TIMELINE: 1940- 1959


December 7, 1941 The Japanese air force attacks United States forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. War is declared against Japan and the United States enters World War Two.

1941 Beto Villa, known as the father of Mexican American big band music begins a career that will make him famous throughout the Southwest.

1942 Throughout the United States, Mexican Americans enlist to serve in the defense of their country. In Silvis, Illinois, the sons of twenty-two Mexican Americans families on Second Street sign up for the war. In the course of the next five years,

more men will serve in the armed forces from Second Street, a total of 45 men, than from any other street its size in the United States. A total of six men from the 22 families will die in action (Joseph Sandoval, Frank Sandoval, Pete Masias, Willie Sandoval, Tony Pompa, and Claro Solíz). Two other sons of Second Street will die in the Korean conflict (Joseph Gomez and Johnny MuZoz). In spite of the sacrifices made by the Second Street families, requests to have Second Street paved are turned down by the Silvis city council. The street will not be paved until 1975 when a Mexican American is finally elected Mayor of the city.


April 12-24, 1942 Japanese General Masahuru Homma, commanding general in the Phillipines, orders 70,000 American prisoners of war on the infamous Bataan Death March. The soldiers, already riddled with malaria and dysentery, are forced to march 60 miles from Bataan to a railroad station at San Fernando without food and water. Along the way some 400 Filipino civilians who defy Japanese orders and offer the Americans food and water are summarily bayoneted or beheaded. In all, 14,000 of the 70,000 soldiers who begin the march die along the way. A large number of those who died were Mexican Americans from New Mexico.

1942 In response to a shortage of farm laborers the United States (due to World War Two), the United States and Mexico enter into a joint Emergency Labor Program under which thousands of Mexican “braceros,” farm laborers, will be permitted to work legally in the United

States. The program, initially set up as temporary program, will continue unabated until 1964. American agriculture growers benefit from this program of low-cost laborers.


August 2, 1942 The body of José Díaz is found near a swimming hole known as the Sleepy Lagoon in what is today Montebello, California. The police conduct a major dragnet, arresting hundreds of young Mexican Americans and eventually charging 22 young men with the murder of Díaz. Twelve of the young men are found guilty of first and second degree murder and are sentenced to prison for varying terms. The “Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee” is formed by actors Anthony Quinn, Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth. Two year later, the young men win a reversal of their sentence on appeal but only after they have already served two years in prison.

1943 The Mexican film Maria Candalaria, starring Maria Felix and directed by Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez wins the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

June 7, 1943 Following an altercation between Mexican American youth and Anglo sailors stationed at Long Beach, attacks on Mexican Americans by “taxi brigades” of U.S. Sailors take place in the streets of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times proclaims, “Zoot Suiters Learn Lesson in Fights With Servicemen,” as Mexican American youth, whose older brothers and fathers are away at war, are hunted down in the streets of downtown Los Angeles, beaten by sailors, then arrested by Los Angeles police. The so-called “Zoot Suit riots” continue for a week.

E companyIn January 1944, “E” company, an Army combat unit made up entirely of Mexican Americans most from El Paso, Texas, leads the Allied push to Rome on the Italian mainland by spearheading the crossing of the Rio Rapido in rafts. The fog covering their presence on the river lifts and hidden German and Italian machine emplacements immediately open fire, virtually wiping out the entire company. A monument is later built in El Paso, Texas commemorating the sacrifice so many young men.

1945 Gabriela Mistrál (Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga), a Chilean poet of such works as Sonetas de la Muerte (1914), Tenura (1924 and Tala (1938) wins the Novel Prize in Literature. She is the first Latin American woman to be so honored.

1945 Josephina Niggli’s collection of short stories, Mexican Village, depicts the experience of growing up part Anglo and part Mexican.

May 7, 1945 Germany unconditionally surrenders to Allied forces bringing an end to the war in Europe.

