Zoot Suits- How is it prevalent now? is racial profiling a factor? By: Janet and Dyanni


The topic we choose for our multi media project is focused on the Zoot Suit Riots and how it is relevant in today's society. As students, we believe that today we still see similar incidents associated with racial profiling. We chose the topic Zoot Suits because very few know about the Zoot Suit Riots and why they occurred. Because few knew about the many incidents that occurred, historical we are given vague information or rumors of what conspired. Although there are many ways people have been racially profiled in the past we acknowledge that this topic was quite unique and interesting. Many topics that are similar to this one need a spotlight to be embraced and gain a different perspective on different individuals, regardless of there class, ethnicity, age, and authority. Especially in these incidents, we see how individuals with authority abuse there power. We will discuss different ethnicities and how they are racially profiled and will have personal experiences of people who have experienced similar situations. As strong, modern, proud Latinas we were passionate about our topic and we hope you enjoy it as well.

History of Zoot Suits

Zoot Suit Riot

Los Angeles California got a “population explosion”. There were mid-westerners, Mexicans, white labors escaping the Dust Bowl, and African Americans hoping to get a better life than in the South. Because of the war in 1941 white men had to leave their jobs so that they could go to the military. That meant that people of color and minorities took those jobs left behind that were originally for white men. Segregation was reinforced. “Civilians and military leaders in Los Angeles all too easily saw cultural and racial difference among Japanese Americans as subversion and betrayal, and actively supported the forced relocation of Japanese Americans into camps set up in the rural west” (PBS). The reason why this occurred was due to many Angelenos feeling vulnerable to a West Coast attack. Because of that there were civilian patrols all over Los Angeles and on beaches.

There was also military bases on Southern California like in San Diego and in Los Angeles. There was a genre of music that was big during that time and it was Jazz. The “zoot suit was one part of the jazz that visually defined the norms of segregation” (PBS). Even though people did not say that people of color should be hidden it was already known, but these zoot suiters did not pay any attention to that. They did not care. The zoot suiter were these men and sometimes women who would have a narrow waist and ballooned pants who were proud of who they were. Unfortunately there was this trial at the time in 1942 called the Sleepy Lagoon murder that involved Mexican boys fighting with each other. Law enforcement right away said they were zoot suiters. Because of their race tensions grew between service men and the suit zooters. Many of them left their bases to go to Los Angeles and there were many times that there was confrontations between them. When the servicemen would leave back to their bases they would purposely pass by Mexican communities to teach them proper respect. Even sailors would often insults Mexican Americans as they passed by their neighborhood. There were rumors that sailors would search for Mexican American girls. At these military bases they threatened everyone to not ever get into a relationship with Mexican American girls. Some would even say that “their wives or girlfriends are being subjected to the sexual taunts of young Mexican Americans” (PBS).

One evening on a Monday, May 30,1943 there were a dozen soldiers, and sailors walking through a downtown street. They saw a group of Mexican American women on the other side and walked toward them. In between the women and servicemen, there were a group of young men in suits-zoots. They passed each other and one of the men from the sailor group named Joe Dacy Coleman felt he was going to get attacked by the zoot-suit so he grabbed one of their arms. That was a big mistake they made because the service men got a beat. They knocked out Coleman, and hit them all with bottles,rocks, and fists. This was one of many zoot-suit riots, and it wasn't long before the servicemen would retaliate.

zoot suit clothing

The next encounter had about fifty sailors on a Thursday of June 3rd. They had weapons with them and were ready to retaliate against the zoot-suiters. There 1st stop was a neighborhood called Alpine street, and there was nobody there so they went to a downtown theater called Carmen. They turned on the theater lights, and looked at each aisle looking for them. “The first victims of the zoot suit riots were a 12 and 13 year old boy who were really at the wrong place at the wrong time”. “Ignoring the protests of the patrons, the sailors tore the suits off their bodies and beat and clubbed the boys. The remains of their suits were then set ablaze” (PBS). As these fights kept going word got to their watch commander. “Executive Officer Lieutenant Charles Bacon was sent to investigate. After failing to find any evidence of the wrongdoing at numerous spots, Bacon came upon the Shore Patrol marching a group of sixty men to the Central Police Station, where they were to be placed in jail. Bacon assumed he had things under control” (PBS).

