Here you’ll find summaries of a significant amount of the research materials gone over by the dramaturgs, ranging from political/cultural essays to overviews of Aztec mythology. The titles of the works and the author are listed for your research convenience, however if you would like the dramaturgs to prove you a full copy of an article and cannot find it posted elsewhere on this site or online feel free to email either Dr. Michael Chemers or Victoria Gardiner at the addresses provided on the production contact sheet.
Note that “The Power of the Zoot Suit” by Luis Alvarez and “Aztec and Maya Myths” by Karl Taube are listed under larger headers because they are not stand alone articles, but books. The smaller headings underneath them with summaries are summaries of individual chapters.
Here is a link to an extensive article about the legal case HERNANDEZ v. TEXAS, a landmark case that forbade courts in Texas from excluding people from juries on the basis of their Mexican ancestry. It has direct and indirect bearings on the Zoot Suit Riots. http://www.law.uh.edu/Hernandez50/KevinJohnson.pdf
“The Pachuco and Other Extremes” From The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz
In his work Octavio Paz situates the emergence of the Pachuco identity within the broader frame of the struggle for identity inherent to Mexican culture. Specifically he likens the appearance of “Pachuco stylizations” and other extremes to a natural stage of psychological growth, by taking the self-reflecting ever self-creating phase of the adolescent psyche, extrapolating it and applying it as a lens with which to observe post-Revolutionary Mexican culture. He further elaborates upon the idea that after centuries of fractured identity as a result if displacement, invasion, colonization, enforced European cultural standards and an extensive loss of language, culture and history that Mexican culture is not only scrutinizingly self aware in its own practices, but that the different circumstances surrounding individuals in this self-reflective state give rise to a variety of forms of cultural expression as a result. For example in one demographic of the diaspora this form of self reflection and search for identity produces The Pachuco, while in another a completely different stylization may be realized. Paz’s analysis of the Pachuco identity paints it as a subculture of “instinctive rebels… [with an] obstinate, almost fanatical will-to-be.” a devout rejection of the white American pressure to assimilate, while still embodying the struggle for a modern identity not tied to elements such as Spanish Catholicism or Native Mesoamerican roots. Instead, Paz argues, the Pachuco lives in search of an identity that insists upon his existence as he is, not North American and not Mexican. Paz describes the Pachuco as a reactionary identity which celebrates its differences and welcomes violence toward it as a strange sort of affirmation which fulfills its need to resist.
El Teatro Campesino: From Alternative Theater to Mainstream by Yolanda Broyles
Broyles begins her examination by defining El Teatro Campesino’s origins as a platform for radical, resistant political theater. Thus she emphasizes Teatro’s original image of itself as existing outside the scope of “legitimate theater” before further elaborating on its journey from fringe to mainstream performance. A quote she includes from Luis Valdez is, “Our rejection of white Western European (gabacho) proscenium theater makes the birth of new Chicano forms necessary.” Which is an aim that is essential in understanding the forms of stylization as well as the rejections of linear time, cohesive space and naturalism on the whole which are present in a piece such as Zoot Suit. She further highlights the origin of Teatro’s performances as having been situated almost inexorably with the struggle for labor rights on the part of Mexican-American farmworkers, this infusing Teatro’s work with a sense of vision, a form of politicization, and a palpable ‘anti-industry’ sentiment. The rest of Broyles’ work is dedicated to discussing the transition of Teatro from an anti-establishment theater company to a mainstream theater company. She specifically devotes time to discussing the political pivot point of the landmark 1970’s production of Zoot Suit; which simultaneously legitimized Chicano theater on the commercial stage, but also triggered critical discussion about Chicano theater melding into the establishments that it had originally been produced to resist. The main contention between these two perspectives, as Broyles writes, is whether or not an individual or organization is a vendida/o, a sell-out. That is, whether or not an individual utilizes their new position to fight for the representation and needs of the minority, or if Chicanos are placed in a position to be observed on stage for the sake of financial demographics or personal gain. El Teatro Campesino underwent a directed campaign to “legitimize” itself and its work as mainstream, a project that had certain debits and credits. While diluting their artistic message and artist core with the addition of element that were not strictly Chicano or based in Chicano culture, Teatro achieved the ability to reach out to a broader range of audiences. This aligned with Teatro’s mission shift to educate unsympathetic American audiences about the reality of the Chicano experience as opposed to representing the Chicano experience to Chicano audiences. This came at several prices which served to destabilize the company, a dilution of mission that not everyone we necessarily on board with, as well as an entrance into what is ultimately a capitalist rat-race, which commercially prizes individual artists’ success as opposed to supporting a collective artist stricture like the one that was originally utilized by Teatro. The hostility of a capitalist industry towards a collective ensemble and the push to penetrate that capitalist industry eventually came to a head and something had to give. What gave was the ensemble of El Teatro which dissolved in the wake of various permutations of Zoot Suit. However, this dissolution did not come before the ensemble accomplished a great deal of political and theatrical work associated with the Chicano Rights Movement.
