In March 1943, Disney studios released “The Spirit of ’43,” a cartoon in which Donald Duck is forced to choose between saving his money for “taxes to bury the Axis” (aided by a thrifty proto-Scrooge McDuck) and spending his paycheck on frivolous fun (encouraged by Zoot Suit Duck). In the cartoon, saving money is patriotic and spending money is …. evil.
Zoot Suit Duck is, in fact, in league with Hitler and wears a swastika bowtie!
And like all right-thinking cartoon characters in uniform, Donald beats up Zoot Suit Duck! Please remember, this cartoon was released three months before the Zoot Suit Riots.
In Part 1, we saw that The Times initially treated the zoot suit as a youthful fad, but the attitude changed once zoot suits were outlawed by the War Production Board to conserve fabric.
In Part 2, Times columnist Timothy Turner provided some more sympathetic insight (zoot-suiters aren’t all criminals and delinquents) that was a surprising counterpoint to the mainstream opinion.
In Part 3, we’ll take a look at the events leading up to the Zoot Suit Riots of June 1943.
March 7, 1943: Justice of the Peace E.P. Woods forbids Valentine Valdez and Adolph Vargas to wear zoot suits or ducktail haircuts.
March 8, 1943: More violence is blamed on zoot suit gangs.
Feb. 27, 1943: There is some attempt to understand zoot-suiters. Father Flanagan of Boys Town tells columnist Lee Shippey:
April 20, 1943: There is an effort by educators to understand the motivation of zoot-suiters. Also notice the reference to the growth of the African American population in a segregated Los Angeles. Little Tokyo, left vacant by the internment of Japanese Americans, was transformed into an African American settlement known as Bronzetown.
May 10, 1943: More violence between zoot-suiters and servicemen. Notice the false report that a serviceman had been stabbed to death.
May 12, 1943: And when a spectacular blaze destroyed a Venice landmark, zoot-suiters were suspected of arson in reprisal for the previous arrests.
May 25, 1943: Zoot-suiters are conducting a “reign of terror” across Los Angeles, according to The Times.