Multimedia Collection

Zoot Suit Riots

60 min
F869 .L89 M59

In August 1942, the murder of a young Mexican American man ignited a firestorm in Los Angeles. The tensions that had been building up for years between Mexican and white Los Angelenos boiled over. The press claimed Mexican youth - known as "zoot-suiters" for the clothes they wore - were terrorizing the city with crime. Police fanned out across Los Angeles, arresting 600 Mexican Americans. Seventeen "zoot-suiters" were tried for murder. Despite the lack of evidence, they were all found guilty.

Using evocative original photography and moving interviews with eyewitnesses, ZOOT SUIT RIOTS tells the story of the trial and the violent events of the following summer. Several months after the teens were convicted, racial tensions led to full-scale riots between servicemen and the Mexican American community. During the week long riot, "zoot-suiters" were beaten and stripped of their clothes. The violence climaxed on the fifth night when 5,000 civilians converged on downtown Los Angeles eager to assist the sailors. Despite the odds, Mexican American kids organized and fought back.

This charged yet little-known story follows a generation of young Mexican Americans who dared to challenge racial attitudes in Los Angeles during World War II. Their subjection to racial profiling and discrimination by a xenophobic society makes this story resonate with young people of color today.

Distributed by PBS Home Video.

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United States History

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