El Teatro Campesino: El Teatro Campesino and the Mexican popular performance tradition by Yolanda Broyles
In this chapter of her book Broyles dedicates time to contextualizing the work of El Teatro within a history of performance traditions, both overall western and specifically Mexican. Her first aim is to link the work of El Teatro with a set of mexican cultural practices known as carpa. Carpa is described by broyles as hard to pin down with a single definition, as it describes a form of resistance, a performance tradition, and aesthetic and a form of oral history. The primary links between el Teatro and carpa are twofold. One is genealogical, carpa is a longstanding but budget performance tradition native to some of the poorest parts of Mexico. Carpa is a people’s theater of Mexican culture, similar to how Commedia dell’arte could be considered a people’s theater of Italian culture. Many of these qualities of shoestring budgets, a focus on the struggles of life, a space for validation, and most of all being a theater by the people, for the people is inherited by El Teatro. The second is circumstantial, as Cesar Chavez had already been planning on utilizing carpa as a tool to help Mexican farmers organize in the Chicano Rights Movement. Chavez saw the ability for this theater tradition to help a movement bond around some point of cohesion, as well as the potency of utilizing satire to communicate a political stance. These performance elements were later embodied in actos, and later still transferred to El Teatro. Though El Teatro Campesino separated from the Farm Workers Union in 1967 they maintained their “community validated performance skills.” Broyles goes on to frame this cultural inheritance within the larger concept of cultural survival, citing that cultural identity in a primarily oral culture (which she defines Mexican culture as) depends on cultural memory, the communal and physical enactment of cultural traditions. The preserving and evolution of cultural artifacts such as performance traditions contributes to the longevity of cultural identity. Additionally Broyles goes on to describe the reflections of Mexican culture in the devised work of El Teatro. Specifically, she highlights the development of a language of movement or stylization, along with the fact that actos were not derived from scripts, but from discussion and improvisation as the genetic markers of an oral culture. Finally, to round out her analysis Broyles once again highlights the importance and effectiveness of El Teatro inheriting the carpa performance tradition. She restates the effectiveness of comedy as a form of political resistance, by articulating the idea that the best way to overpower what would seem to be a monolithic corporate structure is to make people laugh at them. And that’s exactly what El Teatro accomplished, with actos fresh from their day to day lives, “a gamut of stock characters”, and a healthy amount of comedic genius.
Aztec and Maya Myths by Karl Taube
Taube’s introduction makes three very important points.
- He contextualizes his study of Aztec and Maya mythology against the background of a culture which has been profoundly affected by colonialism; acknowledging the destruction of both art and cultural practices
- He clarifies that he is writing about living, breathing cultural traditions and mythologies which are still held to in various forms across Latin America. He is not meditating on what we would term a “dead culture”.
- He clarifies the sophisticated cultures of ancient Mesoamerica, a truth which is often lost in the Hollywood image of the Mayan Savage. He reminds his reader that the Aztec and Maya had complex societies, architecture, science, art and most of all cultural and fiscal exchange amongst themselves and other cultures, leading some concepts, themes, stories and symbols to travel between different indigenous cultures, while still maintaining that these cultures do not form a monolith.
Ancient Mesoamerican History
Taube’s survey of Ancient Mesoamerican history begins with a brief overview of the history of the Olmec people. By the 1200’s BC the Olmec had built a civilisation which incorporated art, religion, mathematics, science, architecture and a complex agricultural economy. However, Olmec civilization died out around 400 BC.
Six Hundred years later another civilization, the Zapotec, were pursuing astronomy, calendrics and written language, allowing the Olmec to be some of the first people to explore the creation of what we would call modern day almanacs. The Zapotec continue to be a major indigenous culture in contemporary Oaxaca.
Many of these advancements were also enjoyed by the Maya, who has begun producing both visual and written art concerning their mythologies between 300 and 900 AD. Mayan mythologies lived far longer with the transcribing of the Mayan epic Popol Vuh occurring in the 1500’s AD, and many themes of Mayan mythology such as the Sun and Moon are present in the subsequent Toltec and Aztec cultures.
