Zoot Suit Riots: Clothes, Culture, and Murder
Illustrations and designed by Lisa Greenleaf
Should clothing capture the spirit of a culture, define people, or make them targets?
In the case of a zoot suit, wearing one during World War II meant all three.
The freedom of the 40's - night clubs, jazz music, swing dancing - masks the underlying racial tensions of the era. Wearing zoot suits was a way to display style and culture but ended up making Mexican Americans targets. Fueled by World War II paranoia, tensions rose to an unforgiving point in June 1943 Los Angeles when wearing a zoot suit meant you were likely to become a victim.
Capturing the racial tension of the period, Zoot Suit Riots describes the turbulent events that divided communities, pitted servicemen against immigrants, and shut down a city. The underlying causes - fear, misunderstanding, racism - transcend generations but the lessons learned should serve as an example for tolerance and acceptance.
RL 6 - ages 12 and up
Interest level: grades 6 and above (80 pages)