Then there was a second riot that had began. Young Mexican American men had drove back and forth to where the servicemen had been on Armory. Sailors had also headed out to look for trouble. If sailors could not find enough zoot-suiters then they would go to any Mexican American neighborhood in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. So now their strike became an assault to not only zoot-suits but to Mexican American communities. The sailors went from town to town (Barrio), and going into bars, cafes, and theaters. The Los Angeles police did not want to step in a protect the civilians. There was even this policemen that a newspaper quoted after the riot. He said, “”You can say that cops had a ‘hands-off’ policy during the riots. Well, we represented the public opinion. Many of us were in the first World War, and we’re not going to pick on kids in the service””(PBS).

The violence continued even with those that had no connection to jazz or the Zoot-Suits. For example there was this group of Mexican musicians who exited this Aztec record company after finishing up a recording session, and when they left they were attacked because of their race. These musicians did not even wear a zoot-suit and they were adults. Servicemen picked on them now just because of their race, clearly they had something against them. These servicemen were carrying belts, clubs, knives and tire irons. When the head of the military found out they were more concerned about having control of their men rather than the awful thing they were doing. Nonetheless the zoot-suits were upset and were ready to fight back.

“The worst violence occurred on Monday, June 7. One of the Los Angeles paper printed a guide on to “de-zoot” a zoot suiter: “Grab a zooter. Take off his pants and frock coat and tear them up or burn them" (PBS). On that night there was 50,000 civilians gathered downtown. By this time the mob no longer made up of only sailors from the Armony. Now there were Soldiers, Marines, and sailors from other installations as far as Las Vegas eagerly joined in the assaults. Part of the mob headed south for the predominately African Americans sections of Watts and another group headed east for Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles” ( PBS). It was chaos said Al Waxman, editor of Eastside Journal. “The police were arresting dozens of young Mexican Americans. They questioned to why they were being arrested, and the cops response was a savage clubbing with a nightstick. Although the boy fell to the sidewalk unconscious, he was kicked in the face by police” (PBS).

“By tuesday morning the rioting was finally under a measure of control. Senior military officials declared Los Angeles off limits to all sailors, soldiers, and Marines. The following day the city council adopted a resolution that banned the wearing of the zoot suits on Los Angeles streets, punishable by a thirty-day jail term” (PBS). “As the riots subsided, the governor ordered the creation of a citizens’ committee. Its charge was to investigate and determine the cause of the riots. In 1943 the committee issued its report; it determined racism to be the central factor of the riots” (PBS). But Mayor Fletcher Bowron thought otherwise. He said that the riots were caused by juvenile delinquents and by white southerners, and that racial prejudice had nothing to do with it. Clearly that was not the case.


“The popular image of “Rosie the Riveter” as a Euro-American woman who took up the call to support the United States during World War II is a stereotype that does not match the racial and ethnic diversity of women who worked in the war time industries in Southern California”. In From Coveralls to Zoot Suits by Elizabeth Escobedo tells how the rise of the war industries impacted mexican families in Southern California. Mexican American women took the courage to leave their racial communities and get a job to help their family grow and their community. By working in the wartime factories Mexican American Women grew independent. Without their community watching or judging they were able to “Express themselves in radically new ways”(Escobedo). With the war going on during the 1940s it allowed Mexican American Women do as they please in the way that they could wear whatever distinctive clothes and have an attitude with an independent mind. These women were seen as Pachucas and the newspaper would write a lot of racial stereotypes and tried to link them to crime.

The Mexican American women known as Pachucas or female zoot suiters loved to go out and dance, go out with whomever regardless of their race. This did not go with the wartime nationalism. As Escodedo says, “whiteness, and the manner in which it was understood by a wide American Social Spectrum, simultaneously opened up and limited opportunities. They were seen as different than what a typical American should look like and because of it they were seen as less” (Escobedo). Especially if they were dressed different than what women at that time, they would get judged quickly and unfairly.

