Defining Moments: The Zoot Suit Riots

by Kevin Hillstrom


Today, the Zoot Suit Riots are widely described as an embarrassing chapter in the history of both the city of Los Angeles and the state of California. Historians describe those ugly spasms of violence as a grim reminder of the racial discrimination and fear that saturated America prior to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Yet the riots are also described as a historic turning point for Hispanic Americans. As they surveyed the physical and emotional wreckage of that horrible week, they began charting a new path for themselves.

Defining Moments: The Zoot Suit Riots surveys the political events, social trends, and racial attitudes that contributed to a week-long outbreak of violence in 1943 by white servicemen and civilians against young Mexican-American zoot suiters. This overview sets the Zoot Suit Riots within the context of the wider Latino-American experience and provides extensive coverage of the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder trial and the riots themselves.

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