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The KUT Longhorn Radio Network Presents: Mexican American Experience Collection

Audio recordings including interviews, music, and informational programs related to the Mexican American community and their concerns in the series "The Mexican American Experience" and "A esta hora conversamos" from the Longhorn Radio Network, 1976-1982.

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The Origins Of The "Zoot Suit" And Its Consequences
Program #
Culture, Identity

Richard Goodman
Richard Goodman
Dec 21, 1976

The Origins of the "Zoot Suit" and Its Consequences

Using research from Carey McWilliam’s book North From Mexico, host Richard Goodman explores the origins of Pachuquismo and discusses the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, gangs increasingly appealed to young Chicanos in Los Angeles who faced severe discrimination and racism. Joining a gang provided its members with a sense of security and status. Chicano gang members, or Pachucos, were typically born in Los Angeles, bilingual and wore a zoot suit, a type of suit that facilitated dancing. The suit became a symbol of belonging, prestige and rebellion. Not all Chicanos wore zoot suits and not all zoot suiters were pachucos, but society and the media often confused the two.

On June 3, 1943, a gang of Chicanos allegedly jumped several sailors in northern LA. The incident set of several days of violence, the Zoot Suit Riots, during which hundreds of military servicemen wandered the barrios of LA beating up any Chicano they found. Later the police would arrest the victims. The rioting lasted several days as the newspapers encouraged the servicemen to “cleanse” the city and the police often cooperated with the servicemen. The violence only began to abate after the military declared central Los Angeles off limits to servicemen. In the wake of the riots, the city council made wearing a zoot suit a misdemeanor offense. Goodman concludes that this now forgotten incident is just one example of the many systematic injustices Mexican Americans have faced in the United States.


Center for Mexican American Studies | Department of History | The Benson Latin American Collection

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