background
The history of the Zoot Suit Riots begins with the entry of the United States into World War II in December 1941.Because of the war in the 1940s the political situation for non - Anglo
- Americans in the United States in general, and California in particular, became increasingly difficult. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Los Angeles’ locals’ paranoia focused on the Japanese and Japanese - American population. Although only a few, if any, of them were disloyal to the USA, all were victims of fear and racial prejudice.
Statements of harassment against Americans of Japanese descent, such as the one of Idaho’s govenor ‘a good solution to the Jap problem would be to send them all back to Japan, then sink the island’, were so widespread, that the government finally succumbed to civil demands and it forced all people of Japanese descent, citizens or not, into ‘War Relocation Camps’ in the interior. After this entire group on the West Coast of the United States were deported to the mentioned ‘Relocation Camps’, Los Angeles’ citizens (AngloAmericans) began to focus their paranoia toward an other ethnic group, the MexicanAmerican and black Zoot Suiters. (Tindal: p.916)
In difficult times, such as during the second World War it was difficult for many Mexicans, Mexican - Americans to find out their place in society.
In the 1940s Mexican - American teenagers adapted to the dress fashion known as ‘drape’, which resembled the Zoot Suit worn by young black men in Harlem. Each type of the Zoot Suit was very similar, even if they differed in color, size or accessories. Wearing the same type of clothing they demonstrated a unit easily to differentiate themselves from others. Moreover, living in a “community” of Zooters strengthened the self-confidence and it became much easier to be strong, and face the racism coming from the “outsiders”. Since California, and Los Angeles in particular, has the largest population of Mexicans, Anglo-Americans’ racial hate focused on Zot Suiters Los Angeles newspapers begun running stories about the sharp rise of crime in the city (also known as the Mexican Crime Wave), and openly blamed Mexican - Americans, whom they labelled ‘Zoot Suiters’. The virulent propaganda by the press confirmed Anglo - American citizens of Los Angeles in their aggressive attitudes toward Mexican - American Zoot Suiters. (Cosgrove: p.2-33)
A good example for the racial thinking is Mr. E. Duran Ayres (head of the Foreign Relations Bureau of L.A.) report he presented to the grand jury:
‘‘He stated that Mexican Americans are essentially Indians and therefor Orientals or Asians. Throughout history, he declared, the Orientals have shown less regard for human life than have the Europeans. Further, Mexican Americans had inherited their ‘naturally violent’ tendencies from the ‘bloodthirsty Aztecs’ of Mexico who were said to have practised human sacrifice centuries ago. At one point in his report Ayres even compared the Anglo to a domesticated house cat and the Mexican to a ‘wild cat’, suggesting that the Mexican would forever retain his wild and violent tendencies no matter how much education or training he might receive.’’ (Carlos M. Jimenez 1994:159)
4.3. Results of the Zo ot Suit Riots
a) The significance of the Zoot Suit Riots for the formation of a distinct MexicanAmerican identity
The Zoot Suit Riots caused official fears, such as supply of labor, trade relations, and the international standing of the U.S.A. public face.
Now the main fear of the officials caused by the riots concerned the relationship between the United States and Mexico, mainly because of the Southern California economy’s dependence on Mexican labour. Being without their cheap labor force would be disadvantageous for a great part of southern California’s economy. (Cosgrove: p.3-22) International relations such as trade and foreign policies with, for example, Europe were also of concern. The main interest was to determine whether the Zoot Suit Riots were sponsored by Nazi agencies attempting to spread disunity between The United States and Latin American countries (Los Angeles Times, 9 June 1943), and to determine if international incidents, for example, embargo or sabotage are planned, rather than any real concern for the social conditions of the Mexican - American community. Therefor, Anglo-Americans’ attitudes towards Mexican-Americans did not change to the better, as they did not really repent, except of a few exceptions, but only or mainly because of external pressures. Furthermore, after the Zoot Suit Riots the Nation’s awareness toward other ethnic group’s identity struggles, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement and the Chicano Movement, began to rise.
In order to explain the importance of the Zoot Suit Riots for the new Mexican - American identity, it is necessary to describe the main characteristics of Mexican Zooter’s (Pachucos) identity.
The Zoot Suits became the sign with which they announced their difference, easy to recognise for non - Pachucos. More important was that it gave them a psychical recurrence in their daily life against others.
The Mexican poet and social commentator Octavio Paz described the ambivalence with two cultures as follows:
“What distinguishes them, I think, is their furtive, restless air:
they act like persons who are wearing disguises, who are afraid of a stranger’s look because it could strip them and leave them naked.[…] This spiritual condition, or lack of spirit, has given birth to a type known as the pachuco. The pachucos are youths, for the most part of Mexican origin who form gangs in southern cities; they can be identified by their language and behaviour as well as by the clothing they affect. They are instinctive rebels, and North American racism has vented its wrath on them more than once. But the pachucos do not attempt to vindicate their race or the nationality of their forebears. Their attitudes reveals an obstinate, almost fanatical will - to - be, but this will affirms nothing specific except their determination […] not to be like those around them.” (Octavio Paz 1967: 5-6) Mexicans and Mexican-Americans saw in the Zoot Suit Riots a choice to make themselves heart, to reassert their points of view to the Anglo-American society. For the first time the Zoot Suit Riots provoked a certain consciousness, concerning their own identity. The Mexican heritage was playing an increasingly important part in their lives. Mexican - Americans no longer tried to adapt only to the American way of life, in order to escape the stigma of being non - American and inferior. This led to an emergence of a new ethnic identity: the Chicano identity. (García: p.197)
The Chicano generation built on both the successes and failures of the Mexican - American generation.
