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The Power of the Zoot

The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II

Luis Alvarez
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Power of the Zoot
    Book Description:

    Flamboyant zoot suit culture, with its ties to fashion, jazz and swing music, jitterbug and Lindy Hop dancing, unique patterns of speech, and even risqué experimentation with gender and sexuality, captivated the country's youth in the 1940s.The Power of the Zootis the first book to give national consideration to this famous phenomenon. Providing a new history of youth culture based on rare, in-depth interviews with former zoot-suiters, Luis Alvarez explores race, region, and the politics of culture in urban America during World War II. He argues that Mexican American and African American youths, along with many nisei and white youths, used popular culture to oppose accepted modes of youthful behavior, the dominance of white middle-class norms, and expectations from within their own communities.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93421-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-ix)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. x-xi)
  4. Acknowledgments and Dedication
    (pp. xii-xv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In his autobiography, Malcolm X recalls venturing into his local New York army recruitment office during the early years of World War II. He describes entering the armed forces depot “costumed like an actor. With my wild zoot suit I wore the yellow knob-toe shoes, and I frizzled my hair up into a reddish bush of conk. I went in, skipping and tipping, and I thrust my tattered greetings at that reception desk’s white soldier—‘Crazy-o, daddy-o, get me moving. I can’t wait to get in . . .’—very likely that soldier hasn’t recovered from me yet.” Shortly following...

  6. PART ONE Dignity Denied:: Youth in the Early War Years

    • CHAPTER 1 Race and Political Economy
      (pp. 15-41)

      During the early years of World War II, William Dickerson became the first African American to complete the training course in aircraft metalworking at Bakersfield Junior College in south-central California. At a time when few African Americans even enrolled in such courses, let alone graduated, Dickerson’s confidence and pride were at an all-time high when he subsequently sent his application for employment to the Consolidated Aircraft Company of San Diego. Although the company had secured millions of dollars in wartime federal contracts and advertised that it would hire all youths who had completed appropriate training, its response was a simple...

    • Chapter 2 Class Politics and Juvenile Delinquency
      (pp. 42-74)

      In July of 1944 theLos Angeles Timespublished an article entitled “Youthful Gang Secrets Exposed.” Subtitled “Young Hoodlums Smoke ‘Reefers,’ Tattoo Girls, and Plot Robberies,” the article claimed that recent statements made by Mexican American juvenile delinquents in Los Angeles Superior Court detailed the lifestyle of young gangsters in the city. The article alleged that young Mexican American gangsters were addicted to narcotics and routinely concealed weapons, robbed pedestrians, spoke a strange and unintelligible argot, performed sadistic mutilations on unwilling neophytes, and smoked marijuana, or “yiska,” costing five dollars a cigarette. Claiming to uncover the inner workings of juvenile...

  7. PART TWO The Struggle for Dignity:: Zoot Style during World War II

    • CHAPTER 3 Zoot Style and Body Politics
      (pp. 77-112)

      On March 20, 1944, more than two years after tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent were forcibly incarcerated for suspected disloyalty to the United States,Lifemagazine published the first feature article on the Japanese American internment to appear in a major U.S. periodical. Accompanying the article was a photo depicting five male Japanese American internees with a caption that read in part, “These five Japs are among 155 trouble makers imprisoned in the stockade within the Tule Lake Segregation Center.” Known as the most notorious of the “relocation centers” because it housed the most fervent resisters...

    • CHAPTER 4 Zoots, Jazz, and Public Space
      (pp. 113-152)

      At the beginning of Spike Lee’s filmMalcolm X,a young Malcolm Little, played by Denzel Washington, and Shorty, Malcolm’s homeboy played by Lee, strut down a busy street near Boston’s Dudley Street Station in the early 1940s. With Malcolm sporting a sky-blue zoot suit and a porkpie hat complete with red feather, and Shorty decked out in a red and black checkered zoot with red hat and dark sunglasses, the pair walk shoulder to shoulder, seeming to take up the entire street, not to mention our viewing screen. As they cut diagonally across a busy intersection, Malcolm and Shorty...

  8. PART THREE Violence and National Belonging on the Home Front

    • CHAPTER 5 Zoot Violence in Los Angeles
      (pp. 155-199)

      On the evening of June 7, 1943, in Los Angeles, Vicente Morales carefully dressed in one of his tailor-made zoot suits for a night on the town. The young Mexican American teenager planned to dance the night away with his girlfriend to the jazzy sounds of the Lionel Hampton Band at the Orpheum Theater. Midway through the show, however, Morales was accosted by a group of white sailors who, without provocation, began shoving him and screaming obscenity-laced insults. Before long, Morales recalls, “about eight sailors got me outside of the theater and they started beating me up. It happened so...

    • CHAPTER 6 Race Riots across the United States
      (pp. 200-234)

      On June 26, 1943, a short three weeks after the Zoot Suit Riots ended in Los Angeles, the headlines of the national edition of thePittsburgh Courierread “Race Riots Sweep Nation: 16 Dead, Over 300 Hurt in Michigan, Texas, Mississippi.” Writing from Detroit, where violence between African Americans and whites engulfed the city for several days,Courierstaff correspondent John R. Williams wrote, “As I type these lines, I am sitting atop a racial volcano which has been ignited by the flames of racial hatred!” 1 On the same day, theAmsterdam Newsran a feature story with the...

    • Epilogue: From Zoot Suits to Hip-Hop
      (pp. 235-244)

      On June 19, 1943, theAmsterdam Newspublished an article on the Zoot Suit Riots entitled “Mexicans, Negroes Victimized.” West Coast correspondent Lawrence Lamar wrote that the attacks against zoot suiters by white servicemen, police, and civilians were a way of “keeping the Mexicans and Negroes in their places.” Accompanying the article was a photo reprinted from theLos Angeles Herald-Expressof three young men in zoot suits. In the photo, a Mexican American male zoot suiter with his clothes torn looks sheepishly at the camera and stands on a bench between two male black zoot suiters, one staring ahead...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 245-288)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-304)
  11. Index
    (pp. 305-318)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-322)