The Mexican American Generation
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During the Second World War, there were about 500,000 Mexican American men who were drafted into or who volunteered to serve in the American army. The Mexican Americans who served in the American army won the highest number of Congressional Medal of Honors that any minority group in America had ever won. This showed the dedication with which the Mexican Americans served the American Army. The Mexican American women also worked in the home front and they supported the war effort and at the same time made money for themselves and their families (Rivas-Rodriguez 32). Many Mexican Americans also found jobs in factories in the US through the Bracero program. This helped sustain the American economy during the war. The memory of Mexican Americans who served in the war was preserved as their names were written on ships and in parks, among other places. There were however different kinds of discrimination against the Mexican American veterans, including discrimination in housing, employment and education. The Mexican Americans however had several reasons why they supported the American Army during the War, one of them being that they wanted to prove their patriotism.
Mexican Americans and the Second World War Mexican Americans participated in the home front and in the military front during the Second World War. In this way they contributed to the victory of the US in the Second World War. Bellafaire explains that during the War several Mexican American Women joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES) and the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (WAACs). In these organizations the women served as nurses and administrators, mostly helping wounded American soldiers. The women also worked in factories where war ammunitions were manufactured. They also worked in shipyards where they repaired cargo ships. Some women even worked as airplane mechanics. There were also Mexican American entertainers who entertained the troops in order to boost their morale. Mexican Americans also migrated to urban areas such as California in order to do more war related jobs. There were also about 200,000 Mexican Americans who came into America through the Braceros program (Gamboa 378). This program was negotiated between the US and Mexican governments, in the Bracero Treaty and it saw thousands of Mexicans immigrate to America in search of greener pastures. The Mexicans who came in through the program mainly worked in the agricultural sector. This meant that America still had food despite the war.
In the different military units there were approximately 500,000 Mexican Americans who were serving therein. Hundreds of these soldiers won Congressional Medals of Honor and Silver and Bronze Stars for their braveness. Those Mexican Americans who could not afford to reach recruiting stations to enlist to join the army, borrowed money from their families and travelled all the way to the nearest cities in order to enlist. Thousands enlisted in cities such as Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee, and most young Mexican Americans from the Midwest served in the army. The young Mexican American men influenced each other to join the Army, Marines and Navy thus increasing the number of troops. It is stipulated that some young men lied about their age in order to be able to serve in the military. Many of the Mexican Americans who served in the American army identified themselves as defenders of democratic organization.
There are several reasons why the Mexican Americans helped the US win the Second World War. First of all many of those who had immigrated into the country wanted to prove that they were patriotic to America. They also wanted to be afforded civil rights just like the whites. The Mexican Americans also wanted to acquire voting rights, new homes, better employment and education. This is because as the Mexicans were migrating into America they were not recognized as equals to the whites in the country. They were paid low wages and worked under extremely dire conditions. By fighting in the war, the Mexican Americans wanted to show that they did deserve to be called Americans and furthermore that they had earned the right. Most Mexican Americans wanted to enjoy the American dream, seeing as conditions in Mexico were not as conducive as they were in America. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor the Mexican government also sympathized with America and gave them support. This saw many Mexican Americans also support the American army. The Mexican Americans had a lot to gain from the victory of the United States. They mostly depended on the economy of the US with most Mexican Americans working in America. They therefore saw that it was necessary to assist in the victory by enlisting and volunteering to join the army.
Mexican American veterans and youth unfortunately faced racial discrimination during the Second World War. The discrimination was from the employers and also the locals. The most memorable form of discrimination against Mexican Americans was seen in the Zoot-Suit Riots of Los Angeles. The term Zoot-Suit came from the clothing that was worn by most Mexican Americans in the 40s. The Zoot-Suit Riots began when a dispute arose between some Caucasian sailors and a group of Mexican Americans and the Mexican Americans set upon the whites. This sparked a spree of attacks on Mexican Americans. For a period of several days soldiers, civilians and sailors set upon Mexican Americans beating them up, stripping their clothes and shaving their heads. It was reported that the police did not arrest the situation; instead of arresting the attackers, they arrested the Mexican Americans who had been beaten up. The military eventually intercepted the violence and one newspaper, The Eagle Rock Advertiser, was reported to bemoan the interference of the military, stating that the locals were enjoying teaching the Mexicans a lesson (McWilliams 169).
