In June 1943, several young zoot-suiters believed to be Mexican American got involved in a brawl with U.S. Navy sailors on leave in Los Angeles.
The rest of the ship’s crew decided to take revenge.
In the days that followed, sailors drove around the city in taxis, grabbing and beating every zoot-suiter they found. Young Mexican American men, whether wearing a zoot suit or not, were pulled out of buses and dragged from movie theaters to be beaten. Anglo civilians joined in the assaults. Police responded by arresting the victims.
The zoot suit riots spread to other cities, from California to Texas; from Chicago to Philadelphia to New York. When it was all over, a Los Angeles citizens’ committee determined that racial prejudice was behind the riots.
For the first time, Americans in high places began to see and investigate the racism of Anglos against Mexican Americans.
Chicanos began to realize that their very right to exist was in danger. They had to unite and become politically active as advocates in their own behalf.