WW II GENERATION GETS IT DONE!
It is beyond ironic that teaching young people about the patriotism of the Mexican American community—e.g., that Mexican Americans/Latinos have earned more Congressional Medals of Honor in proportion to their numbers than any other ethnic group in the U.S. and that Mexican American women played a crucial role in winning WW II—is considered “un-American” and is illegal to teach in Arizona.
Here’s a sampling of this “illegal” history:
About 750,000 Mexican Americans served in the military during World War II. In “Among the Valiant,” Raúl Morín reports that many of these didn’t wait to be drafted—they enlisted. Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Director of the University of Texas Latino/a Veterans Oral History Project, notes that, “Many Mexican-American families had two, three, four—and even, in the case of the De Los Santos brothers of San Saba [Texas], eight—sons in the military during World War II.”
In Silvis, Illinois, Hero Street is named after 57 Mexican American young men who lived on Second Street in Silvis and who served in WW II and Korea. The U.S. Department of Defense determined this constituted “…the largest number of servicemen from the same ethnic group to come from any area of comparable size during these conflicts.”
Mexican Americans/Latinos have earned more Congressional Medals of Honor (64) and other military wartime decorations in proportion to their numbers than any other ethnic group in the U.S. Just last month President Obama belatedly conferred the Medal of Honor on 24 WW II, Korea, and Viet Nam veterans. Of these, 17 are Latino.
On the home front, Mexican American women played a crucial role in winning WW II. In “Rosita the Riveter,” Dr. Ricardo Santillán describes how Mexican American women—along with women all over the country—took over the factories and manufactured ammunition and other war materiel during WW II.
Arizona State University professor Dr. Christine Marín describes how groups such as Tucson’s Asociación de Madres y Esposas (Association of Mothers and Wives) went throughout the barrios, selling war bonds. The group sold $1million worth of bonds in one year. Asociación members also collected scrap metal to sell—and they picked cotton in the fields outside of Tucson—and donated the proceeds to the war effort.
The WW II generation’s contributions weren’t limited to helping win WW II. After the war, these patriots had to deal with discrimination in all realms of life. In some communities, Mexican American veterans were refused service in restaurants and other establishments. “White” cemeteries refused to bury Mexican American veterans. Their children had to attend “Mexican” schools and were spanked for speaking Spanish on the playground.
Civil rights became their new battle cry. Rivas-Rodriguez recently wrote an excellent article in which she described the post-war civil-rights work of the WW II generation in Texas. Her article brought to mind some of the many examples of Arizona/Tucson civil- and educational rights achievements of this extraordinary generation.
Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the “Bilingual Education Act,” is rooted in Tucson. WW II veteran Adalberto Guerrero, with Rosita Cota, María Urquides and others (including Hank Oyama and Jimmie Fisher—discussed below) organized a national bilingual education symposium in Tucson in 1966, which produced a report on “The Invisible Minority” and led to congressional hearings in Tucson, resulting in the 1968 passage of Title VII, the first piece of federal legislation that recognized the educational value of bilingualism.
Purple Heart recipient Dr. William James (“Jimmie) Fisher was a U.S. Marine who served in WW II and Korea. War hero Fisher (he carried a fellow Marine out of a burning building) was a pioneer practitioner of bilingual education. In the late 1960s Fisher helped found the Association of Mexican American Educators that advocated for our students within Tucson School District No. 1, when the students staged walkouts in protest of discriminatory treatment.
Enrique “Hank” Oyama spent 15 months in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans and then was drafted into the U.S. Army. After the war, Oyama helped found the Tucson chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and went on to make history by successfully challenging Arizona’s miscegenation law that outlawed interracial marriages.
Juanita Loroña and others of the Madres y Esposas movement led the fight to desegregate public facilities in Arizona. In many communities, Mexican American children were allowed to swim in public pools only one day a week. Loroña’s group, with the help of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers in Arizona’s mining towns, petitioned, picketed, and took the case to court—and won!
Tucsonan Lorenzo “Lencho” Torrez’s 25-year stint as a miner was interrupted when he was drafted during WW II. After the war, he returned to mining but as a union activist, fighting policies such as the “Mexican wage,” whereby Mexican American miners were paid less than their Anglo counterparts for the same work.
I end as I started: it is beyond ironic that discussing in public-school classrooms in Arizona this dynamic history of patriotism and achievement is “illegal” because the Tea Party Superintendent of Public Instruction has deemed that this history advocates “the overthrow of the U.S. government” and “foments ethnic resentment.”
Actually, in a just world what should be illegal is for ignorant Mexican haters and their racist minions to have any say whatsoever about the illustrious and glorious history of our community. Their even getting near our history is an abomination. c/s
[My father, Salomón O. Baldenegro, was a WW II veteran. Special thanks to Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez and Christine Marin for their inspiration and help. Rivas-Rodriguez just published “Mexican Americans and World War II.” Ask your favorite bookstore to order it. To obtain a copy of “Among The Valiant” visit: www.valiantpress.com.
Copyright 2014 by Salomón R. Baldenegro. This blog was originally published on 4.20.14. To contact Sal: salomonrb@msn. Photos used in this blog are in public domain or copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions and used with permission, book covers used under “fair use” proviso of the copyright law,