On the night of August 1st, 1942 Henry “Hank” Leyvas was driving with his girlfriend Dora Barrios to Sleepy Lagoon for a date. When they arrived, a group of drunk, white young men from Downey High School began to shout racial slurs and insults at the couple. Leyvas stepped out of the car and replied in kind. The verbal abuse appeared to be over when the boys left. Later, however, a larger group of Downey youths ambushed Leyvas and Barrios and beat them vigorously. Although the attack was stopped by Hispanic boys from 38th Street, the couple was badly hurt, and Leyvas vowed to get vengeance. He gathered the 38th Street boys and planned his revenge.
The group arrived at Eleanor Delgadillo’s birthday party. They knew that the Downey boys had been kicked out from the house earlier, and hoped to find information about them. The party had ended, but some of the guests had not departed yet. When the Delgadillos denied knowing where the Downey youth were, a punch was thrown. The fight started and continued for a long time until they were notified that the cops were on the way. That night after the fight was quickly broken apart, a young man was found bleeding near the Delgadillo’s home. This man was José Diaz, and although he was delivered swiftly to the hospital, he passed away later that night. Soon the newspaper would get wind of this, forever changing the public view of Hispanics in LA.
When the police found out that José’s death was supposedly linked to the brawl between two groups of Mexican-American youth, they started enforcing stricter regulations against Mexican-American crime, gang activity, and juvenile delinquency. Police invaded communities occupied by Mexican-Americans, arresting them. After all was said and done, the police had arrested a total of 600 Mexican-Americans. Many weren’t even involved in the Sleepy Lagoon Murder. The Mexican-American youth were classified as “zoot suiters,” and “Pachucos,” a derogatory term used at the time to describe “rebellious” Hispanic youth.
Leyvas had been repeatedly convicted and imprisoned for other criminal activity in the past, and was known as a “hoodlum” to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He was constantly arrested on false charges and harassed by the police. Leyvas was arrested for supposedly carrying out the murder, marked as the “gang leader” and was physically and mentally tormented by the interrogating officers. The 17 arrested teenagers were tried as adults in the trial. The murder would be the start of a long chain of racist events that would leave a dark stain on Los Angeles history.