Zoot Suits Riot Film

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While America fought World War II in Europe, riots broke out in the streets of Los Angeles targeting young Latinos. They strived for the same freedom enjoyed by whites, but were treated as poorly as African Americans of the era. In effect, they tried to disassociate themselves from this faction. Young Latino men referred to themselves as pachucos and sported oversize suits known as zoot suits.

In the film Zoot Suit Riots, Joseph Tovares remarkably portrayed the difficult lives of Mexican Americans in the 1940s. Zoot Suit Riots is a powerful film that explores the complicated racial tensions, as well as the changing social and political scene leading up to the riots in the streets of Los Angeles in the summer of 1943. White Americans, police and service men targeted Latinos with their racist attitudes. Tovares argues that these Mexican American adolescents were victims, but they also stood up for themselves and fought back to gain the respect they felt they deserved. This generation of Americanized Latino children wanted to be recognized as American on their own terms. To distinguish themselves from their parents’ generation, they became zoot suitors, but learned that was not enough as racism was a widespread phenomenon across America.

Tovares accurately portrays the lives of Mexican Americans victimized by highlighting the Sleepy Lagoon Case. To white Americans in Los Angeles, the murder was proof that Mexican American crime was spiraling out of control. Tovares, however, uses this as evidence to support that they were mistreated because the Mexican American suspects taken into custody all wore zoot suits. This reinforced the opinion white Americans had of Mexican Americans and their apprehension of men in zoot suits. He also interviewed both Mexican Americans and White Americans who lived during this event, even some participants in the riots. His use of oral history throughout the film is captivating as you hear the voice and emotional reaction of a...
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