Zoot Suit

Zoot Suit Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What does El Pachuco symbolize?

    El Pachuco is the mythical, idealized image of the zoot-suit-wearing Chicano young man. He is the embodiment of Chicano pride, flair, and an attempt to maintain and assert a solid, independent identity of the marginalized Hispanic youth that distinguishes him from the stereotyped barrio hoodlums that mainstream white media creates.

  2. 2

    What is the significance of the play's title?

    The title is a reference to both the iconic high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and matching long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders, worn by Mexican-American youth during the 1940s as well as the events surrounding the Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trials and the Zoot Suit Riots. The Sleepy Lagoon murder trials gave rise to the Zoot Suit Riots as several Mexican-Americans received highly prejudiced treatment from law enforcers and court officials. After the trial, American servicemen stationed in Southern California harrassed “zoot-suiters,” going as far as kicking them out of restaurants and stripping them of their zoot suits. The L.A.P.D. eventually took action, but rather than castigating the harassers they issued a public ban on zoot suits.

  3. 3

    How does racism factor into the issues presented by the play?

    The theme of racial discrimination is shown as members of the 38th Street Gang contend with the ways that they are mistreated by officers of the law. They are often stuck in jail for small crimes, and are treated more poorly than their white peers. The events surrounding the Sleepy Lagoon Murder are evidence of the police force's racism, because they put all of the members of the 38th Street Gang in jail based on circumstantial evidence, and as part of a broader plan to oppress and silence Chicano people.

  4. 4

    How does the play end? Why?

    At the end of the play, Luis Valdez presents three different possible endings for Henry. One presents a future in which he ends up back in jail and then dying young. Another suggests that he joins the Army and fought for the American cause. The third suggests that he marries Della and has a large family with her. By presenting these three potential endings, Valdez implicates the audience in the events of Henry's life, suggesting that his fate is not only in his own hands, but also affected by the actions of the collective.

  5. 5

    Why doesn't Henry trust Alice?

    For a while, Henry suspects that Alice is only trying to help the 38th Street Gang out of a sense of selfishness and a desire to be seen as some kind of white savior. He sees her charity as a kind of condescending investment of non-white individuals. However, when she baldly expresses her frustrations as an activist, including her frustrations with members of the Chicano community, he starts to trust that her heart is really in it, because she is willing to be honest rather than simply diplomatic.