How are the Zoot Suits prevalent now?

Zoot suits weren’t only a flashy new trend, it was also a political statement. Their clothing was seen as “anti-american” because of the extra use of clothing during the war. A simple new modern look can be easily reciprocated under the public as political statement in a negative way. How can we see those same statements view now in 2017? One example would be the increasing fear of a terrorist attack in the U.S.The most shocking moment is when Trump said “total and complete shutdown of Muslims”(Kentish). Because Trump has decided to target a specific group, many Muslims women felt directly targeted because they have worn a specific attire that is associate with there ethnicity. Unfortunately, many believe that those who wear hijabs are terrorist or work for ISIS.Unfortunately many Americans tend to associate terrorism with the hijab, leaving many Muslim-Americans susceptible to ridicule and discrimination.Many are still afraid of being stereotyped which does occur quite often since women wear “Hijabs”. Hijabs” , also know as, “cover” in Arabic are headscarves, which represents a women choice to represent her religious identity and faith to her god (Islam). Girls choose whether to wear the hijab when they hit puberty, their choice is strictly based on them. I would understand how Muslim-American women and girls would wear their hijabs in order to keep their faith and cultural identity while being in another country. There should not be a problem with that. That is part of their culture and religion and should not be judged by that. As stated previously even our president of 2017 has enforced that racial profiling is okay towards there culture, ethnicity and religion. If we are the land of the free, especially freedom of religion, then why are we(not all) imposing prejudice and discrimination?

Bottom line- Women wearing hijabs does not perpetuate terrorism or any form of radicalized religion, it is representation of their faith. Any other religion using some sort of fashion can easily be used in the same way. In many ways media can perpetuate positive and negative stereotypes.


In many ways that rhetoric that many women have been receiving has also created a reaction from many who support women and there faith. Many fashion company brands support women who wear hijabs. Because if we are truly the land of the free, why not support others who respect then own faith. It's individuals who radicalize religion to create negativity, stereotypes, among a specific group and the religion it self.. Many different religions use hijabs, just in different ways. However we can also support women with out the hijabs. Here are some positive companies that support hijabs.

Dolce & Gabbana

Different ways headscarves have been used

Gap-actor Waris Ahluwalia
The Difference

Racial Profiling- How is it relatable?

In order to understand racial profiling we must first look at what caused racial profiling and why it is still an issue today. Throughout U.S. history I have noticed that class and the obvious one ethnicity plays a strong role in society. If we look at the Gilded Era and the Progressive Era, 1877-1914 we notice that during this time immigrants and many minorities such as African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans were often used for scapegoating for issues economically, class, environmentally etc. With that, those specific ethnicities and immigrants were subjected to stereotypes. During WWII the Zoot Suits were an issue as well they would get a dirty look or even get into some trouble because of their dressing and especially their ethnicity. Some how today we are still at a slow progress into fixing these issues.

Racial profiling is discrimination done by law enforcement targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin (). Another form of racial profiling is when you are judged by the way you dressed and looked at differently because of you ethnicity. This could be anyone judging who someone is by the way they dress. If a person dresses a certain way they could be perceived as a criminal. Some examples of racial profiling are the “use of race to determine which drivers to stop for minor traffic violations (commonly referred to as “driving while black or brown”), or the use of race to determine which pedestrians to search for illegal contraband (). This is commonly used on minorities and immigrants.

“Any definition of racial profiling must include, in addition to racially or ethnically discriminatory acts, discriminatory omissions on the part of law enforcement as well. For example, during the eras of lynching in the South in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s, southern sheriffs sat idly by while white racists like the Ku Klux Klan terrorized African American. At times, the sheriffs would be the complaint by an African American man in Maryland, who after moving into a white community, was attacked and subjected to property damage. Local police failed to respond to his repeated complaints until they arrested him for shooting his gun into the air, trying to disperse a hostile mob outside his home” ( ).