August 6, 9, 1945 The United States drops atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

September 2, 1945 Japan surrenders to U.S. Forces, ending World War Two.

1946 Gonzalo and Felicitas Méndez, with the help of the League of United Latin American Citizens, file a class action lawsuit, Méndez v. Westminister, against the school district in Westminister, California for its segregation of Mexican American students. The Federal District Court finds in favor of Méndez and this favorable ruling sets a precedent for the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education which overturns the “separate but equal” tradition.

1946 Ideal Records begins recording the Tejano music of South Texas with singers like Carmen and Laura, The Conjunto Bernal and Narciso Martinez. This will set the stage for the evolution of the Tex-Mex sound in later years.

1947 The Community Service Organization is created in East Los Angeles. Made up of activists from the labor movement and volunteers from Edward Roybal’s unsuccessful 1947 race for a Los Angeles city council seat and trained by organizer Fred Ross, Sr., the CSO seeks to organize Mexican Americans to demand improved social services and register to vote. This activism will help Roybal win his 1949 race for city council.


1947 Ricardo Montalban stars opposite Esther Williams in his first Hollywood motion picture, Fiesta, directed by Richard Thorpe.

1948 Luís MuZoz Marín, running under the Popular Democratic Party, is elected as the first popularly elected Governor of Puerto Rico.

March 26, 1948 After serving in World War Two, returning Mexican American veterans find disappointment as they try to reintegrate into American society. They find that they cannot obtain the benefits legally due to them through the 1944 G.I. Bill of Rights. Dr. Hector P. García calls together 700 veterans to meet in Corpus Christi, Texas and they form the American G.I. Forum, a organization devoted to securing equal rights of Mexican American and other Latino veterans.

1948 Mario Suárez, a native of Tucson, writes short stories which are published in the Arizona Quarterly. In stories such as “El Hoyo,” he uses the word Chicano, one of the first fiction writers to do so.

1948 The body of Felix Longória, a private killed during the last days of World War Two, is denied burial at the cemetery in his home town of Three Rivers, Texas, because he is Mexican. Dr. Hector P. García, founder of the American G.I. Forum, organized a campaign to have Longoria properly buried and, with the help of then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, is successful in having Longória buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The highly publicized scandal provokes Mexican Americans to continue in their struggle for civil rights.

1948 The League of United Latin American Citizens files a lawsuit, Delgado v. Bastrop Independent School District which finally brings an end to the segregation of Mexican children in Texas schools.

1949 Edward Roybal wins a city council seat in Los Angeles, California after an extensive campaign that relies on registering Mexican Americans to vote. He becomes the first Latino since 1881 to be on the Los Angeles city council.

1949 The Asociación Nacional Mexico-Americana is established in a two-day conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Its focus is improved housing, workers rights and political representation for Mexican Americans. Later the group will be the focus of an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee for its activities.

1951 The United States enacts Public Law 78 which renews the bracero program initiated in 1942. The program will continue until 1964.

1952 Cesar Chavez is recruited by organizer Fred Ross to organize Mexicans to vote in San Jose, California.

1952 Anthony Quinn portrays the brother of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, opposite Marlon Brando in the lead role, in the motion picture Zapata written by John Steinbeck and directed by Elia Kazan.

1952 After serving in the Korean conflict as a second lieutenant, and earning a law degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Eligio “Kika” de la Garza is elected to the Texas House of Representatives where he will serve for six terms of office.

July 27, 1953 The Armistice of Panmunjon is signed bringing hostilities of the Korean conflict to an end. Thousands of Mexican Americans and other Latinos will distinguish themselves in the war in which 54,246 Americans are killed. While the final negotiations are underway at Panmunjon, Hollywood producer Hal Wallis commissions director Owen Crump to film a realistic film about a real platoon of American soldiers on the eve of the peace accord, Cease Fire. The rushes convince Hal Walsh that a young Mexican American private from Texas, Ricardo Carrasco, has the making of a Hollywood superstar. He instantly offers Carrasco a movie contract and arranges to have Carrasco released from the last moments of fighting. But Carrasco refuses the contract and instead goes back with his platoon to fight out the final days of battle. He is killed in action a week before the armistice is signed. Hal Walsh later eulogies Carrasco in a Reader’s Digest article titled “The Movie You Never Saw.”

