Zoot suits, associated with the Mexican race, consisted of a long jacket that reached almost to the knees, pants with a “tight stuff cuff”, a “wide, flat hat, and Dutch-toe shoes” (Berger 193). These zoot suits were worn by the Mexican youth who were accused of murder on August 2, 1942. People claimed that Jose Diaz was murdered by a gang that had broken up a party at Sleepy Lagoon ranch located close to Los Angeles.
However, even though the lower court did convict them of murder, two years later the district court of appeals took that decision back by stating that there was not enough good evidence and that most of that decision was made based on prejudice issues.
This incident became known as the “Sleepy Lagoon Affair” and was made an international topic, especially when it was made to look like Americans were making it a point to harm Latin-American citizens.
Afterwards, the “Sleepy Lagoon Affair” opened the doorway to much more discrimination against Mexicans and brought many more riots to Los Angeles between Mexicans and Americans (Gorn 183).
Mexican-Americans were highly offended when American citizens, mostly the marines and soldiers, attacked any Mexican they saw on the street wearing a zoot suit. Some of the time these Mexicans were not part of a gang, but were attacked as revenge from that August night in 1942.
Police officials were watching servicemen beat the Mexicans on the street then arresting the victims, saying that they provoked the riot (La Opinion 190). After seeing that police were not taking the proper measures to fully stop these beatings, the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles said that the Embassy was awaiting orders from the Mexican government and it was possible that there would be a formal protest to the United States government (New York Times 191). Obviously, to the Mexican race, these riots and beatings are extremely unfair and are taking measures to stop them.
After fellow service men were attacked, robbed, and beaten, marines and soldiers would ride the streets in big groups looking for any Mexican, especially wearing a zoot suit. They would usually take this Mexican and strip him of his pants and brutally beat him. To the servicemen, this was their way of retaliation and believe that the Mexicans deserve it. When watching these riots, civilians on the street would cheer on the servicemen while police just usually stood back and watched before arresting the beaten victims. Every time a soldier was attacked by a zoot suit gang, the servicemen were already planning a next huge riot.
When these riots and attacks were getting out of hand on both sides, the Commanders and Generals stated that they would take the necessary measures to try and prevent these outbreaks between servicemen and Mexicans and told the army that partaking in these types of activities reflected on the individual and the army by wearing the uniform while participating in the riots and that the servicemen should seriously consider the consequences (Document 3 196). The Commanders say that the servicemen partake in riots for excitement. However, these measures were not always taken seriously and the riots continued.
The argument from the Mexican American point of view is the most convincing because, even before this time, Americans have always discriminated against races outside of their own. Even though a zoot suit gang was accused of murder, that does not mean servicemen should just go out on the street looking for Mexicans to assault and beat for revenge. By the soldiers retaliating to the “Sleepy Lagoon Affair”, it led to Mexicans attacking back on the servicemen and opened the way for all out discrimination and brutality between the races.