Letters to the Editor: Sleepy Lagoon and L.A. law enforcement’s failure to solve a young Latino’s death


To the editor: Gustavo Arellano’s column on Jose Diaz — whose killing in 1942 precipitated the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial, a precursor to the following year’s Zoot Suit riots — was touching.

I teach Chicana/o Studies at UC Santa Barbara, and I always state that the Sleepy Lagoon case involved multiple injustices: the rounding up of 600 Mexican Americans for Diaz’s death, the Mexican American women sent to the Ventura School for Girls, and later all the people who were targeted in the 1943 riots.

The Los Angeles Police Department, not the Chicano movement per se, is to blame for not fully investigating Diaz’s death. After the Sleepy Lagoon defendants were released in 1944, the department should have reopened the case, but it failed do its job.

While tragic, that was the history of the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — to ignore the plight of Chicana/o/x people for multiple generations. Diaz does deserve better.


Ralph Armbruster, Santa Barbara

The writer is an associate professor of Chicano and Chicana studies at UC Santa Barbara.


To the editor: Arellano’s column rekindled memories of Zoot Suit riot stories. My father would recall Navy men coming to Colton in the 1940s with the sole intent of instigating and fighting the pachucos.

As an undergraduate, I took a class on the history of California. It was my introduction to the Zoot Suit riots and the Sleepy Lagoon case.

At that time, in 1969, ABC produced and aired movies of the week. I sent the network a letter suggesting it produce a film about the Zoot Suit riots. I received a postcard response thanking me for my letter, something that I appreciated as an 18-year-old.

In 1978, I sat in the audience at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood with my wife to watch the play “Zoot Suit.” Edward James Olmos’ transformation into his character was spell-binding. Playwright Luis Valdez and his theatre company El Teatro Campesino showcased the prelude to those injustices.


Did I remember Jose Diaz? No. I do now. Pobrecito y continue descansando en paz.

Ernie Garcia, Redlands


To the editor: I took one look at the picture above Arrellano’s column in the print edition and assumed I already knew the whole story. Obviously, he was writing about the vicious, racist attack by American servicemen on young Latinos in L.A. during 1942. The mayhem ensued as police officers looked the other way or, by some accounts, participated.

Lucky for me I actually read on because I wasn’t familiar with the further miscarriage of justice known as the Sleepy Lagoon case. And I had never heard the name Jose Diaz, the center of it all, or maybe only the excuse by which a racist legal system decided to take one more shot at L.A.’s Latino community.

Thank you, Mr. Arrellano, for a well researched, wonderfully written piece. Now, I too hope someone brings flowers for Joe.

Thomas Bailey, Long Beach