The Aztec created the most substantial empire of Mesoamerica, reigning from their island capital of Teotihuacan, which stood where modern day Mexico city now stands. The Aztec produced massive pyramids dedicated to to Sun and Moon and representing a variety of other mythological concepts from their culture. Another theme seen in Aztec mythology is the creation of man as being born from the earth. As the Aztec conquered their way across Mesoamerica they adopted religious practices of the cultures they encountered, instead of obliterating them. They even built and devoted sacred spaces specifically for foreign gods. In addition, the Aztec also adopted the beliefs of their forebears in an effort to politically legitimize themselves.
Ancient Mesoamerican Religion
Calendrics (The study of long periods of time or the creating and maintaining of calendars)
We often emphasize the feats of ancient Mesoamericans regarding calendars as a means of extolling their mathematical and scientific virtues. However, what is often overlooked is the socio-functionalism of calendars in Mesoamerica culture. The 260 day cycle was organized into a cycle of combinations of names and numbers, with each specific combination only repeating itself once in the 260 day calendar. A variety of social elements, such the names of holidays or gods or rulers are linked to this cycle and it’s nomenclature. Further complications on this system are introduced when whole years are named by comparing the readings of the 260 day calendar and a more familiar 365 day calendar. Thus, you get a very sophisticated system of calendars by which significant events or persons can be named according to two different definitions of year, month or day.
Another Mayan calendar known as “The Long Count” which tracks time based on how many 20 day units have passed from an unknown mythical event which would have occurred in 3114 BC.
This centralizing of naming time points to a concept inherent to Mesoamerican thought that is not as prevalent in European thought, specifically in regards to mythology. That is the essential need to order space and time. Essential Mesoamerican creation stories are told in one fashion by overlaying images of mythic figures or gods onto the pattern of a calendar. The position of these images in association with their positions to one another and their names as related to the naming conventions to the 260 day cycle all combine to convey a story of creation, thus, ordering space and time.
Further, certain elements of mythological power were associated with the relationship between the calendar and the arrangement of planets and stars in the sky. For example, the positioning of Venus in the sky could signify the battle of two godlike figures, the Lord of Dawn and the Rising Sun, being played out once again in the sky just as it was at the founding of the Aztec empire. Various Mesoamerican cultures scheduled a diverse tapestry of holidays and other ritual events to coincide with these temporal or celestial events related to whatever occult concept those events represented in a given culture.
Day Versus Night
Day and Night form one of the foundational binaries of Mesoamerican thought. The binary functions such that daytime is seen as a time of natural order, where the gods turn to stone as the sun rises, but nighttime is a time of the supernatural and the mythic where gods and demons come to life. While the nighttime could be considered more treacherous, it is also spiritually powerful, as it is a time for mortals to communicate with the supernatural. This communication takes on different forms depending on the specific culture one is examining but could often involve a variety of shamanic traditions up to and including, the consumption of mind altering substances. As many stories of creation were tied to the movements of the planets and stars the night sky also offered people a chance to watch their myths play out above them.
It is important when reading about Mesoamerican religion to not fall into the trap of labeling things as “good” or “evil”. While the daytime is safe, structured and ordered and the night time is dangerous, liminal, and chaotic one is not good while the other is evil. Both of these states are required for healthy social and spiritual existence.
Twins occupy an interesting space in Mesoamerican culture. On the one hand, many heroes of Mesoamerican mythology are twins who create the circumstances in which society can prosper. However, just as twins are a reflection of the powers of creation they are also reflections of the power of destruction. Essentially, they embody godlike qualities to be revered, but also monstrous ones to be feared. In the end it is these monstrous qualities that the society concerns itself with, and often (specifically in Aztec culture) one twin would be slain at birth to remove the embodiment of a terrible power in duality from the children.
Role Models and Social Conduct
Mesoamerican myths are not simply creation stories they are also narratives that educate a culture about proper social practices, as myths are wont to do. Specifically, Mesoamerican myths extol the virtues of humility and bravery over the vices of greed and pride. Often the humble but noble underdog is favored with unexpected sacred power for his deeds over the expected, but prideful hero.
