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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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Pachucos, Zoot Suits, Riots And The Mexican Legal Underpinning Of Southwestern Legal Systems.
Program #

Richard Goodman
Richard Goodman
Dec 21, 1976

Pachucos, Zoot Suits, Riots and the Mexican Legal Underpinning of Southwestern legal systems.

Using research from Carey McWilliam’s book North From Mexico, host Richard Goodman first 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 suitors 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.

Goodman then discusses the contributions of the Spanish legal system to the Southwest. When the Anglos arrived in the Southwest after the Treaty of Guadalupe, they found a legal system very different from their own. The Mexican laws were based on the southwestern life style and addressed the needs of the region. The Anglos eventually adopted or incorporated them into their own laws. State constitutions often adopted Mexican municipal laws untouched, which allowed each pueblo to have an ayuntamiento or town council and an Alcalde, or a magistrate of the pueblo. Legal documents produced at the time were in both Spanish and English to accommodate local officials who could not speak Spanish. Many Southwestern states also adopted Mexican mining laws, although some like California added the proviso that Mexicans as foreigners needed a special license to mine. It was not until 1870, in the People vs. de la Guerra, that California fully extended citizenship rights to the Mexicans who became Americans after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. By then however, they had lost much of their land in title disputes when the U.S. government failed to abide by the Treaty of Guadalupe and its provisions, which legally protected Mexican land.


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