Learn American History through 50 pop songs

Zoot Suit Riots


The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of riots that erupted in Los Angeles, California during World War II, between white sailors and Marines stationed throughout the city and Latino youths, who were recognizable by the zoot suits they favored.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

They said, we’re not red
But red, white, and blue
So go show your true colors
And prosper like good Americans do

Go get a little house
With a nice picket gate
Have two boys and one girl
Name them Skip, Bobby, and Kate

Mom will bake cookies
Dad will bring home the bread
And every night at 8
We’ll all say our prayers before bed
(cuz we’re not red)

And in every house
In All-American towns
All the same sorts of things
In every house will be found

Cuz that’s how we like it
Predictable right
All the same sizes and shapes
Cookie cutter tight

And all those other sorts
Trying to change our ways
And shake things up
And start a new craze

We are nativists
American from toe to head
Keep everyone else out
Cuz we are not red

Yeah that’s what they said
But we wanted to dance
But we were black, white, and brown
I was there at the shrine
The night it went down
We were jumping and swinging
Swinging and jumping
Jumping and swinging
To the new jazz sound, new jazz sound, new jazz sound
“Come on hep cat you gotta try it!”
Then they busted us up and called it a Jitterbug Riot

But we’re not red, no we’re not red
Just don’t get caught in a zoot suit in 1941
Don’t try having unapproved fun
We got jazz, they got guns
But we’re not red
Like they said
Were not red


“Red”— Red is a political adjective which associates with communism, Soviet Union, or radical left politics.

Nativists— The practice or policy of favoring native-born citizens as over immigrants.

“The shrine”— The Shrine Auditorium is a landmark large-event venue in Los Angeles, California.

Jazz— Jazz is a music genre that originated in the 1920’s and was very popular with young people through the 40’s.

Jitterbug— Jitterbug is a term used to describe someone dancing to swing music in the 30’s and 40’s.

Zoot suit— A zoot suit is a suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This style of clothing was popularized by African Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Italian Americans, and Filipino Americans during the late 1930s and 1940s

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

What were the zoot suit riots?

Tier 2 Questions

What is the relationship between the Zoot Suit Riots and nativism?

Tier 3 Questions

Explore both the pros and cons of nativism.

Test Prep Questions

1) All of the following are true about Latinos’ experiences in World War II EXCEPT

  • (1) unlike African Americans, Latinos fought in integrated units.
  • (2) Latino youths were the target of Zoot Suit riots in several major U.S. cities.
  • (3) Puerto Ricans were not allowed to enlist in the U.S. armed forces.
  • (4) through the bracero program, Mexicans were brought to the Unites States to work in agriculture.
  • (5) Latinos and Latinas found work in defense industries as a result of the Fair Employment Practices Commission