Major Sources and the History of Research
The sheer variety of forms of cultural expression through art and writing has led to the survival of a handful of essential primary sources for the study of Mesoamerican myth. While what remains is nowhere near the volume of what once existed, thanks to the ravages of war, time and colonialism, several manuscripts and landmark works of art exist for us to study. Through observing the artistic styles and reading the content of this art we can discern not only the content of said mythos, but variations in illustrative style and storytelling patterns can also be used to identify places of cultural exchange.
Many of the primary sources of Mesoamerican (primarily Aztec) mythology come from the early colonial period, as while many of the Spanish reviled the native population, some denomination of the catholic faith preserved their art and literature as they saw the Aztec civilization as a viable blueprint for a Christian utopia. Needless to say this did not go as planned. Thankfully for modern research, the Catholic denomination in the favor of the Spanish crown at the time was the Order of St. Francis, who happen to be fastidious recorders of the cultural customs they encountered as missionaries. Thanks to their surviving accounts there is a wealth of material from which to study Aztec and Mayan mythology.
Aztec mythology revolves around the concept of duality, specifically the result of two complementary forces coming into opposition and though that conflict, creating. This idea is embodied in the mythology’s two primary gods, Quetzalcoatl, the benevolent god of harmony and life, and his brother Tezcatlipoca the mysterious god of conflict and change. The brothers are the sons of Ometeotl, a god of duality who manages to simultaneously embody all of the concepts represented by his sons. However, this means that Ometeotl does not have the power to enact creation himself, instead his sons create the heavens and the earth and a great many other things, sometimes as adversaries, sometimes as allies.
A variety of other gods appear in the pantheon, representing concepts such as wind, lightning, fire, grain, and water. This diverse pantheon is full of a plethora of characters and stories which are a little to expansive to go into here, but suffice to say that the roles of concepts such as duality, creation, destruction and rebirth have a primacy.
The Maya are somewhat diverse than their Aztec counterparts, as they existed not as an empire but as a collection of city states. As a result there are many permutations of the Mayan calendar, language and mythos and many of these permutations were practiced simultaneously. Due to the variety of subcultures contained within the Maya people their mythology can be difficult to codify, at least concisely. Many figures and concepts from Aztec and Toltec culture appear in Mayan mythology as well, along with concepts such as blood sacrifice (both penitently and to the point of death).
Perhaps the most consistent and major gods of the Mayan pantheon are Itzamna, a wizened creator god, along with his consort Ix Chel, a goddess of maternity. Chac, the Mayan god of rain and lightening is also one of the most widely worshipped gods across multiple Mesoamerican cultures.
The Popol Vuh, a Mayan epic, tells “the creation of the universe and its inhabitants out of the primordial sea and sky.” Similar to the Aztec depiction of creation there are a series of destructions and rebirths of the universe, though these re-forgings are deliberate, as opposed to being somewhat arbitrary. The Popol Vuh describes humans as having been created to nourish the gods with prayer and sacrifice. Various iterations of humanity fail to adequately sustain the gods until something more resembling ourselves, called “The People of Maize”, are born.
The Popul Vuh is a mythological epic with a variety of gods, monsters and morals to be found in it, all a little too complex to go into in a summary.
The Power of the Zoot Suit Luis Alvarez
Alvarez opens his investigation into the culture and history of the zoot suit by framing the clothing and its associated subculture as an identity and a political act. First, there are two anecdotal accounts: one in which Malcolm X utilizes the image of the zoot suiter to appear nonconforming and radical, thus pressuring the US Army into exempting him from the draft by appearing to be “part of the problem”. The other is an account from Alfred Barela who wrote that he wished to not be discounted from the opportunity to show that he could conform within the military simply because he was a zoot suiter. In the former example Malcom X embodies white America’s anxieties about the zoot suit, in the latter Alfred Balera embodies the true to natural identity. Alvarez sets up these anecdotes to show just how different the perceptions of zoot suiters were from the individuals themselves. Additionally, to show that the zoot suit did not represent a one size fits all monolith, but that the subculture contained nuance. Alvarez further contextualizes the hostility shown towards the zoot suit by highlighting the anxieties of wartime America, the heightened xenophobia in American cities as more African and Mexican Americans began to move into urban areas, and the Zoot Suiter identity as an active rejection of assimilation. These factors made zoot suiters the perfect scapegoat for a potent combination of racism, nationalism and wartime anxiety which lead them to be associated with all the values that 1940’s white America demonized.
