Scapegoating Mexicans is an American Tradition


Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents
five inches long I’m out on the street again
and I’m leaping along
I’m dressed right for a beach fight
but I just can’t explain
Why that uncertain feeling
is still here in my brain

From "Cut My Hair," The Who

Imagine a time when Mexicans bore the brunt of patriotic (sic) fervor: physically threatened, targeted by legislation, an easy scapegoat for working class frustration. Surely I’m talking about 2006 AmeriKKKa, right? You know…the fascist police state ruled by Nazi Dubya and his cadre of brown shirts who cynically exploit good vs. evil rhetoric in the name of furthering their global agenda.

Well…not so fast. Sorry to disappoint the lesser-evil crowd but this time, I was referring to events that climaxed 63 years ago this week…during the reign of liberal (sic) hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt who cynically exploited good vs. evil rhetoric in the name of furthering his global agenda.

During the good (sic) war, young Mexican workers entered the U.S. en masse in response to a worker shortage on the Pacific coast. Over time, some Latino youths formed gangs and dressed almost exclusively in zoot suits. A zoot suit, as described by authors Walter Glanze and Jerome Agel, is made up of a "very long jacket, flared at the bottom, with exaggeratedly padded, boxy shoulders, and pegged sleeves. The trousers are pleated at the waistline, cut very wide over the hips, and taper to such narrow bottoms that men with big feet have trouble slipping the pants on."

While the zoot suit eventually attained widespread popularity in the mainstream, it also became a pejorative synonym for "Mexican" on the West Coast as some Americans took umbrage at so many able-bodied young men who were not "helping to win the war." To the local white population of Los Angeles, the manufacture of the zoot suit was a glaring example of waste in a time that demanded sacrifice in the name of defending democracy (as it were). This perception inevitably led to racist violence sparked by angry white soldiers on leave.

"In June 1943, the ‘zoot suit’ riots exploded in Los Angeles," says historian Michael C.C. Adams. "For almost a week, off-duty white enlisted personnel roamed the streets, assaulting Hispanics."

Mexicans and blacks "were dragged into the streets by soldiers and civilians," wrote Agel and Glanze, where they were "stripped and beaten." The response of the Los Angeles city council was positively Bush-like. Rather than address the issues of cheap labor and racism, they made it a misdemeanor to wear a zoot suit.

Racist scapegoating: an American tradition…brought to you with bipartisan support.

MICKEY Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You’re Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce