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Photo Essay: Hundreds Gather in Little Tokyo to Commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the Zoot Suit Riots

Big hair and even bigger pride to be pachucos! Here is our photo essay capturing some of our favorite moments from the momentous gathering.

12:35 PM PDT on June 5, 2023

    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    On Saturday, Hundreds gathered with slick back hair, their best outfits, and classic cars in Little Tokyo to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Zoot Suit Riots. 

    The horrifying events that came to be known as the Zoot Suit Riots are engraved in Latino and Mexican American history. In 1943 on the week of June 3rd Latino zoot suitors in Downtown East Los Angeles, Watts, and other neighborhoods were said to have been stripped from their clothes, beaten, and humiliated by over 200 marines, sailors, and law enforcement personnel. 

    A year prior to the riots in 1942, the racism against people of color, particularly those who dressed in zoot suits, was already being targeted and wrongfully arrested for the murder of Jose Gallardo Diaz, who was found dead near a swimming hole known as the "Sleepy Lagoon."

    Fast forward to 2023, and some strides have happened to commemorate and honor those who suffered through the injustices against Zoot suitors. Last month, a motion brought by Supervisor Hilda Solis was unanimously approved to denounce "the devastation of the Zoot Suit Riots, recognize this as a dark chapter in Los Angeles County's history, and recommit to fighting against racial discrimination.''

    And this week, Kevin De León of District 14 introduced a resolution that will come to the Council this Friday. The councilmember said on Facebook that the resolution will: “Formally apologize for the City’s role in the violence perpetrated 8 decades ago and commemorate this week as Zoot Suit Heritage Week in the City of Los Angeles.”

    Whether or not it will pass is yet to be seen. We do know that the community had celebrations throughout the city over the weekend. In Little Tokyo, the music was blasting, the people were dancing, and the pride in their culture was proudly being displayed in attendees' clothes and cars. We captured some of our favorite moments from the event.

    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Ana Renteria and her son next to her sister on a sunny Saturday in Little Tokyo, where hundreds gathered to celebrate their culture as the day marked the 80th anniversary of the Zoot Suit Riots. 

    “My parents brought us up in this. My dad used to breakdance, so when we grew up being around all of this, the music, the cars, it's our culture and part of our day-to-day life,” said Renteria. “I'm a new mom, and I'm passing the same traditions down to my son. I want him to see the beauty that his culture has. It's very empowering. At the time, you couldn't be who you were, you couldn't embrace your culture, not with your clothes or how we talked without the fear of retaliation, so it’s very liberating for us to be able to stand here as we are.”
    Big hair and even bigger pride to be pachucos, here is our photo essay capturing some of our favorite moments from the momentous gathering.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Vanessa Dominguez (left), David Lopez (middle), and Sandra Lopez (right) pose in front of a parked classic car; the three were decked out in their best threads, with big hair and even bigger pride to be pachucos. 

    “I do this also for my grandpa. He always talked about how things were back then, and we want to make sure that people don't forget the history,” said David Lopez. 

    “Sometimes people think that the hardships for pachucos were only back in the day and stayed in history, and being in this lifestyle for many years, I've come to realize that it's not all gone. There's still racism. We still get criticized, and we still get judged. I've been through it myself,” said Sandra Lopez. “But I’m here representing our people, our cultura, and remembering our ancestors, coming here and being prideful and showing the new generation what it is all about.”
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Mark Ramirez and his wife have been attending the commemorative cruise for the event for the past five years, and this weekend was no exception. Decked out in their mix of dark and light brown suits and pin-up skirts from the El Pachuco store, they arrived in Little Tokyo. 

    “This is about respect because back in the 40s, if you wore a Zoot suit, you were considered a hoodlum and a low life, but this represents our heritage, the future, and the past,” said Ramirez.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO

    Profiles of vintage stylist Daisy Verduzco (right) and her friend Alina (left).

    “This is my first time out. Normally I do hair for these events, so normally I have to work, but I love the style, the cars, I have one myself,” said Verduzco. “It was important for me to come because I was part of the fight for the city to denounce the racism of the riots, and I’m here to celebrate our culture.”
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Lorraine Quiñones, who advocates that cruising is not a crime, stands in front of their booth where they sold t-shirts and educated attendees on anti-cruising laws in Los Angeles.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Under the sunny Los Angeles sky in Little Tokyo, a quinceañera cohort celebrates her coming-of-age moment by dancing to oldies as pachucos and pachucas cheer them on from the sidelines.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana

    Becky takes a moment away from the heat and steps into her classic car, "Bombgirl" where she begins to freshen up her lipstick.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

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