The zoot suit riots that took place in Los Angeles in 1943 are an indictment of the inherent racism of the American armed forces. The riots began after the much-publicized trial and subsequent conviction of Henry Leyvas and associates for the murder of Jose Diaz. Henry Leyvas and his girlfriend were beaten by rival pachucos at a popular meeting spot known as the Sleepy Lagoon. Leyvas recruited others to search out the men who had beaten him and his girlfriend. The fight was carried to a ranch house located near the Sleepy Lagoon. The next morning Jose Diaz was found dead. 1
Diaz’s autopsy revealed that he was intoxicated and died from blunt-force trauma to the head. There was never conclusive evidence that the death was a murder. The trial was a sham. The defendants were not allowed to sit or consult with their lawyers. They were forced to remain wearing their zoot suits during the trial in an effort to portray the young men as “hoodlums.” The trial was a platform for the racism prevalent in LA. The men were not allowed a fair trial and racial tensions escalated. The men were sent to prison and zoot suits were further associated with the “violence” of the Mexicano/Chicano community. 2
Later that year the zoot suit riots began. Sailors rushed into LA and began savagely beating and stripping anyone who was found wearing a zoot suit. Other members of oppressed communities were beaten as well, including blacks and Filipinos. The riot continued for several days and soldiers in the area joined the sailors in their racist beatings. Eventually, downtown Los Angeles was declared off-limits to military personnel and the rioting came to an end. 3
The trial and the riots are one of limitless examples of racism in America. This instance highlights the racial tensions in Los Angeles, a city with a large Chicano/Mexicano population. The men who were tried were done so in an effort to indict the Chicano community as murderous and violent. This further escalated the racially tense Los Angeles area. The most vehement of America’s racists, the armed services, took advantage of this heightened tension and sought out and beat men and boys, Chicano and black. The riots were largely aimed at the Chicano community, but other oppressed communities felt the fists of the sailors and soldiers.
The zoot suit riots are a famous example of American racism, but there are many others. Incidents like this have happened all over America, including California, the Southwest, and the South. Racism and brutality is a part of American history, from lynching to residential schools. There have been other racially motivated public showings since the time of the zoot suit riots. The riots that followed the beating of Rodney King by LAPD were in protest of police violence against the black community.
One, of many, contemporary examples of racism against Chicanos/Mexicanos is the actions of the Minutemen, particularly in Arizona. Shawna Forde, a leader of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps and the Minuteman American Defense, was recently convicted of the murder of Raul Flores and his daughter Brisenia Flores. This was one of a series of crimes planned or perpetrated by the minutemen in Arizona against Chicanos/Mexicanos.
Joe Arpaio is another instance of settler racism towards Chicanos/Mexicanos. His infamous tent city, near Phoenix AZ, houses inmates in inhumane conditions. The temperatures in this region can reach over 100 degrees in the summer. Joe Arpaio admits that his department arrested predominantly “Hispanic” people. The tent city houses many detained migrants and men awaiting trial. The population of this prison is largely Chicano/Mexicano. Arpaio represents the attitude of the pigs in the Southwest regarding the Chicano community. 4
The settler population of the US is vehemently racist against those from whom the land was stolen. There are numerous examples of settler brutality against oppressed communities throughout the history of the United Snakes. The zoot suit riots were perpetrated by the armed wing of settlerism, but the settlers themselves, such as Shawna Forde, are intimately involved in violence perpetrated against the Chicano/Mexicano communities across the Southwest and West.