The Zoot Suit Riots Cruise brings back ‘a forgotten era’

Two men in pants pegged at the ankle, with long chains, hats and shining saddle shoes, stand near classic cars.
Manny Alcaraz, left, and Art Zamora, co-organizers of the Zoot Suit Riots Cruise, in the Commerce Center parking lot in East Los Angeles on Sunday.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

History lessons come in many forms. For Art Zamora, they’re carried by classic chassis rolling down the streets of Los Angeles.

“You have to remember your culture and your roots,” said the co-organizer of the Zoot Suit Riots Cruise. “You have to learn your history.”

The history is painful: In 1943 Los Angeles, over a span of 10 days in June, U.S. military men attacked young Latino men in zoot suits, who called themselves pachucos.

For Zamora, seeing those dressed as pachucos cruising is a reminder of the perseverance within the Latino community. “So we don’t forget how we got this far,” he says. “It’s almost a forgotten era.”

Only three cars took part in the first organized cruise, in 2018. The next year, more than 100 cars showed up. Now, organizers are expecting the event to grow.

“Every day, se va tapando mas (it keeps getting bigger),” said co-organizer Pedro Haro, who also goes by “Chato.” “Somos como una esponja (we’re like a sponge),” he said, talking about how learning through cruising. “Es bien bonito (it’s quite beautiful).

An old, beautifully maintained car with whitewalls drives amid modern cars on a road.
A classic car crosses over the 4th Street Bridge into downtown Los Angeles.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

The cruise was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. This year’s event was held Sunday. Participants met at Commerce Center before cruising along Whittier Boulevard. They crossed 4th Street Bridge and drove into downtown Los Angeles before cruising Broadway. Some of the cars then went on to Elysian Park.

The car has a way of changing the driver, Haro said.

“It’s like we’re in a tuxedo,” he said of the classic vehicles. “You can wear some shorts and sandals, but once you get in a tuxedo you keep your manners on the up and up. You can’t be lounging.”

A woman, standing outside a car, laughs as she talks with the driver.
Cruise participants share a laugh in Elysian Park.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

The front left wheel of a car lifts off the ground.
A lowrider cruises through Elysian Park for the Zoot Suit Riots Cruise.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)
Collage shows a woman with a flower in her hair, a man in a hat, a woman in a fedora, a man in a hat with a feather.
Dressing the part, clockwise from top left, are: Idalia Sanchez, Gustavo Jimenez, Veronica Robles, and a man watching cars cruise behind the Commerce Center in East Los Angeles.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)
Old, well-maintained cars turn a corner on a city street.
Cars cruise along Broadway in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

A woman with a bright red flower in her dark hair leans an elbow on a car's red leather seat.
Tania Teyacapan came from San Diego to attend the Zoot Suit Riots Cruise in Los Angeles.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times )
A car's whitewall tire is covered by an Art Deco-style wheel cover built into the car.
It’s all in the details: A closeup shows a wheel spat on a vehicle cruising in Sunday’s event.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)
Pedro Haro, in loose pants with pegged ankles and suspenders, stands in front of a classic car.
Pedro “Chato” Haro, posing for a portrait in Elysian Park, says the cruise helps in teaching the history of Latinos in L.A.: “Es bien bonito (it’s quite beautiful).
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)
A Mexican flag billows from a car as it drives beneath a sign spanning a roadway that says "Whittier Boulevard."
Cars cruise on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles, commemorating an earlier era.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

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