Here is one case from Ohio (Cincinnati). On April 7, 2001, 19 year old Timothy Thomas who was African American was shot and killed by officer John Roach. Thomas had 14 outstanding warrants, but nothing major just traffic violations. “According to a city councilman, he was running away, holding up his baggy pants, and scaled a fence, landing in a driveway where Roach was approaching and shot Thomas” (). “Roach was acquitted in a bench trial characterized by the judge’s ( a former prosecutor) open administration for Roach, and blaming Timothy Thomas for “making Roach Kill him.

Asian Racial Profiling. “Asians, who according to the U.S. census, number 10 million, or 4 percent of the population, have been victims of racial profiling as well. We Ho Lee, a Taiwanese American was targeted and suspected of espionage on the basis of race. Memos by high-ranking FBI and Department of Energy officials acknowledged that Lee was singled out because he was Chinese, and eight similarly situated non-Chinese were not prosecuted.

Walking While Black and Brown racial profiling is not only done when people are driving, but also when they are walking. Latino and Black pedestrians regularly get stopped and frisked without any reasonable cause.Unfortunately this is common when people of color, and minorities go shopping. They could get followed, get a nasty look, or even questioned if they have a receipt after buying something. Another place this is used is when people apply to jobs and get rejected because of their appearance and ethnicity.

Civil and human rights said racial profiling is unconstitutional, and despite the emphatic declaration from the federal government that the practice is "invidious," "wrong," "ineffective," and "harmful to our rich and diverse democracy," quantitative and qualitative evidence collected at the federal, state, and local levels confirms that racial profiling persists. Moreover, as the evidence also shows, racial profiling is often encouraged by misguided federal programs and policies that incentivize law enforcement authorities to engage in the practice". This is something worth noticing

Who is racially profiled what are some examples? How are they targeted?

As said before many immigrants and minorities are often targeted. History shows us unbelievable examples of different ethnicities or race being targeted. For example the Chinese exclusion act in 1882 was passed; which focused on specific immigrants being from china for the next 10 years. The first race based law created reasons for hate among Chinese immigrants or for anyone who had similar phenotype. This only enforced racial profiling. Another example of racial profiling can be identified in the Zoot Suit Riots. The Zoot Suit Riots occurred in Los Angeles, California 1943, where a series of racist attacks against Latinos and other minorities. Zoot Suits was a form of clothing that became a rebellious modern trend that was seen in a negative way. African Americans also experienced horrible things with discrimination and Jim crow laws. Also Jews who were hated and blamed for something they were not responsible for. Although time has passed we somehow still have these issues of racial profiling and it is not fair. They are targeted now when driving, getting a job, getting pulled over, or even walking. It is something that must be fixed.

Personal stories-How do people relate to similar incidents?

Janet's Interview:

Have you ever been racially profiled? When? "He said he started to notice it in 6th grade but he did not understand it. The first time in 6th grade was when his friends were selling candy at school. It was two guys and when the principal found out they went straight to him and told him that they knew he was selling candy. He said no he did not, but even that did not stop them from suspending him. He says it happens every day whether at school, or walking. Another incident is when he walked out the store to meet his friends. The cops had originally pulled over his friend and once he stepped outside the cops put all of them to the side to see if any of them were on probation. He was on the phone at the time and tried to pass it to his friend while the cops were checking their history. The cop's partner then says he is passing contraband and arrested him. All he passed was his phone. The left him in the back of the cop car for almost an hour and gave him a ticket".

Why do you feel like that happens? "He feels like it happens because he is a minority. He also mentioned that there was this white guy who does drugs in his neighborhood, and is always drunk and says that he never see the cops hassle the white guy. But says they always hassle him".

How does it make you feel? "The first time it ever happened he was so mad and furious, and mad at the world. He was confused by it all. All the times after that he just got irritated and said in his head “Not again”. But now unfortunately he says it's normal to him and has to just deal with it since it will not change".

How many times has it occurred and do you feel it affects you? "He says this affects him because he can't wear whatever he feels like wearing without people and cops thinking that he has something bad in his pockets. It also affects him in a way that he feel like he has to stay out of any cops sight just so that he won't have to deal with any unnecessary things. He believes it affects him when he goes into stores. He gets followed. For example at the school bookstore they tell him to put his backpack down while others have their backpack on. He thinks this relates to the zoot suits in the way that he gets picked on just cause of his ethnicity. Which is similar to the zoot suits because they got picked on for being Mexicans and just used the zoot suit appearance to hurt them".

