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Flamboyant zoot suit culture, with its ties to fashion, jazz and swing music, jitterbug and Lindy Hop dancing, unique patterns of speech, and even risqué experimentation with gender and sexuality, captivated the country's youth in the 1940s. The Power of the Zoot is the first book to give national consideration to this famous phenomenon. Providing a new history of youth culture based on rare, in-depth interviews with former zoot-suiters, Luis Alvarez explores race, region, and the politics of culture in urban America during World War II. He argues that Mexican American and African American youths, along with many nisei and white youths, used popular culture to oppose accepted modes of youthful behavior, the dominance of white middle-class norms, and expectations from within their own communities.
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments and Dedication
PART ONE. DIGNITY DENIED: YOUTH IN THE EARLY WAR YEARS
1. Race and Political Economy
2. Class Politics and Juvenile Delinquency
PART TWO. THE STRUGGLE FOR DIGNITY: ZOOT STYLE DURING WORLD WAR II
3. Zoot Style and Body Politics
4. Zoots, Jazz, and Public Space
PART THREE. VIOLENCE AND NATIONAL BELONGING ON THE HOME FRONT
5. Zoot Violence in Los Angeles
6. Race Riots across the United States
Epilogue: From Zoot Suits to Hip-Hop
Luis Alvarez is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego.
“Diligently charts a culture’s exemplar, the zoot suit, and connects it to modern fashion and music . . . . It is a compelling window into the U.S. in the war years as seen from a much different point of view.”—The Morning News
“Deserves much credit for analyzing youth fashion during the era of swing jazz as a national phenomenon . . . . Although the subject is well explored, The Power of the Zoot indicates promising directions for future study.”—The Journal Of American History
“Colorful, entertaining, and frequently enlightening. . . . Alvarez leaves us asking for more.”—New Mexico Historical Review
“[Alvarez’s] scholarship is now the best and most comprehensive book on Zoot Suit culture, society, and race conflict during World War II.”—H-Urban
“The work is admirable wide and deep.”—Journal Of World History
“[A] fascinating work of scholarship.”—Left History
“A solid contribution to the field.”—Winterthur Portfolio: Journal Of American Material Culture
“Luis Alvarez has quite simply crafted a magnificent first book—one that tells a national story from African American and Mexican American youth in New York and Los Angeles to Nisei, Filipino, and Euro-American zooters and the wartime race-based violence that erupted in Detroit, Beaumont, and Mobile.”—Vicki L. Ruiz, author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America
"Alvarez has broken new ground, with implications for our understanding of minority youth cultures of the past and today."—Edward J. Escobar, author of Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity: Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900-1945