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Zoot Suit: Our History Is Our Present

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Luis Valdez mixed art and politics in his writing, like “Zoot Suit” which focuses on the Zoot Suit Riots that occurred in Los Angeles during the 1940s. The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of violent clashes between U.S. servicemen who would attack young Latinos and other minorities. Luis Valdez “Zoot Suit” is evidence that racial prejudice is part of our history, and still continues to exist. In prejudice people are defending privilege of position and thus stand to gain emotionally, culturally, socially and economically from an attitude of prejudice towards others. This privilege that prejudice rationally defends is a product of racism.

“Zoot Suit” focuses on a group of pachucos who were in the middle of a dance when the cops show up and interrupt it, “Hold it right there, kids! … Stop or I’ll shoot! (P.368).” Our authorities interrupted a dance, that they had no concern too, and threaten to shoot teenagers only because they do not fit their own perception, and dress a certain way that to them is represented menacing street thugs, gang members, and juvenile delinquents. The way American society is presently structured, most whites have no idea, nor first-hand experience of life minority communities, like African American or Latino. The continuous norms of separation and segregation that prevent people of different racial/ethnic groups from interacting with each other in a meaningful and positive way, perpetuate this ignorance of groups, which in turn gives rise to attitudes of prejudice. We move on to Pachuco and Henry now being in jail, where Henry speaks about going to the Navy and “fighting for his country (p. 370).” However, Pachuco does not agree with his decision “Because this ain’t your country. Look what’s happening all around you… the mayor of L.A. has declared all-out war on Chicanos. On you! The curas? (. 370).” The problem is that for too long in American society we have been placing meaning on physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, gender, age, sexual orientation; or on social differences such as religion, ethnicity, language and social class. Henry’s mother does not approve of the clothes her son wears, “Ay si, drapes, muy funny, verdad? And what do the police call them, eh? They’ve put you in jail so many times. Sabes que? I’m going to send them all your clothes! (p. 374).” Dolores, Henry’s mother, is so afraid of these baggy, flashy suits because of what others think they represent. Wearing these clothes made the youths realize that this society did not allow them to express themselves, because this was similar to putting a target on their back to get attacked/violently beat.

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The United States is a multicultural nation, but it is also a nation in conflict with its values of freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all. The meaning is in the culture and in the values transmitted from one generation to the next. This results in an ideology of supremacy which justifies power of position by placing a negative meaning on perceived or actual biological/cultural differences. This forms the basis for attitudes of prejudice and actions of discrimination, which result in racism.

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