n June 11, 1943, in the midst of the Zoot Suit Riots, the Los
Times reported that three “female zoot suit gangster-
ettes” attacked Miss Betty Morgan, a lone white woman, near the
Third Street tunnel in downtown Los Angeles. Morgan recounted
that her assailants tackled her, slashed her face and arms with a
knife or razor, then disappeared into the night. The victim was
treated at a nearby hospital.1
The Zoot Suit Riots, which took place in Los Angeles from
roughly June 3 to June 13, 1943, are probably best known for their
clashes between white servicemen and young Mexican American
men, some of whom wore zoot suits. But who were the elusive
“zoot girls” who allegedly set upon Betty Morgan and why did they
do so?2 Where were they from and where did they go after they fled
the scene of the crime? And why are they absent in most accounts
of the Zoot Suit Riots? In addressing these questions, The Woman
in the Zoot Suit reinserts women—namely, pachucas—into narra-
tives of the World War II–era, Mexican American zoot subculture,
especially those about the Zoot Suit Riots and Sleepy Lagoon inci-
dent and trial. Additionally, this book seeks to understand pachu-
cas’ absence from these narratives.
The Zoot Suit: Origins, Context, and Significance
The zoot suit emerged at a flashpoint in U.S. history. The instabil-
ity of race, class, and gender categories; fear of nonnormative sexu-
alities, especially unchecked female sexuality and homosexuality;
and concern over the widening rift between adults and adolescents
A Gene A lo G y of V e n d i d a s
Miss Morgan said she observed her three assailants, all wear-
ing dark skirts and the long identifying coats of the zooters,
near the tunnel entrance and heard one say: “Let’s get her!”
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