Race and Political Economy
Alvarez opens this chapter by highlighting the paradoxical existence of African and Mexican americans during the 1940’s: expected to economically support the war effort, but excluded from all discourses relevant to the wartime economy, as well as the war itself due to their ethnicity. This paradox is also presented against the background of Japanese internment, which while less directly relevant, still vastly contributed to the overall tension of race relations at the time. A history of racial profiling by police also inhibited many non white americans from serving in the military, giving rise to the stereotype that Mexican and African Americans were not doing their part for the war, which fed into other racist stereotypes. While the boom in wartime productivity did begin to offer more economic opportunities to non white americans, these opportunities were still highly restricted when compared to those enjoyed by the white men who happened to not be at war, and the white women. Patriotism and wartime service were conflated with whiteness which robbed many African and Mexican Americans who had worked fought and died for America of their due credit, or the final step into national inclusion that many had been hoping for. As more non white Americans traveled towards cities like Los Angeles in search of wartime industry jobs segregated neighborhoods became more densely packed instead of expanding, and did not see an increase in resources devoted to them, leading to a dramatically low quality of life. The dense populations also alarmed the white middle class who responded to their fear in the forms of worker segregation and police brutality. While the government did respond to reports of racist hiring practices with the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) and this committee did produce some form of positive results it was undermined, understaffed and underfunded from its conception, inhibiting it from creating any substantive change.
Class Politics and Juvenile Delinquency
Alvarez spends the first few pages of this chapter contextualizing the world in which zoot culture grew in reaction to. A world where the press in the form of major newspapers published articles both demonizing Mexican Americans as thieves and rapists as well as demeaning them to the status of animals. Over time this outlook swayed the American public to believe that juvenile delinquency was a problem endemic to race, not a network of other independent circumstances. Society held that a white youth, in any circumstance, would never turn to crime while a Mexican youth in any circumstance would, it was simply in their nature. This association between Mexican Americans and delinquency became a political device which cerved to manipulate and direct the american people on the topic of patriotism, the war, legal reform, political reform and is almost singlehandedly responsible for the illegilization of Marijuana. The otherizing of Mexican American youth gave the legal system, law enforcement and the media license to treat these children and young adults as less than human. Homeland America simultaneously constructed the idea of the “zoot suited punk” on which to vent their anxieties about the overseas war, as they demanded wartime productivity from the very families they demonized and completely ignored the occasional white Zoot Suiter. The culmination of this pattern of behavior came with the Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial, a highly publicized, highly prejudiced court case which saw the incarceration of eleven innocent young men. The case set a legal precedent for the prosecutory logic that some races, mexicans in particular, are genetically predisposed to violence. This overtly racist view did not go unchallenged, but wartime Los Angeles still saw the mass incarceration of Mexican American youth.
Zoot Style and Body Politics
Alvarez opens this chapter with an example of zoot suiter or “greaser” aesthetics as they are applicable to Japanese-Americans, specifically, as a visual identity which emerged in opposition to internment. It is a reminder that Zoot Suiters consisted of multiple ethnic minorities in America, including Japanese, African, Mexican, Filipino and some White Americans. The chapter characterizes the Zoot Suit and the bodies who wore them as enacting physical, visual political resistance to being marginalized by the American war machine. The Zoot Suit is not only a jab at wartime capitalism through the almost excessive use of fabric in the face of rationing, it is also a polarized image to the “Victory Suit” a style of dress that combines the aesthetic of white power as well as minimizing fabric use. Alvarez puts it succinctly in summing up that in the face of marginalization, poverty, hunger, violence, brutality and the stripping away of almost all forms of dignity, ethnic minorities owned their otherness. They made it a kind of armor instead of a tool used to harm them, by finding their own dignity in their own cultural style. This, of course, prompted further demonization of the so called “Zoot Suited yokums,” creating a horrifying disparity between the press’ representation of non white American youth and the daily realities of their lives. While the condemnations of The Press in Zoot Suit, are perhaps, less dressed up than the 1960’s newspaper they are not far off of the reality of what was said about early Chicano/a youth. The Zoot Suit is also a reaction to the polar opposite movement by some minorities, who bought war bonds like they were going out of style and fought with their hearts and souls for Americanization. Not every member of the community was able to resonate with what would develop into Pachuco culture. Gender politics also played a vital role in the development of Zoot Suit culture. While the Chicano Power Movement was later infused with machismo, to the point that it was critiqued for perpetuating mysoginist systems of power, the Zoot Suit identity also gave rise to non-normative gender identities including but not limited to La Pachuca, an overt rejection of the domestic expectations placed upon women at the time.
