Zoot Suit Riots: Ethnic and Racial Paranoia of the Early 1940s

Topics: United States, Zoot suit, Mexican American Pages: 1 (300 words) Published: April 2, 2007
Set in the environment of ethnic and racial paranoia that defined the early 1940s in Los Angeles, California, the "Zoot Suit Riots" were a defining moment for Zoot Suiters and the Mexican American community. The ethnic populations of California as a whole, and Los Angeles in particular, were under siege. In March and April of 1942, the entire Japanese and Japanese American population on the West Coast of the United States were deported to "relocation centers" (mild euphemisms for concentration camps) located in the interior of the U.S.. Without the Japanese Americans around to focus the locals' racial paranoia, Los Angeleans began to look toward the Zoot Suiters. A "Mexican Crime Wave" was announced by local newspapers (precursors to today's tabloids and pioneers in "yellow journalism"), and a special grand jury was appointed by the city of Los Angeles to investigate.

Around the same time, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also decided to investigate and appointed E. Duran Ayres to head their Foreign Relations Bureau. And though Mr. Ayres accurately identified much of the active discrimination that was occurring against the "Mexican element", he drew some startling conclusions which were presented to the grand jury:

"He stated that Mexican Americans are essentially Indians and therefore Orientals or Asians. Throughout history, he declared, the Orientals have shown less regard for human life than have the Europeans. Further, Mexican Americans had inherited their 'naturally violent' tendencies from the 'bloodthirsty Aztecs' of Mexico who were said to have practiced human sacrifice centuries ago. At one point in his report Ayres even compared the Anglo to a domesticated house cat and the Mexican to a 'wild cat,' suggesting that the Mexican would forever retain his wild and violent tendencies no matter how much education or training he might receive.
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