Being Chicano meant to restrain from the traditional ideologies such as high-lighting the Mexican heritage or Anglo - American way of life. Chicanos searched for a link between these two cultures, which they did not found. Therefore they turned to the original state of Atzlán, what was the Aztec name for the Southwest.
This new consciousness of the Mexican - American population found its climax in the Chicano Movement in the 1960s. The more ideological aspects of the Chicano generation changed in the 1960s to more political demands. A reason for this change was that they developed ideological and got aware, in order to have more influences in society that they needed to fight not only for recognition within the Anglo-American society, but for more political right to a say.
The changes the Chicano Movement fought for were equal civil rights, the right to wote, equal rewards, and ethnic integrity or even stronger, identity as nationality. By means of the Chicano Movement the Anglo - American society was confronted with the new, proud, and strong consciousness of the ‘unwanted’ Mexican - Americans. Political confrontations intensified in the 1960s due to the emergence of the ‘Chicano student movement’.
Because of their initial participation in community affairs, student activism had a wide impact on many activities such as community politics. In 1969, most student organisations changed their name to ‘El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlán’ (MECHA), because of their high affinity to the indigenous state of Atzlán.
Workers and students of working class origin were key to these forces, and women often provided the organisational background. Women participated in the efforts and organisations of the Chicano Movement across the country, sharing the various tendencies and also, on occasion, the leadership. Their organisations grew out of community and campus activities. The high participation of women obviously existed, because they suffered multiple oppression as women, as Mexicans, and as workers.
In time the demands of the Chicanos increased. The demands of the Chicanos in the 1960s have been for civil, cultural, economical, juridical, and political rights. From the late 1970s and early 1980s on, their demand was for equity in all areas of life. New were demands for bilingualism, rights of undocumented workers, rights of Mexican women, social services, etc.. Underlying the issues is the desirability of and methods for social change.
Characteristics of the Chicano Movement are not only found in politics, but also in arts: Chicano dance - groups, Chicano theatre, and Chicano music. But the medium which reached the widest audience was the film, throughout the seventies.(García: p.199-203)
b) Linguistic influences from the Zoot Suit Riots in modern Mexican - American English Modern Mexican-American English was not that much influenced by the Zoot Suit Riots, but rather by living in such close proximity with African-Americans. During the Zoot Suit Riots Mexican - Americans adapted the English of African - Americans. Certainly, before the riots Mexican-Americans and African-Americans already had contact, but they kept the distance to one another. Even if both were minorities, facing racial prejudice, also within each other there was racial discrimination and disregard. During the Zoot Suit Riots Blacks and Mexicans learned to act together and therefore had more contact with each other. Therefor the Mexican - American English (Chicano English) contains many characteristics of African - American English (Penfield: p.10)
- use of d for voiced dh has in ‘ dis ’ for ‘this’
- disapearance of final consonant in -ing as in ‘ playin ’ for ‘playing’
- disapearance of plural inflection or third person singular present as in cup for ‘cups’ or run for ‘runs’
- verb - subject disagreement as in ‘Three books is on the table’
Besides the natural Spanish influences, the Chicano English was influenced by Black American English. Chicano English still is influenced by Black American English, because of the demographic situation. In New York for example, Mexican - Americans and African - Americans live in direct neighbourhood.
More than the Chicano English, the Chicano Spanish was influenced by the Zoot Suit Riots . The Mexican Zooters, the Pachucos, had their own language, a Spanish based street argot (a set of words and phrases used by a particular group and not easily understood by others), called Caló. Caló derived from the Mexican underworld ( e.g. criminals, pimps, etc) and it has its origins in the language of the gypsies in Spain. Caló was a term used by the gypsies to refer to their own language. For Pachucos Caló is a symbol for their own identity. Specifies of Caló are, for example, rephonemicisation of English words into Spanish or giving a new meaning to a Spanish term. For example:
- ‘ guachar ’ from ‘to watch’
- ‘clavar’ as ‘ to steal ’ instead of ‘to nail’
Mexican Spanish takes, out of the contact situation, many words coming from Caló. These terms work their way into colloquial Standard Spanish and in turn are then replaced with new terms in Caló. (Penfield: p.11)
Glossary of Pachuquismo (Caló)
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The bold printed words show the from Black Zooters adapted expressions.
One of the interests of first generation Mexican - Americans was to gain U.S. citizenship and by the end of the nineteenth century they were granted U.S. citizenship. At least Mexican - Americans were in fact second - class citizens and part of the dispossessed in American history. (García: p.197)
This struggle for equal U.S. citizenship and reputation in the United States led to different attitudes in the Mexican population to the American way of life. After the Chicano Movement the Mexican - Americans challenged the very basic ideological foundations of the U.S. even stronger than before, whereas the Chicano generation tried to distance themselves from it. While the Mexican - American generation hoped of achieving the American dream, the Chicano generation despaired of it. Nevertheless, both generations are a product of their historical time; so to achieve the first - class citizenship was very central to the Mexican - American generation, but also still visible among the Chicano generation. Both, the Mexican
- American and Chicano generation attempted in their own distinct styles to confront and challenge the historically exploited positions of Mexicans in the United States. Neither generation fully succeeded, yet each advanced the struggle, passed on and added to a legacy of Mexicans as historical actors struggling to achieve self - determination. This tradition has found less receptive audience in the post - Chicano Movement era of the late 1970s and the 1980s, also the conservative political reaction of the political administration have forcefully opposed the legitimate demands of racial minorities such as Mexican - Americans.
Furthermore, harder political times have weekend Mexican - American leadership so that it seemed more disposed to conform to the conservative temper of time, whereas some splinter groups of progressive Mexican - American leadership follow their campaigns for equal rights, equal rewards, and equal integrity.
The challenge for the future will be whether a new generation of community - orientated activists can give a new meaning and life to the Mexican - American legacy of struggle