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Timeline: Zoot Suit Riots

1880s-1942 | 1943-1972


railroad tracks

The railroads arrive in Los Angeles. They launch an era of growth and expansion; the population doubles in a decade.


By 1910, the population of Los Angeles stands at 100,000. The largest groups of immigrants come from Germany, Canada, and England. The Mexican immigrant population is around 800, almost equal to that of Italians, Russians, and Swedes.


As Mexico plunges into a decade of revolution, the population of refugees from Mexico swells to over 21,000 by 1920. Mexicans become the largest immigrant group in Los Angeles.


Jose Diaz

December 9: José Díaz is born in Durango, Mexico.


The aggressive marketing of California real estate creates large enclaves of white, middle-class, conservative Midwesterners in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Nativism and support for the Ku Klux Klan is strong in certain areas of greater Los Angeles. Mexican American neighborhoods located downtown are destroyed for the expansion of civic areas, including the new Civic Center.


The Díaz family emigrates to the U.S. from Durango, fleeing drought, famine, and the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution.


The Díaz family settles in a bunkhouse compound on the Williams Ranch in rural Los Angeles County -- in the present-day town of Bell.


Los Angeles

The population in Los Angeles grows to one million by 1930. The flow of Mexican refugees drops precipitously as the Revolution ends and as the state begins to deport thousands. Dust Bowl migrants settle into the segregated communities of Los Angeles and many white working-class families begin to mix with Mexican Americans. African Americans of the Great Migration settle around Central Avenue, and Los Angeles becomes a mecca for jazz artists like Coleman Hawkins, T-Bone Walker, and Zoot Sims. National musicians like Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Artie Shaw, and Cab Calloway include Los Angeles in their tours and white, black, Latino, and Asian youth thrill to jazz culture.


The number of immigrants from Mexico dramatically rises again and an estimated 250,000 "Mexicans" (including Mexican Americans) live in Los Angeles. Most of them are poor and part of the working class. Although Mexicans are classified as "white" for census purposes, their reception in Los Angeles is closer to that of African Americans. Their military enlistment rates are high.


The Naval Reserve Armory is built on part of the mostly Mexican American area of Chavez Ravine.


December 7: Japanese naval and air forces attack Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. President Roosevelt will ask Congress to declare war on Japan the following day, and on Germany by December 11th.


Japanese Evacuees

February 19: U.S. Army soldiers begin enforcing Executive Order 9066, the presidential decree evacuating all Japanese nationals and U.S. citizens of Japanese background from the West Coast. In Los Angeles, Little Tokyo disappears and thousands of Japanese American citizens are deported out of the city.

June 12: Nineteen-year-old Frank Torres is ambushed and shot to death outside a track meet at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The ensuing chaos results in a near riot. The event provokes growing concern that wartime juvenile delinquency is out of control. Newspapers begin to feature stories about Mexican boy gangs.

July 27: Los Angeles policemen try to break up a craps game at the corner of Pomeroy and Mark Streets in Boyle Heights. The largely Mexican American crowd swarms the police and fights back. The incident provokes growing concerns that the Los Angeles Police Department, reduced by the wartime draft, is incapable of insuring order.

Aug. 1-2: A fight breaks out between kids from the 38th Street and Downey neighborhoods near a reservoir on the Williams Ranch nicknamed the "Sleepy Lagoon" after a popular song. Hank Leyvas is among those who are beaten, and Leyvas, reinforced by friends from 38th Street, return to the scene to seek retribution. While looking for the Downey boys, the group comes upon a party at the nearby Delgadillo home. After a fight breaks out between the 38th Street youth and the Delgadillo party, some young women from 38th Street find party guest José Díaz lying on the ground, bruised, bleeding, and unconscious. The fight breaks up once police are called. Díaz is rushed to the hospital, where he dies soon afterward.

August 3: The Evening Herald & Express brings its coverage of Mexican boy gangs to the front page for the first time. The "Sleepy Lagoon" murder is the cover page story.

August 4: The Los Angeles Times prints a front-page story about the police dragnet that follows the murder. Six hundred people are brought in for questioning and the Firestone sub-station is filled with teen boys and girls, predominantly Mexican American, suspected of involvement in the murder at the Williams Ranch. Lorena Encinas, who will later be imprisoned for not cooperating, refuses to speak to police, fearful that doing so will implicate her younger brother, Louis.

October 13: A criminal case, People v. Zammora goes to trial. The largest mass trial in California history includes as defendants 17 of the 22 boys indicted. Five of the boys' families are able to afford separate trials. Louis Encinas escapes indictment altogether. The Honorable Charles W. Fricke -- also known as "San Quentin Fricke" because he has sent more convicts to San Quentin than any other California judge -- presides over the trial. Tenacious defense lawyer George Shibley is among the seven lawyers representing the 17 defendants. The young women who were detained along with the defendants refuse to testify during the trial -- and many pay the price, ending up in a notorious girls' reformatory without benefit of trial or jury.

Late October: Labor organizer LaRue McCormick founds The Citizens' Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth and appeals to the Congress of Spanish-Speaking People and other Mexican American civic and cultural organizations for help.

December: The Los Angeles tabloid Sensation publishes an exposé on Mexican gangs authored by Clem Peoples, Chief of the Criminal Division of the Sheriff's Office. The tabloid sells more than 10,000 copies.

December 31: According to policemen, "a drunken Pachuco" shoots and kills a policeman at a North Main Street café. Around this time military personnel and young civilians clash in the streets once each week, on average.

1880s-1942 | 1943-1972

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