American Experience: Zoot Suit Riots

American Experience: Zoot Suit Riots

Tue, 03/29/2022 - 9:00pm - 10:00pm

Under normal circumstances, the murder of 22-year-old Jose Diaz may not have attracted much attention. But the circumstances in Los Angeles in 1942 were anything but ordinary.

In June 1943, Los Angeles erupted into the worst race riots in the city to date. For 10 straight nights, American sailors armed with make-shift weapons cruised Mexican American neighborhoods in search of "zoot-suiters" — hip, young Mexican teens dressed in baggy pants and long-tailed coats. The military men dragged kids — some as young as twelve years old — out of movie theaters and diners, bars and cafes, tearing the clothes off the young men's bodies and viciously beating them. Mexican youths aggressively struck back. The fighting intensified and on the worst night, taxi drivers offered free rides to the riot area. One LA paper even printed a guide on how to "de-zoot" a zoot-suiter. When the violence ended, scores of Mexicans and servicemen were in hospital beds.

Zoot Suit Riots, airing Tuesday, March 29 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV, is a powerful film that explores the complicated racial tensions and the changing social and political landscape that led up to the explosion on LA's streets in the summer of 1943.