Steckline to present Geek Speak lecture on Sailor Riots of 1943 during Hispanic Heritage Month

Author: BHSU Communications/Wednesday, September 26, 2018/Categories: Events, Students, Community, Events, Faculty, 2018

Would you believe it if Dr. Tim Steckline told you that a style of suit caused a five-day riot in Los Angeles? Steckline, a Black Hills State University speech professor, will present “Zoot Suits and the Sailor Riots of 1943: Race Terror in Aztlan” Thursday, Oct. 4 at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall Room 110 during Hispanic Heritage Month. As part of the Geek Speak lecture series, the presentation is free and open to the public.
Steckline says zoot suits (notable for their baggy knees, cuffs to prevent tripping, and long jackets with heavily padded shoulders and wide lapels) were popular among Mexican-Americans in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
“This population appreciated the suits for more than just a comfortable outfit for dancing the jitterbug on a late weekend night; they became a way for them to express their culture in a distinct and outward way,” says Steckline, who notes that the young Malcolm X and the wild Cab Calloway wore the zoot.
In his Geek Speak, Steckline will talk through what effect these suits and their expression of culture by Mexican-Americans had during World War II, including what he calls a movement towards an unparalleled sense of cultural pride and the start of a proto-civil rights movement.
In June 1943, nearly a week of open terror in the streets of Los Angeles was blamed on the style of clothing (zoot suits) worn by the victims, says Steckline. Underlying issues contributing to the so-called “Sailor Riots” or “Zoot Suit Riots” included work-based immigration to fill jobs vacated by those serving in the military during World War II, restrictions on wool used in the construction of the suits, and underlying racial tensions.
From this outbreak of terror, Steckline says a movement was forged.
“Pop culture can have political implications, even though it may just be clothing and music. It has political importance,” Steckline says. “It’s still possible to take control of the culture and the things that pop culture gives you and politicize them – zoot suits were just a style, but they became loaded up with politics and pulled the community together as a result.”
During the lecture, Steckline looks forward to drawing from his own roots and experiences growing up in Colorado, in “Aztlan”– the ancestral home of the Aztec peoples covering what is now much of the southwest U.S. Throughout his childhood, he was raised knowing the culture of the area and valuing much of its significance throughout history. Since he has moved away, his personal devotion to the culture has become a way that he celebrates not only his own past, but the heritage and pop culture that has fountained from the people who have lived there for over 400 years.
About the BHSU Geek Speak lecture series:
The Geek Speak lecture series, sponsored by the BHSU Honors program, features academic discussion and topics not normally discussed in the traditional classroom. The goal of the weekly lectures is to expose students and the community to diversity within the disciplines. Some Geek Speaks are also presented at the Jacket Zone store located on Main Street in downtown Spearfish. All lectures are free and open to the public.
Upcoming lectures include:
  • Oct. 11: Kelly Kirk, instructor of history, and Carrie Gray-Wood, instructor of geography: “A Taste of Place: The History and Geography of Food in Italy”
  • Oct. 18: Art Faculty at BHSU: “Beyond the Classroom”
  • Oct. 25: Dr. Du-Lu Hsiao, assistant professor of Spanish: “How to be Spanish”
  • Nov. 1: Dr. Andrey Reznikov, professor of English: “The role of Bible Translations in Establishing the English Language”
  • Nov. 8: Aaron Bauerly, system librarian: “You are the Hero: Interaction with Mythic Archetypes Through Games”
  • Nov. 15: Kelly Kirk, instructor of history: “Honoring Veterans' Legacies”
  • Nov. 29 – Dec. 6:  University Honors Capstone Defenses
  • Jan. 10: Desy Schoenewies, associate professor of art: “Drawings from China: Experiences from the BHSU/Baoding University Partnership BHSU Artists at Baoding University”
  • Jan. 17: TBA
  • Jan. 24: Tracy Hunt and Chelsey Groseclose, BHSU counselors: “The Matrix Within: from Insomnia to Lucidity, the Powers of Sleep and Dreaming”
  • Jan. 31: Altman Studeny, Carrie Gray-Wood, Tim Steckline: “Twisted Fibers: Felt as Art, Technique, and Social Critique”
  • Feb. 7: Dr. David Cremean, professor of English:  “Bruce Springsteen as Storyteller”
  • Feb. 14: Jeffrey Winter, instructor of mathematics: “Secrets and Unconventional Uses of Microsoft Office”
  • Feb. 21: Dr. Holly Downing, professor of biology: “Why Our Mascot is Not a Bee—The Frustrations of a BHSU Entomologist”
  • Feb. 28: Dr. Max Marc, professor of management information systems: “Artificial Intelligence vs. Humans: Thought Experiments on the End-Game”
  • March 14: Dr. Jarrett Moore, assistant professor of research and assessment: “Manufacturing (Real)ity”
  • March 21: Dr. Chris Hahn, assistant professor of music: “We’re All Musicians: Exploring the Brain-Music Relationship”
  • March 28: BHSU Research Symposium Keynote Speaker, Meier Hall
  • April 4: Petrika Peters: “Global Dumping: What Happens to Your Electronic Waste?”
  • April 11/April 25: Dr. Courtney Huse Wika, associate professor of English: “A Spontaneous Overflow of Powerful Feelings:” A Two-Part Poetry Writing Workshop to celebrate National Poetry Month
To read short descriptions of each lecture topic, visit
For more information, contact Dr. Courtney Huse Wika, associate professor of English,  at 605-642-6918 or email

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