The 35th Anniversary of Zoot Suit

On Thursday, May 19, many Chicanos gathered at the Fowler Museum to watch the film Zoot Suit. The film was shown in honor if its 35th anniversary and included a Q&A with the writer and director, Luis Valdez. A sense of pride could be felt in the room as many Latino/as dressed in the pachuco style and greeted each other with excitement.

Zoot Suit is a film adaptation from the play Zoot Suit, which is based on the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial and the Zoot Suit Riots that occurred during the 1940s. It focuses on the story of Henry Reyna and the 38th Street Gang who were tried for the Sleepy Lagoon case in Los Angeles. Twenty-two members of the gang were arrested and sentenced to life in prison even though there was not enough evidence to link them to the crime. The story also follows Reyna’s struggle with his identity and role as a pachuco in the United States through the guidance of El Pachuco, who serves as his conscience.

The play debuted in 1979 and broke barriers as it was the first Chicano play on Broadway. It then went on to break more barriers by becoming a film. The film includes a wide array of talented actors such as Daniel Valdez and Edward James Olmos. There are many musical numbers that add to the richness of the story and highlight the importance of the scenes. It also displays how Mexican-American youth coped with their treatment in the United States during the 1940s, a time where they were targeted by the military and police officers for the way they dressed.

After the film, the audience gave a standing ovation to the creator, Luis Valdez, and many audience members thanked him during the Q&A for creating a story that celebrated Chicano/a culture. Valdez stated that he had to fight in order to be the director and screenwriter of the film so that he could cast Latino/a actors. He knew that otherwise, the cast would have been predominantly white, as Hollywood is known for whitewashing stories of people of color. His fight to highlight Latino/a culture is recognized as thirty-five years later, Zoot Suit still makes people proud and receives a standing ovation from audience members.

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