Seventy Years Later: The Zoot Suit Riots & the Complexity of Youth Culture

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zootsuitriots-thumb-630x470-52167 Top: Zoot suit riot erupts in front of the Hippodrome Theater on Main Street, Downtown Los Angeles, 1943

[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared under the Intersections column at KCET Departures, May 30, 2013.]

In the film “American Me,” Pedro Santana, fresh from having his devotion to wife Esperanza tattooed on his arm, prepares for a night on the town. His wife, accompanied by another couple, wades through Los Angeles streets on their way to meet Pedro, as a soundtrack of sensationalized news reports of zoot-suited thugs, dangerous riots, and retributions delivered by U.S. servicemen blare in the background. His friends exhibit a clear wariness regarding the evening’s disruptive personality, but Pedro appears unconcerned, more focused on “walking the boulevard with his woman.” Just then several sailors burst into the shop, accosting them violently with wild cries of “pachucos.”

The scene descends into a disturbing violence…

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