The Power of the Zoot

Even those who skipped history class one too many times know of the baggy zoot suits worn by many minority youths during the 1940s. Few, however, know the extent to which the flamboyantly colored zoot suits represented a subculture.

In a heavily researched history, alumnus Luis Alvarez (Ph.D. History ’01) examines the black, Hispanic, and sometimes white suit-wearers often depicted as renegades from mainstream society and illuminates their point of view with interviews of former zoot suiters.

Alvarez examines the instances leading up to the violent Zoot Suit Riots that sprang up in Los Angeles and Beaumont, among other racially-charged cities. A short epilogue compares the zoot suit culture to today’s hip-hop. Alvarez is an assistant professor of history at UC-San Diego.

“The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II” was published by University of California Press last June.

Reprinted with permission from the Sept./Oct. 2008 issue of The Alcalde.