Cooper Do-nut Riots Inspired Literary Work by Mexican American Author John Rechy

BY: 
Rachel
 | June 10, 2022

Credit: Nuestro Stories

Main Street, Los Angeles, 1959. Known as the “seedy” part of town to many, for some, Main Street was considered one of the few safe spaces to call home if you belonged to some of the city’s most marginalized communities — and no place was safer than Cooper Do-nuts. It was an all-night spot that opened its doors to anyone who wanted a hot cup of coffee and a fresh Do-nut on a cold night.

While a Do-nut shop opening its doors to anyone may seem like a seemingly obvious concept, in 1959 Los Angeles, it was an extremely rare act.

By that time, LAPD had begun aggressively enforcing the Anti-Masquerading Ordinance (first enacted in Los Angeles in 1889) as a way to intimidate and discriminate against queer people. In essence, the ordinance stated it was against the law to “appear as anything other than the gender assigned on your government identification.” This law gave police officers all the ammunition they needed to conduct a spur of the moment raid on any businesses known to be frequented by members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The aggressive ordinance caused many places to flat out deny entry to anyone who they felt “fit the description.” In fact, Cooper Do-nuts was the first and, at the time, the only business to not adhere to the concept, making them highly susceptible to police scrutiny.

This is Where John Rechy Comes In

In May of 1959, the LAPD decided to raid Cooper Do-nuts as patrons sat around the freshly shined counters, sipping their coffee and dunking their krullers.

After making an ID sweep of the premises, the two officers on the scene rounded up five people to be taken under arrest. One of those patrons was John Rechy, an openly gay, Mexican-American writer who is rumored to have been the person that resisted arrest during the process.

Read more: This Park in Sacramento Pays Tribute to the Unconquerable Spirit of Latino Culture

That initial resistance seemed to fuel the proverbial fire of the patrons who watched as officers attempted to shove five people into one police car.

No one knows who threw the first projectile, but suddenly, hot coffee, Do-nuts, plates, anything that could be used was flying through the air, hurling toward the officers. The sudden burst of action gave the detainees time to flee and eventually caused the officers to retreat and call for backup.

Emboldened, the patrons began to flow into the streets, supporters started to join in, and by the time backup officers arrived, a full-blown riot had broken out. Main Street was blocked off for the next 24 hours as police and protesters found themselves positioned against each other.

Rechy went on to write “City of Night,” an unflinching portrayal of a self-proclaimed “hustler” and his search for himself amidst the neon-hued humanity found in the world of drag queens, sex workers, and hustlers.

James Baldwin called it “a most humbling and liberating achievement” to experience. A book that, in part, drew from his very real and now historic experience at Cooper Do-nut Riots of 1959.

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Featured image is from the image Hoja Suelta, by José Guadalupe Posada, 1901.
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