1953 The independently produced motion picture Salt of the Earth is released. The film, written by Michael Wilson, directed by Herbert Biberman, and produced by Paul Jarrico, all of whom were black listed from Hollywood because of their political views, depicts the true struggle of 1400 members of Local 890, International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (90% of whom are Mexican American) against Empire Zinc in the town of Silver City, New Mexico. The 15 month strike is the longest in New Mexico history. After the film is released, one of the stars, Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas, is deported by U.S. authorities.

1953 Operation Wetback is enacted by the U.S. Immigration Service deporting more than 3 million persons of Mexican descent. As with the deportations of the 1930s, many of those deported are U.S. born citizens.


July 23, 1953 In Cuba, a student revolutionary named Fidel Castro, is among many people arrested after attacking the Moncado, a military garrison of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro will later declare in court that “history will absolve me.”

January, 1954 Attorney Gus García successfully appeals the conviction of Pete Hernandez for murder before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Hernandez v. State of Texas, a case supported by the American G.I. Forum and League of Latin American Citizens, García is able to show that Mexican Americans cannot receive a fair trial in Texas because they are excluded from serving on juries and therefore Mexicans can not received a fair trial by a jury of their peers.

March 1, 1954 Four Puerto Rican nationalists, calling for Puerto Rican independence from the United States, open fire in the United States House of Representatives wounding five Congressmen.

1954 The U.S. Supreme Court finds in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that public schools may no longer segregate children according to race, finding that such racial segregation was “inherently unequal.” Argumentation on the Brown decision is founded, in part, on the successful 1946 case of Méndez v. Westminister School District and reverses the “separate but equal” Supreme Court ruling in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.

1956   In a sugar beet ranch in Nebraska, Mexican agricultural workers are unjustly reprimanded by the owner for mistakes made by a drunken foreman. Nine-year-old Manuel Barbosa Cedillo, son of one of the Mexican workers and the only person who can speak English, eloquently defends the workers and proves their innocence to the rancher. The vindicated workers label the young boy “El Abogado,” the attorney. Manuel will go to a career in law and in 1981 will be appointed judge to the Federal  Northern Circuit District Court in Illinois by United States President George Bush.

1956 The House Un-American Activities Committee continues its investigation of suspected Communists by accusing the Asociación Nacional México-Americana (ANMA) and its president, Alfredo Montoya, of communist affiliations. Montoya is found not guilty of being a member of the Communist party.


1956 Henry B. Gonzalez becomes the first Mexican American in 110 years elected to the Texas State Senate. An outspoken advocate of minority rights, and responsible for much legislation benefitting Latinos, Henry B. Gonzalez will go on to serve in the U.S. Congress for 37 years before his retirement in 1998.

1957 Raymond L. Telles, Jr. is elected Mayor of El Paso, Texas. Running on the “People’s Ticket,” he becomes the first Mexican American to be mayor of the city. During his two terms of office he will open up employment opportunities for Latinos in the city before being appointed to Ambassador to Costa Rica by President John F. Kennedy.

1957 The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is passed. The legislation creates a civil rights commission to investigate allegations of the denial of equal protection under the law which, in addition to investigating abuses against African Americans, will investigate abuses against Mexican Americans and other Latinos in the years to come.

1959 The Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) is formed in Los Angeles. The organization has as its goal to register Mexican Americans to vote and promote the election of Mexican Americans to political office.

March, 1959 Ritchie Valens, whose real name is Ricardo Valenzuela and whose hits “La Bamba” and “Donna” made him the first nationally recognized Mexican American rock and roll star, dies in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa along with singers Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson).