In the midst of World War II, tensions heightened between white U.S. Navy servicemen and mostly young Mexican civilians, known as zoot-suiters. Progressively resisting the Navy servicemen’s assertion of their white privilege, the zoot-suiters challenged the servicemen’s superior attitudes and actions by calling them derogatory names. The servicemen then started sexually harassing both white and Mexican women. In return, the zoot-suiters and servicemen fought in the streets. Riots officially started on 3 June 1943 when the Navy servicemen assaulted any zoot-suiters and tore up his or her clothes. The servicemen actively provoked and even initiated conflict with the zoot-suiters (Pagán 238-240).
The Zoot Suit Riots caused fear throughout Los Angeles, in which the public responded back with contempt for the zoot-suiters. Due to the zoot-suiter’s challenge to authority in attitude, dress, and patriotism, the older Mexican immigrant generation largely disapproved of the zoot-suiters. In addition, most whites disapproved of the zoot-suiters since it challenged the government’s authority in time of war.
Published in a Los Angeles Times article, “Mother Tears Up Zoot Suit of Boy Wounded in Clash,” the parents of teenager Vincente Duarte visited their wounded son. Duarte was admitted into the General Hospital. Near the Azusa theater, Duarte was shot in the right leg by a railroad guard during the rioting a week the onset. Apparently Mr. and Mrs. Trujillo, Duarte’s parents, were frustrated with him for fleeing home and participating in the riots. Mr. and Mrs. Trujillo even expressed, “[W]hat has happened to him is his own fault” Interestingly, this is not an expected response from parents, especially when one’s child is injured. Usually, parents show concern for their child’s injury. Yet, Mr. and Mrs. Trujillo reflect the greater public opinion towards the mistreated zoot-suiters. Instead of concern for the wronged zoot-suiters, the common attitude amongst the public is that the zoot-suiters “had it coming.” Mrs. Trujillo even takes a bold stance by ripping her son’s zoot suit in front of him!
In an editorial for the Los Angeles Times, “Time for Sanity,” the author argues that the cause of the Zoot Suit Riots is not systematic, but rather the zoot-suit riots fault stems from enemies abroad. Due to the wartime hysteria, the public was concerned with World War II, leading the author of this editorial to believe that, “Attempts by any group, faction or political philosophy to use the clashes for purposes of stirring up racial prejudices are unwarranted and are serving the aims of the Axis propagandists.” Essentially, the zoot-suit riots were believed by some to be an attempt to divide the American people by the Axis powers.
In an attempt to record the sustained injuries of the Zoot-Suit Riot victims, the Los Angeles Times “Riot Alarm Sent Out in Zoot War” article describes the victim count, their wounds, and where they are admitted. At the intersection of Main St. and Broadway, thousands of servicemen pursue zoot-suiters. The mob-like beatings of these young Mexican American men was degrading. As a consequence, five young men were admitted to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital due to the beating they received from the servicemen. In addition, one marine, Private Mariano Gierrez was treated for a deep cut received from suit-zooters at the corner of Second and Olive Street. Ultimately, the public views the Zoot Suit Riots as being the fault of zoot-suiters, the victims of the Navy servicemen.