Part 3b: Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial of 1942 and The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943


Activities and strategies to guide learners collaboratively through the text.

Directed Reading with Numbered Heads

The Hip Style of Caló

1. How would you describe Caló and where it came from?

2. What did Caló represent for Pachuco and Pachuca youth?

3. Define and give an example of neologisms, jingoism, xenophobia, and nativism.

The Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial of 1942

4. Describe the area of Los Angeles where many Mexican youth lived and frequented.

5. What was the sequence of events that occurred on the evening of August 1, 1942?

6. Why is this trial still considered one of the “most egregious miscarriages of justice in the United States”? Give examples and the sequence of events.

7. What was the conviction? Was it just or unjust in your opinion? Explain.

8. What was the task of the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee? Who were the key players? What did they accomplish?

The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943

9. What events led up to the Zoot Suit Riots?

10. What responsibility did the press have in the Zoot Suit Riots?

11. How were young Pachucos and Pachucas made scapegoats?

12. What role did law enforcement play in the Zoot Suit Riots?

13. Share sequences of events in the riots that represent outward forms of injustice. Do you believe these still occur today. Explain.

14. How did yellow journalism sensationalize and misrepresent Pachuco youth?

15. What actions brought closure to the Zoot Suit Riots? Do you believe that the victims were vindicated? Explain.

Quick Tour – Detailed Timeline

Divide students into groups of 4 or 5. Each group will create a timeline beginning with the wave of Mexican immigrants to the United States in 1910 to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. Use the guide to divide up key events in U.S. history. Write paragraph descriptions of each event and include pictures and illustrations. Work should be neatly typed or hand written. Be creative! For more information go to:


Activities and strategies to extend the learner’s understanding beyond the text.

Reflection Log

First Entry The Hip Style of Calo ¿Que pues nuez?

Write a dialogue in Caló between two Pachuco or Pachuca youth about either the Sleepy Lagoon Murder or the Zoot Suit Riots. Include the voice of a narrator to set the scene. You may refer to the Caló glossary. Create a dialogue between your characters that spoken, is one minute in length. Be sure that is meaningful and describes the events from each character’s point of view. Name each of your characters. The following is an unfinished example:

Narrator:  During the Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trials, a young couple discusses the trial that they have been attending everyday. Tomás is confident that the 38th Street Gang will be released and found innocent. His girlfriend, Reina, is not so positive that this will happen after all of the racial profiling.

Tomás:  ¿Qué te pica, huisa? La jura is not going to poner dedo on my carnales and throw them in la pinta just because they were their tachches…

Reina:  ¡Aguas, hombre! Ponte trucha… ya me estás cayendo gordo. La jura wants to throw them in the bote forever. A la brava…you better get smart.

Second Entry Biography: Key People in the Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial

  1. Write a one page biography on one of the key people involved in the Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial. You may consult the following website for guidance. Please use at least two different sources. This website offers information on the following people: Enrique “Henry” Reyes Leyvas, Lorena Encinas, Alice McGrath, Judge Charles Williams Fricke, George E. Shibley and many more.
  2. The biography should include the following:
      a. Early life 

      b. Involvement in Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial and Zoot Suit Riots

      c. Outcome and later life

  3. Self-edit, peer-edit and lastly have the teacher edit your draft.
  4. Reading from your Reflection Log share your written piece with the class.

Third Entry Zoot Suit Riots – The Power of the Press

  1. Read the newspaper articles from the Zoot Suit Riots at this website to learn how the media using yellow journalism misrepresented Pachuco youth and caused negative repercussions. Read the articles with the members of your group. Focus on the headlines, events, criminals, victims and police response as you read each one. What do these articles have in common?
  2. Describe the events that have been sensationalized by the media. Use the graphic organizer to guide your thoughts.
  3. Read about the Zoot Suit Riots from “A Different Perspective”. Fill out the graphic organizer and describe each area, emphasizing a different perspective.

Story Map

  1. Retrace the play’s storyline to understand the ideas and history more fully.
  2. Include the following:
      a. What is the playwright’s name? 

      b. Where is the play set?

      c. Who are the lead characters?

      d. What is the main problem presented in the play?

      e. Write a list of events as they transpired in the play.

      f. Write a conclusion and compare and discuss your work with the class.

Open Mind

  1. In this activity place yourself in the mind of a central character. Consider what the character may have been thinking in the play, and using the diagram below, fill in the empty space with drawings, symbols, words and phrases from the story.
  2. The diagram should include the following:
      a. What is he/she thinking? 

      b. What does he/she think about himself/herself?

      c. What does he/she want, feel, etc.?

      d. What are his/her aspirations, etc.?

      e. Compare and discuss your work with the class.

    This concludes the teaching curriculum, Abriendo Caminos. We hope it has been useful in assisting you in understanding the central themes in Zoot Suit.

    Janet Johns, Abriendo Caminos
    Migrant Education, Region XI
    Curriculum for the Zoot Suit Discovery Guide, 2009