For personal reason the individual did not want there picture uploaded.

Have you ever been racially profiled? When? "He says yes I get racially profiled when I go into stores I feel like they are always looking. Even when police officers pull me over they think I don’t have a driver's license. For example when he goes into a predominantly white neighborhood he feels like they look at him strange and make him feel like he does not belong there. Another example would be whenever he gets pulled over they always ask if he is on probation or is a gang member".

Why do you feel like that happens? "He feels this happens because of the way he dresses. He also feels like he can not dress how he wants without him getting judged. Also because he is Mexican he feels like it happens".

How does it make you feel? "By this happening to him it makes him feel like less of a person, as if they are more superior than him".

How many times has it occurred and do you feel it affects you? "This affects him consciously because even if people don't think anything he feels like they are. It makes him avoid certain places. Or when going into a store they always follow him around as if he is going to steal something. Unfortunately this happens often to him. For example when he goes to apply for a job they think he does not have permission to be here when indeed he does. People often also think he is part of a gang which makes people become even more distant. He think his situation relates to the zoot suits because they are seen as criminals because of their ways of dressing and ethnicity, and how he feels the same. He feels like he has to always look nice so that they won't classify him as some gang member".

Dyanni's Interview:

for personal reason the individual did not want there picture uploaded.

Do you know anything in regards to the Zoot suit Riots? "A little bit, I remember in high school as a student learning about. I remember it involved clothing and people were wearing it to be rebellious"

Have you ever been racially profiled? if so can you go into detail about what occurred? "Yes, I have been racially profiled many times in my life. The one I remember distinctly was when I was pregnant with my first-born and I was taking the train back home. I had just finished work at San Francisco International Airport. I remember changing into comfortable clothing before I went on the train. I was wearing green shirt and some breathable yoga type pants. As I sat down, I noticed two old elderly women sitting across for me. I smiled, they looked away. I didn't pay much mind until my phone started to ring and I answered it. It was husband checking up on me asking me how my day was doing. Of course I was speaking in Spanish, and I look right across and I can tell the two elderly women were whispering. Even after I hung up, I continued to ignore them. Finally one of the elderly ladies spoke to the other one out loud 'These Mexicans... taking advantage of us, there lazy, ... look at her shes pregnant... probably taking advantage of our welfare benefits'. Then the other elderly lady continued and answered 'I bet you she's here illegally.... look at her clothes ugh!'. I quickly responded "I just got out of work, I work at the airport, No I'm not on welfare, I changed my clothes because being pregnant and wearing the attire that I have to wear at work was bothering me. Yes I am an immigrant, no I'm not here illegally here. And no I'm not Mexican'. They looked stunned, there faces red and embarrassed. My stopped had approach on the train and I didn't even look back I just got off ".

me: wow, were you angry ?and Do you think speaking Spanish played a factor? Do you think clothing played a factor? " I was a little angry but was more annoyed and disappointed. Because I was pregnant and hormonal I did cry later when I got home. Yes of course speaking Spanish was a factor. I agree that people should assimilate to a new environment but I don't think I should completely abandon my own culture. I can speak English very well and I have assimilate as much as can in the U.S. I never thought of that before but now that I think of it I do believe clothes played a factor . In society today people tend to stereotype you buy how you dress".

Lets resurface the topic on Zoot Suit Riots, Based on the racial profiling that you went through, do you think the same issues that occurred are relevant to your story/experience? "Hmmm, In some ways yes because they judge me on my clothing what I was wearing, and they automatically assumed I was an immigrant from Mexico. Compared to what I went through, I believe those who were involved with the Zoot Suit Riots dealt with much more then what I had to deal with. Though it does show similar ideas".

for personal reason the individual did not want there picture uploaded.

Do you know anything in regards to the Zoot suit Riots? "Yes I do actually, I remember a lot about it actually. It's crazy how many hurt for wearing a piece of clothing that was consider anti-American and caused such violent acts".

