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Defining Moments

The Zoot Suit Riots

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Today, the Zoot Suit Riots are widely described as an embarrassing chapter in the history of both the city of Los Angeles and the state of California. Historians describe those ugly spasms of violence as a grim reminder of the racial discrimination and fear that saturated America prior to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Yet the riots are also described as a historic turning point for Hispanic Americans. As they surveyed the physical and emotional wreckage of that horrible week, they began charting a new path for themselves.

Defining Moments: The Zoot Suit Riots surveys the political events, social trends, and racial attitudes that contributed to a week-long outbreak of violence in 1943 by white servicemen and civilians against young Mexican-American zoot suiters. This overview sets the Zoot Suit Riots within the context of the wider Latino-American experience and provides extensive coverage of the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder trial and the riots themselves.

The volume is organized into three distinct sections—Narrative Overview, Biographies, and Primary Sources—which offer a one-stop resource for student research.

    • The Narrative Overview section provides a detailed, factual account of what led up to the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder trial and the Zoot Suit Riots, the events and issues during the era, and its legacy in American society
    • The Biographies section presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with the Zoot Suit Riots
    • The Primary Sources section collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era, including official documents, first-hand accounts, memoirs, trial transcripts, editorials, and other important works

Other notable features include a glossary of important people, places, and terms; a detailed chronology featuring page references to relevant sections of the narrative; an annotated listing of selected sources for further study; an extensive general bibliography; and a subject index.

Standard Features

  • Library binding, 7 1/4 x 9 1/4
  • 240 pages
  • 30-40 photographs and other illustrations
  • Narrative Overview section: Provides a detailed, factual account of the “defining moment”
  • Biographies section: Presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with the event
  • Primary Sources section: Collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era
  • Research Topics: Proposes a list of topics suitable for conducting historical research and writing reports, a valuable starting point for student research
  • Source Attribution: Contains references for primary sources and other quoted material that guide users to other historical research resources
  • Glossary of Important People, Places, and Terms: Gives brief definitions for the many terms used in the book
  • Chronology: Highlights the related events in chronological order, along with “see” references that direct the reader to pages in the narrative with additional information
  • Sources for Further Study: Provides annotated citations for selected sources that are most useful to students
  • Bibliography: Lists books, periodicals, web sites, and videos consulted in preparing the volume
  • Subject Index: Includes people, places, organizations, events, and other topics

Research Topics

Each volume in the Defining Moments series covers a wide range of topics that students can use as starting points for further research. Potential research topics for Defining Moments: The Zoot Suit Riots are below:

  • Investigate the important role that bloodlines played in determining one’s social and economic status in the Spanish Empire
  • Discuss the political, cultural, and economic factors that contributed to the mass migration of Mexicans into the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries
  • Show how economic trends and events in the United States have historically influenced American attitudes toward migrant workers from Mexico and other countries
  • Explain the impact that newspapers and other information sources had on white attitudes toward Mexican Americans in general (and zoot suiters specifically) both before and during the Zoot Suit Riots
  • Detail reasons why zoot suits emerged as such a popular fashion style in minority and working-class neighborhoods across America in the 1930s
  • Explore the history of mass trials such as the Sleepy Lagoon trial and the reasons why such trials have fallen out of favor since the 1940s
  • Describe the importance of Mexican-American, African-American, and other minority World War II veterans in changing American attitudes about integration and racial equality during the 1940s and 1950s
  • Define the historical development of—and current debates about—such terms as Chicano, Hispanic, and Latino that are used to denote people with ancestral ties to Mexico and other parts of Latin America
  • Identify one major challenge facing Hispanic-American families and communities today and summarize proposed solutions to that problem


“The Zoot Suit Riots succeeds in providing easy-to-read content without being overly simplified. Most teen readers and the general public will like this book’s unpretentious organization and appearance. … The content provides some useful information for assigned papers, and for adults who want an introduction to this little-known controversy in America’s history. This title is a good addition to a collection with other supporting books on this topic. Because Mexican immigration continues to be a hot button issue in today’s society, some 80 years after the zoot suit riots, this book will have relevance in today’s classrooms. The Zoot Suit Riots is recommended for middle and high school libraries, and public libraries.”

—American Reference Books Annual, 2014

“[A] reference to a week of violence during 1943 in Los Angeles between white servicemen and citizens and Mexican Americans wearing distinctive stylish attire. … The series is intended to inform high school and college students about otherwise little mentioned events in U.S. history, but also to introduce them to the methods of researching and writing history.”

—Reference and Research Book News, Apr ’13