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Historicizing the zoot: Masculinity, misreading and Mexican American men’s perception of the zoot suit in World War II Los Angeles

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This article provides a gendered analysis of the zoot suit and the Zoot Suit Riots. It focuses on the perspective of young Mexican American zoot suiters and emphasizes that their understanding of the zoot suit’s meaning varied considerably from that of their attackers. The article provides a historiographical overview of the zoot suit and the Zoot Suit Riots, incorporating both design and social scientific perspectives. It builds upon the existing historiography by incorporating sources that emphasize the experiences, statements and actions of Mexican American zoot suiters in the 1940s. It concludes that Mexican Americans did not adopt the zoot suit style as an expression of resistance. In contrast, the men who attacked Mexican Americans during the riots did so because they interpreted the zoot suit as a sign of subversion.
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Keywords: Hispanic American men; Mexican Americans; Zoot Suit Riots; masculinity; zoot suit

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Youngstown State University

Publication date: 16 February 2011

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  • The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of everyday cultures. It is concerned with the study of the social practices and the cultural meanings that are produced and are circulated through the processes and practices of everyday life. As a product of consumption, an intellectual object of inquiry, and as an integral component of the dynamic forces that shape societies. The journal will be receptive to articles which focus on Australasian examples, or broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through an Australasian lens.
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