Skip to main content

View Diary: History 101: The Zoot Suit Riots (53 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  Some family history here... (0+ / 0-)

    My stepdad grew up in East LA. He lived in El Sereno, which at the time was Irish-Jewish working class. (Interestingly, my Jewish mother-in-law grew up right around the corner; her parents owned the grocery store where my stepdad's mom shopped as a kid.) The barrios were in nearby neighborhoods; but El Sereno itself was undergoing a pretty significant racial change by the time the war started.

    My stepdad left home at 14 (his folks drank, and life was hellish), and lied his way into the Navy the next year -- 1943. He tells a story about coming back home to East LA in his Navy uniform, unaware of the brewing racial situation. The train arrived at night, and he took the bus into the old neighborhood. When he got off, it was late and dark -- and there were four guys in zoot suits waiting for him with evil intent in their eyes.

    They surrounded him, coming in slowly for the kill, heckling him. And then one of the vatos stopped, suddenly, and stepped back. "Wait a minute, guys." He studied my stepdad's face carefully. "Yo, O'Connor -- is that you?"

    My stepdad stopped at looked hard at the guy. Turned out to be a kid he'd been good friends with in grade school. He had helped the kid study, let him copy off his papers and read his notes, and basically gotten him through fifth grade. And now the guy recognized him, and decided he owed my stepdad a favor in return.

    The upshot was that the gang that was about to beat the crap out of him ended up giving him an escort back to his folks' house, just to make sure he didn't have any more trouble. And they warned him not to wear his sailor blues anywhere in the neighborhood while he was on leave.

    Sometimes, it helps to be a local.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site