In 1942, 17 young Mexican-Americans were put on trial in Los Angeles for the murder of another young Mexican-American.
The defendants — alleged members of a gang — were blamed for contributing to an increase of violence in the city. And they were vilified for the clothes they favored — the outrageously long coat and baggy pants that made up the zoot suit.
The boys were convicted, but ultimately freed when an appeals court decided there had not been enough evidence for the conviction — and the judge was accused of misconduct.
In the middle of all this, young Mexican-Americans were attacked around the city by American sailors. If you were caught wearing a zoot suit, you were stripped and beaten in public.
These incidents were the basis for “Zoot Suit,” a play written and directed by Luis Valdez. He is the founder of El Teatro Campesino, the company that started out in the 1960s making political theater in support of the United Farmworkers Union. “Zoot Suit” debuted at the Mark Taper Forum in 1978 and it’s back on the same stage as part of the Center Theatre Group’s 50th anniversary season.
The Frame recently organized a conversation about the play on the Taper stage. Along with Luis Valdez, we were joined by Center Theatre Group artistic director Michael Ritchie, actress Rose Portillo, and Tomás Summers Sandoval, a historian at Pomona College.
Hear edited excerpts from the panel by clicking on the blue "play" button above. To watch the video of the entire conversation, click here.