Cover image for Race, police, and the making of a political identity : Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900-1945
Title:
Race, police, and the making of a political identity : Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900-1945
Author:
Escobar, Edward J., 1946-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 358 pages ; 24 cm.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780520213340

9780520213357
Format :
Book

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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library HV8148.L55 E73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

In June 1943, the city of Los Angeles was wrenched apart by the worst rioting it had seen to that point in the twentieth century. Incited by sensational newspaper stories and the growing public hysteria over allegations of widespread Mexican American juvenile crime, scores of American servicemen, joined by civilians and even police officers, roamed the streets of the city in search of young Mexican American men and boys wearing a distinctive style of dress called a Zoot Suit. Once found, the Zoot Suiters were stripped of their clothes, beaten, and left in the street. Over 600 Mexican American youths were arrested. The riots threw a harsh light upon the deteriorating relationship between the Los Angeles Mexican American community and the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1940s.

In this study, Edward J. Escobar examines the history of the relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Mexican American community from the turn of the century to the era of the Zoot Suit Riots. Escobar shows the changes in the way police viewed Mexican Americans, increasingly characterizing them as a criminal element, and the corresponding assumption on the part of Mexican Americans that the police were a threat to their community. The broader implications of this relationship are, as Escobar demonstrates, the significance of the role of the police in suppressing labor unrest, the growing connection between ideas about race and criminality, changing public perceptions about Mexican Americans, and the rise of Mexican American political activism.


Summary

In June 1943, the city of Los Angeles was wrenched apart by the worst rioting it had seen to that point in the twentieth century. Incited by sensational newspaper stories and the growing public hysteria over allegations of widespread Mexican American juvenile crime, scores of American servicemen, joined by civilians and even police officers, roamed the streets of the city in search of young Mexican American men and boys wearing a distinctive style of dress called a Zoot Suit. Once found, the Zoot Suiters were stripped of their clothes, beaten, and left in the street. Over 600 Mexican American youths were arrested. The riots threw a harsh light upon the deteriorating relationship between the Los Angeles Mexican American community and the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1940s.

In this study, Edward J. Escobar examines the history of the relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Mexican American community from the turn of the century to the era of the Zoot Suit Riots. Escobar shows the changes in the way police viewed Mexican Americans, increasingly characterizing them as a criminal element, and the corresponding assumption on the part of Mexican Americans that the police were a threat to their community. The broader implications of this relationship are, as Escobar demonstrates, the significance of the role of the police in suppressing labor unrest, the growing connection between ideas about race and criminality, changing public perceptions about Mexican Americans, and the rise of Mexican American political activism.


Author Notes

Edward J. Escobar is Associate Professor in the Departments of Chicana and Chicano Studies and History at Arizona State University, and coeditor of Forging a Community: The Latino Experience in Northwest Indiana , 1919-1975 (1987).


Edward J. Escobar is Associate Professor in the Departments of Chicana and Chicano Studies and History at Arizona State University, and coeditor of Forging a Community: The Latino Experience in Northwest Indiana , 1919-1975 (1987).


Reviews 2

Choice Review

Part labor history, part criminology, part immigrant and ethnic history, Escobar's book is an important addition to the field of community study. Escobar examines the ambivalent attitudes of American employers and nativists to Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. Until the 1930s the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) functioned as an arm of capital to break up unions and strikes. The author suggests the LAPD came to view Mexicans as an inferior race with inborn "criminal tendencies." By WW II, Mexican American youths, alienated by the subordination of their people to menial jobs and de facto segregation, adopted the "zoot suit" as a form of symbolic protest. It featured baggy pants with pegged legs, coats with padded shoulders, and broad "pancake" hats. This "outlandish" style of dress offended Anglo notions of respectability. Police and media associated it with juvenile delinquency and gangs, and blamed the zoot suiters for a "crime wave." In 1943 mobs of servicemen attacked and stripped zoot suiters in several days of rioting. This event helped to shape a Mexican American sense of political identity as an oppressed nonwhite "racial" minority group. All levels. W. Glasker; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden


Choice Review

Part labor history, part criminology, part immigrant and ethnic history, Escobar's book is an important addition to the field of community study. Escobar examines the ambivalent attitudes of American employers and nativists to Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. Until the 1930s the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) functioned as an arm of capital to break up unions and strikes. The author suggests the LAPD came to view Mexicans as an inferior race with inborn "criminal tendencies." By WW II, Mexican American youths, alienated by the subordination of their people to menial jobs and de facto segregation, adopted the "zoot suit" as a form of symbolic protest. It featured baggy pants with pegged legs, coats with padded shoulders, and broad "pancake" hats. This "outlandish" style of dress offended Anglo notions of respectability. Police and media associated it with juvenile delinquency and gangs, and blamed the zoot suiters for a "crime wave." In 1943 mobs of servicemen attacked and stripped zoot suiters in several days of rioting. This event helped to shape a Mexican American sense of political identity as an oppressed nonwhite "racial" minority group. All levels. W. Glasker; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden


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