Mar 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

PBS to rebroadcast documentary on Zoot Suit Riots

Mexican American zoot suiters lined up outside Los Angeles jail in 1943.
Mexican American zoot suiters lined up outside Los Angeles jail. June 9, 1943 Photo: Library of Congres

PBS is re-broadcasting a documentary on the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots — one of the most violent race riots in Los Angeles history.

Why it matters: The Zoot Suit Riots served as a crucial moment in Mexican American history, highlighting the often-overlooked racial violence Latinos faced.

The big picture: Aug. 2 will mark the 80th-anniversary of the murder of a young Mexican American man that sparked the eventual Zoot Suit Riots, named after a type of clothing — baggy dress pants and long-tailed coats — some young Mexican Americans wore during that time.

Catch up quick: The film follows the tensions that led mobs of white sailors to violently attack Mexican American youth in Los Angeles in June 1943.

  • The August 2, 1942, murder of José Díaz ignited a frenzy over youth violence, with media outlets publishing racist stories about Latino gangs.
  • During the hysteria, Los Angeles police rounded up 600 Mexican Americans who wore "zoot suits."
  • According to the Library of Congress, 22 Mexican Americans were tried together in one of the largest mass trials in California history.
  • Seventeen were convicted of various charges, including three men convicted of first-degree murder, although all of the convictions were overturned. They were released after serving two years in prison.
  • The Diaz murder is unsolved.

The film will stream simultaneously with broadcast beginning Tuesday and will be available on all station-branded PBS platforms and outside streaming services.

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