Posts Tagged: 'hispanic+history+we+should+know'

Oct. 12th, 2020

1943 Zoot Suit Riots

Aug 2, 1942, Sleepy Lagoon swimming hole, Commerce, Ca, Jose Gallardo Diaz was found unconcious & dying on the roadway. He was transported to the hospital where he later died. During the autopsy, it was found he was drunk from a party the night before & had suffered a fracture at the base of his skull, either caused by repeated falls or being hit by a vehicle.

LAPD was quick to arrest 17 Latino youths & charge them w/ the crime, holding them on charges of murder, despite insufficient evidence. On Jan 13, 1943, 12 were convicted of 2nd degree murder, & sentenced to serve in San Quentin, the rest are convicted of lesser charges & held in the LA County Jail. **

This is a precursor to the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots.

1943 Zoot Suit Riots


May 30, 1943, roughly 200 white sailors & soldiers targeted & attacked Latino youth, who often wore colorful, distinctive outfits they called Zoot suits, after rumors spread of a sailor being stabbed. Racial tensions were aready high, so they were especially hostile to the wearers of such suits, seeing them as flagrant disregard for wartime fabric rationing. Any they saw wearing such a suit were attacked, beaten w/ belts, ropes, bats, etc, then stripped of their clothes.

Law enforcement refused to intervene in support of the Latino youth, instead charging them w/ vagrancy, arresting many who had just been beaten.

May 31, 1943, a group of sailors encounters a group of young men & women wearing zoot suits, attacking them, causing one sailor to come away w/ a broken jaw. Word rapidly spread among servicemen in the area.

June 3, 50 armed sailors, left the Naval Reserve Armory, heading into the streets of LA, to 'avenge' the beating of the sailor.

June 4-5, fights occur across the city. Local press encourages the servicemen, printing hateful, inflammatory stories about zoot suiters.

June 6, violence spreads to Boyle Heights, into predominantly black neighborhoods. There, the zoot suiters join with the black residents and start to fight back.

1943 Zoot Suit Riots


June 7, a Latino man is beaten & stripped, after exiting a theater with his date. He is then arrested for disturbing the peace.

June 8, the violence subsides, after servicemen are restricted and banned from traveling into LA. Zoot suits are then banned by LA City Council.

Similar riots break out across the country, in places like Chicago, Detroit, New York City. In nearly all riots, hispanics are blamed and arrested instead of the actual perpetrators.

** All charges are later overturned and dropped.



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Oct. 5th, 2020

Sylvia Mendez, American Civil Rights Activist of Mexican-Puerto Rican heritage.

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Since the 1870s, Hispanic students were expected to attend 'Mexican schools'.

In 1943, a young Sylvia was turned away from an all white school, 17th Street Elementary, Orange County, Ca & was told to attend Hoover Elementary, a dilapidated 2 room schoolhouse, a mile away.

Her parents, Gonzalo & Felicitas Mendez, along with 4 other fathers from their Latin community, filed a federal lawsuit on Mar 2, 1945, in Los Angeles federal court against four of the Orange County school districts- Westminister, Santa Ana, Garden Grove & El Modena- now known as East Orange, on behalf of nearly 5,000 Hispanic-American schoolkids.

The case went to trial & Westminister school district tried to claim it was a 'language issue', rather than a racial segregation issue. But their claim fell apart when at least one child testified, proving that most Hispanic children spoke English & had the same capacity for learning as their white counterparts.

Feb 18, 1956, Judge Paul J. McCormick ruled in favor of the Mendez family & the other plaintiffs, & the school districts appealed.

Several other organizations joined the lawsuit- the ACLU, the American Jewish Congress, even the NAACP- represented by Thurgood Marshall-,among others.

Over a year later, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling, on Apr 14, 1947, after which, then Gov Earl Warren moved to desegregate all public schools & other public spaces in California.

Jan 19, 1948, Sylvia & her siblings were finally able to attend 17th St Elementary, where, she was badly mistreated by her fellow schoolmates.

Despite all this, Sylvia Mendez went on to become a nurse, retiring after 30 yrs in her field. She is now an American Civil Rights Activist who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work, on Feb 15, 2011, by President Obama.

Sylvia Mendez, American Civil Rights Activist of Mexican-Puerto Rican heritage.


Because her parents refused to settle, she refused to.

Mendez v Westminister remains a landmark de jure segregation case.



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