Economic perspective (Kat Schiller)

In order to understand the trials minority Americans were suffering during World War II, one must consider the economic tribulations surrounding their discriminated subculture. The Zoot Suit riots blistered in June 1943 and managed to crush a vital part of the Californian population. Cultural subgroups, the original residents of this region of the United States, were bashed, beaten and ridiculed for simply trying to survive. Their distinguishable suits, entitled zoot suits, were the at the core of the riots. Low economic status suppressed their natural right of expression; thus, fashion became the only means of self-awareness available to them. “To some men, the suit’s ostentatiousness was a way of refusing to be ignored. The garment had ‘profound political meaning,’ wrote Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man. ‘For those without other forms of cultural capital,’ says Peiss, ‘fashion can be a way of claiming space for yourself’” (Gregory 14).

Soldier, sailors and marines who roamed the street of Los Angeles, June 7, 1943, looking for hoodlums in zoot suits, stopped this streetcar during their search. Crowds jammed downtown streets to watch the service men tear clothing off the zoot suiters they caught. (AP Photo)

Economically, the summer of 1943 demolished the the perception of how the American minority, especially the Mexican segment, were being treated. “Zoot Suit incidents resulted from social and local economic conditions arising from the failure of state and county facilities for juvenile correction to keep pace with the population” (del Castillo 385). This Spanish-speaking demographic, most of which were native to California, were the unfortunate victims of systematic scapegoating. “Officials in Los Angeles seized upon Mexican repatriation as a popular response to the growing economic problems” (Chiodo 1) and furthered tensions within the city. White Angeleno sailors, convinced that Mexicans were the root of evil, channeled their hatred towards terrorizing these zoot suiters (Chiodo 3). Whether these individuals were native to the land or whether they simply chose to sport these boxy ensembles, it did not matter. Those individuals suffered regardless of their location or state of mind. Fleeing their economic state in their home country in search for a more profitable future trapped them in a rut that would continue to haunt them for decades to come.

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Mexican American culture during the 1940s focused on one common goal: achieving common ground with their fellow citizens. “Mexican Americans struggled for integration rather than separation from American society” (Garcia 279) and simply strived to secure a strong social and economic home for themselves. Fleeing poverty and violence to encounter the same conditions was absolutely not an option. Now, the “white” Americans had managed to convince the entire nation that these racial issues were a minor setback in the country (Garcia 285).  The United States, a nation torn apart by World War II, was frantically searching for a group of individuals to place the blame on. With the Latino’s constant struggle to root themselves in American everyday life, they became the perfect scapegoat. Their only means of expression was channeled through fashion, yet the economically successful successfully managed to crush their hopes and aspirations.      

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