Zoot Suit Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1978, at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

First published: 1992

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: The 1940’s

Locale: Los Angeles, California

Characters DiscussedEl Pachuco

El Zoot SuitPachuco (pah-CHEW-koh), a mythical figure, the zoot-suited spirit of the Pachucos, alienated gangs of Mexican American youth living in the Los Angeles area. A rebellious, street-smart, young Chicano, El Pachuco is master of ceremonies of this play set in the World War II years, as well as a leading figure, chorus, and the alter ego of Hank Reyna. In his “cool” outfit (long jacket, baggy trousers, and lengthy watch chain), El Pachuco preaches, with bitter humor, fidelity to one’s own culture and language and defiance of the Anglos. It is the Anglos, Americans not of Mexican origin, who seek to control the lives of his people (la Raza), robbing them of ethnic pride and manhood while exploiting them and discriminating against anyone with a brown skin.

Henry (Hank) Reyna

Henry (Hank) Reyna (RRAY-nah), a twenty-one-year-old Chicano with Indian features, the gang leader of the Thirty-eighth Street Pachucos. Hank is arrested on the eve of joining the Navy, along with a number of other gang members, for the alleged murder of a Chicano one summer night in 1943 at a lakeside gathering spot. He is convicted in a rigged trial. Rebellious, angry, and resentful of authority, which represents for him discrimination against Chicanos, Hank does nothing to placate those in control of his fate. Although he presents an impenetrable façade to his persecutors and jailers, Hank is extremely confused about his own identity as an American in a country at war that regards him, too, as a foreign enemy. In his puzzled state, Hank seeks guidance from El Pachuco, who urges rejection of America and faith in his own heritage. After a successful appeal and release from prison, Hank remains uncertain whether integration into American life or rejection of it is the answer for himself and his people.

George Shearer

George Shearer, a dedicated yet realistic young public service lawyer. George volunteers to defend the Pachucos in their murder trial, convinced that they are victims of racial prejudice and irrational war hysteria. He finds, however, that before he can help them he must first overcome Chicano mistrust of him; he is, in their eyes, just another “gringo.” During a ludicrously one-sided trial, the judge badgers George mercilessly, making no effort at impartiality, while the Press convicts the young Chicanos in the pages of Los Angeles newspapers. When a guilty verdict is handed down despite his best efforts, George plans an appeal but is drafted into the Army before he can proceed.

Alice Bloomfield

Alice Bloomfield, an attractive young Jewish activist and leftist reporter who organizes the Pachucos’ defense effort after their original conviction by raising funds and enlisting the support of American liberals, including prominent Hollywood figures. An uncertain relationship begins between her and Hank in the months she works in behalf of his cause. The gap between their backgrounds, Hank’s alienation and anger, and his commitment to Della, a Mexican American girl, make it unclear whether the two young people have a future together.

Rudy Reyna

Rudy Reyna, Henry Reyna’s hero-worshiping younger brother, who longs to don his own zoot suit, which for him is the symbol of manhood and defiance of Anglo hegemony. A marauding band of servicemen strip Rudy of his flamboyant zoot suit and his dignity as they rampage through the streets looking for brown-skinned “foreigners” who, they believe, do not sufficiently respect the American way of life in wartime.

Enrique Reyna

Enrique Reyna (ehn-REE-keh),

Dolores Reyna

Dolores Reyna,

Lupe Reyna

Lupe Reyna (LEW-peh), and

Della Barrios

Della Barrios (DEH-yah BAH-rree-ohs), Hank’s family and girlfriend, who support and sustain him.

The Press

The Press, the malevolent forces of yellow journalism that perpetuate feelings of Anglo racial superiority against Chicanos and incite injustices.

BibliographyDavis, R. G., and Betty Diamond. “Zoot Suit: From the Barrio to Broadway.” Ideologies and Literature 3, no. 15 (January-March, 1981): 124-132. Analyzes the social and historical influences on the play. Zoot Suit is traced from the historical event through the creative interpretation made by Valdez. The differences between history and the drama are noted and explored.Huerta, Jorge A. “Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit: A New Direction of Chicano Theatre?” Latin American Theatre Review 13, no. 2 (Summer, 1980): 69-76. Explores the influence Zoot Suit has had on Chicano theater. Tracing the history of Chicano theater, Zoot Suit is analyzed as a turning point at which Chicano concerns were brought to wider public attention.Lubenow, Gerald C. “Putting the Border Onstage.” Newsweek 109 (May 4, 1987): 79. Explores the influence Zoot Suit has had on the perception of Hispanics. A short biography of Luis Valdez is also included.Martin, Laura. “Language Form and Language Function in Zoot Suit and The Border: A Contribution to the Analysis of the Role of Foreign Language in Film.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 3 (1984): 57-69. Explores the usage, function, and meaning of the language in Zoot Suit.Oroña-Córdova, Roberta. “Zoot Suit and the Pachuco Phenomenon: An Interview with Luis Valdez.” In Mexican American Theatre: Then and Now, edited by Nicolás Kanellos. Houston: Arte Público, 1983. In this interview with the author, the historical influences on the play are discussed. The development of the play and its social messages are also discussed.
Categories: Characters