Zoots, Jazz, and Public Space
Alvarez dedicates this chapter to contextualizing the political act of performing the zoot suit identity within the frame of public spaces. He begins by listing an anecdote from the play, Zoot Suit, itself, describing how the zoot style is capable of projecting an image of cohesion across multiple identities. Wearing the zoot suit in public spaces is not only a politically radical act, as described above, it also facilitated marginalized groups carving out both public and private spaces for one another. Essentially, it is the double edged sword of observers seeing the Zoot Suit as a kind of Pachuco uniform. One the one hand, if a group of largely marginalized youths wanted to claim a space for themselves or simply not be harassed in public the presentation of a unified identity (in the form of everyone dressing in the same style) made groups seem intimidating, and thus less likely to be disrupted. On the other hand it also made Chicano/as and others easier to demonize by giving them a distinctive visual label. The response to the Zoot Suiters highly visual occupation of public spaces was largely apprehensive, putting the police on guard and prompting renters to enact restrictive housing policies in an attempt to confine what they saw as a threatening element. Just as in described above, the Zoot Suiter identity was a means of declaring an active resistance to the American idea of assimilation. Further, the penetration of this identity into public spaces, and the occupying of space in general forced urban white Americans to confront notions of multiculturalism right under their noses, instead of ignoring them with the war functioning as a thinly veiled excuse. This penetration into public space also wasn’t limited to the physical Zoot Suit but also the language, jazz music and dance enjoyed by Pachuco/as. Finally, the overall presence of Pachucos in public spaces also contributed to the overall presence of their Pachuca counterparts, which while we may take the idea of women in public for granted today the 1940’s often relegated female bodies to private (read: domestic) spaces. From that vantage point Pachucas were able to enter public spaces usually prohibited to them, and proceeded to strongly assert themselves in those spaces with female identities which refused to conform to expectations of submission and domesticity.
Zoot Violence in Los Angeles
In 1943 Los Angeles became the battleground for the event later dubbed “The Zoot Suit Riots”. Several incidents of shore leave servicemen attacking, beating and stripping young Pachucos out on the town eventually escalated into retaliations and then a full scale riot. The event was not helped by the fact that young Mexican Americans were outraged at the fact that the police would often arrest the Pachucos, victims of assault, for “disturbing the peace” as opposed to the servicemen who initiated the attack. After several retaliations by Pachucos against servicemen, the navy men armed themselves with clubs and chains and went into the Barrios to attack Mexican Americans in their homes, at that point the ignition of city wide violence was unavoidable. Alvarez spends this chapter further articulating the accounts of those victimized by servicemen during the riots. The anecdotes he shares not only include the perspectives of Mexican American men, who were the most frequently targeted group, but also Mexican American women in addition to both genders of other minorities up to and including, African and Asian Americans as well as white Zoot Suiters. Further, while those wearing Zoot Suits, regardless of race or gender, were the most prominent targets rioters also attacked non-Zoot Suited youth of color as well as individuals who chose to intervene on the behalf of the young adults being beaten and stripped in the streets. Of course, the press portrayed the events of the riots as navy servicemen attacking thuggish Pachucos, thus not only demonizing Mexican American Men, but also attempting to erase the traumatic experiences of many others who were affected by the riots. Alvarez also breaks down the fact that the riots didn’t spawn out of nothing. They were the culmination of almost a decade of racial tension, and the insidious, dehumanizing language of the press aimed at Zoot Suiters. Further, Zoot Suit related violence was not isolated to Los Angeles, similar riots broke out across other major cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia and New York.
Race Riots Across the United States
Alvarez devotes this chapter of his book to examining the race riots that broke out all over the country in the wake of the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles. He contextualizes these riots as a response to an overwhelming sense of mortification, an overwhelming history of abuse, and general lack of what he terms “dignity” felt by African and Mexican Americans across the country. Alvarez also takes a moment to acknowledge that all of these feelings were also experienced by Asian Americans, but that the internment of Japanese Americans during the time of these riots likely affected the response of the Asian American community, either with direct incarceration or the fear of such. This breaking point of toleration for abuse by minorities clashed head on with the widespread xenophobia in the upper echelons of the American populace brought on by the war. Finally, Alvarez contextualizes the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “Riot is the voice of the unheard.” By elaborating upon riots as one of the most surefire means of shaking up the status quo. Alvarez points out that riots: change the economic landscape, displays discontent in a way that is impossible to ignore, creates an equally intrusive demand for change and demands immediate action on the part of the systems of power.