Have you ever been racially profiled? if so can you go into detail about what occurred? "Oh my gosh! the stories I can tell! Lets see I was walking home with my brother (we were very young in high school) from the grocery store and all of sudden I hear the police sirens. It scared me because it was out of the blue?! Ya know! I didn't really expect it. I turned and kept walking with my brother eventually they pulled up right behind us. Then we looked over and a cop came out and waved us over. 'Come here boy', I walked over 'bring your friend with you'. We stood there in front of him and he said 'were are you headed?'. 'Home' I replied. He peeked at my grocery bag a little, he went on to say 'not any gang mischief right'. ('I remember this moment so vividly' (speaking out of context from the story to me) my face became red with anger')). But I kept my composure I looked down and said 'no I'm not involved in a gang', he replied again 'I need to see both of our licenses or ID's'. My friend responded very quickly 'why?' . The cop replied 'we heard some disturbance in the neighborhood, we just want to confirm whether you fit the profile'. A little annoyed and wanting to leave, we handed our ID's over. It took 10 minutes. They gave us our ID's and we we left. They had followed us all the way home. I remember telling my mom, she was so angry and thankful that we had our ID's. (speaking out of context)".

Why do you think you and your friend were associated with being in a gang by a cop? "Honestly I think it's because we were minorities and because we were wearing clothing that could easily be associated with 'gang related attire'. But to be fair a trendy outfit or a piece of clothing that I or anyone else for that matter wear or like should not be a reason to associates us with any type of gang violence".

Lets resurface the topic on Zoot Suit Riots, Based on the racial profiling that you went through, do you think the same issues that occurred are relevant to your story/experience? "Yes, I do believe the Zoot Suit Riots and my experience have the same experiences as well. My clothing was consider or perceived in a negative way, in many ways a stereotype of clothing can negatively impact society's perception".

Final Thoughts

Janet: I believe that we chose a very important topic because we have been fighting it for years now, and there is still no big change. The zoot suits are one of many times that people have been racially profiled. As we stated previously it is not a very popular topic that is discussed about. We as a country need to acknowledge so that people can understand how messed up things are. The matter of the fact is that these service men just used the zoot suits clothing just as an excuse to humiliate and degrade Mexicans. Unfortunately the servicemen got away with it and did not pay the cost, and it is sad to see that this till happens today. It unfair how people degrade other people just because of their race. It is also sad to see how people who have experienced it are so use to it that they feel like they have settle for it and be okay with it. That is not right and no one should be outcasted or feel less of. It is important to educate those who are ignorant of other races and culture to not feel threatened by them.

Dyanni: After studying this topic I realized its such a significant point in history that shaped many perspectives for many individuals. With that, I was able to shape my own perspective and relate that to racial profiling and how it is prevalent now. Researching the facts, interpreting the information gives different viewpoints. The representation of how of women in relegion, relegion itself, clothing plays a factor. Can change history itself.


Gjelten, Tom. "American Muslim Women Explain Why They Do — Or Don't — Cover." NPR-code Switch Race, and Identity Remixed. NPR, 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2017. <http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/02/02/465180930/american-muslim-women-explain-why-they-do-or-dont-cover>.

Goff, Keli. The Root. The Root, 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <http://www.theroot.com/celebs-whove-been-racially-profiled-1790868366>.

Http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/racial-profiling2011/the-reality-of-racial.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/zoot/>.

"Racial Profiling: Definition." Https://www.aclu.org/other/racial-profiling-definition. American Civil Liberites Union, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://www.aclu.org/other/racial-profiling-definition>.

"The Reality of Racial Profiling." "The Leadership Conference". The Leadership Conference, 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/racial-profiling2011/the-reality-of-racial.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/>.

"Wearing the Hijab in Solidarity Perpetuates Oppression." The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2017. <http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/01/06/do-non-muslims-help-or-hurt-women-by-wearing-hijabs/wearing-the-hijab-in-solidarity-perpetuates-oppression>.

"Zoot Suit Riots." Zoot Suit Riots. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <http://research.pomona.edu/zootsuit/en/riots/>.


Created with images by dnai miller - "Nike Hijab"

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.