During the migration of the Mexicans during the Bracero program many Mexican Americans moved to America and were engaged in among other things building of the railroad. The Mexican Americans who worked on the railroad were living in squalor in box car camps and they were segregated from the rest of the population. The Mexican Americans were also not able to access quality healthcare, legal aid, education or housing. Mexican American soldiers who were returning from abroad were denied equal opportunities in education, housing and voting rights. The Mexican Americans who did not speak English also had a problem since there were no translators. Another problem was that Mexican Americans were only given temporary contracts to work in America. The Mexican Americans were expected to go back to their homes in Mexico at the end of their contracts.
The American army was also segregated and most Mexican Americans veterans recounted their experiences stating that they were treated harshly by the drill instructors. When the Mexican American soldiers returned from war they faced worse discrimination than they had previously experienced before they left. Lopez (12) explains that Mexican Americans workers were only paid 2 dollars per day while their white counterparts were paid up to 18 dollars. In some areas in Texas, eating places were marked with signs that emphasized that no Mexicans were allowed in. The famous case of Felix Longoria demonstrated the unfortunate discrimination that Mexican American veterans underwent (Guglielmo 1212). Felix Longoria was a Mexican American who fought in the Philippines. When he was killed there, his remains were brought back to Texas. The director of the funeral home in Texas refused for Longoria’s mass to be held in the chapel as he alleged that there had been previous disturbances by Mexican Americans. He was also reported to have claimed that the whites in the neighborhood would not like it if the funeral mass for Private Felix Longoria was held in the chapel. This case caught the attention of then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, who later became US President. The Texas House of Representatives also organized a committee to look into the Longoria case. The report from the Committee however concluded that there was no discrimination on the part of the funeral director. This was clearly a misjudgment as discrimination had clearly been manifested. It was also noted that there was segregation at the Three Rivers Cemetery in Texas such that the place where Mexican Americans were buried was fenced with barbed wire.
Between 1940 and 1965 acts of anti Mexican discrimination were widespread. This is because the Mexicans began fighting for their civil rights. The Mexicans believed that they had earned the right to be in America through their hard work during the Second World War. Most Mexican Americans had also proved their loyalty and most people began to notice this especially in the southwest. This was shown by the Congressional Medal of Honors that had been awarded to the Mexican American veterans who had served in the Second World War. The efforts of the veterans were recognized and it was noted that the Mexican Americans ought to be embraced instead of being discriminated against.
The GI Forum civil rights organization also contributed to more acts against Mexican discrimination in the southwest. This is because this organization advocated for civil rights of Mexican Americans. The organization was established in Texas where there was a majority of immigrants who had settled there. The GI Forum was initially formed to demand for medical services for the Mexican American veterans, but it later spread to demanding for voting rights, education and jury selection (Guglielmo 1213). The GI Forum first campaigned against the discrimination that was expressed towards Felix Longoria. In 1954, the court ruled in Hernandez v Texas that Mexican Americans were entitled to equal treatment under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. By the 1940s enough Mexican Americans had fought in the Second World War and there was more awareness of their patriotism in the military and hard work in the home front. By the late 50s and 60s there were civil rights movements all across the globe. Minority groups were demanding for equal treatment. The black civil rights movement headed by revolutionary figures such Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King saw the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These pieces of legislation also applied to Mexican Americans. After World War II was over, most Mexicans who had settled in most parts of the southwest more so Texas decided to settle permanently in America. This saw a huge population of Mexican Americans in the southwest. The Mexican Americans rallied and demanded for their rights and this is why there were acts of anti Mexican discrimination in the area.
The Mexican Americans played a huge role in the American army during the Second World War. They sacrificed time with their families and came out in large numbers to serve the country in the war. They did this in the home front as well as in the military. The women and men of Mexican ethnicity dedicated their lives to serving the United States in order to prove their loyalty. The Mexican American also faced acute discrimination during the War. They were segregated from most of the social facilities afforded to the whites such as education, housing, legal aid and employment among others. As the number of Mexican Americans increased in the southwest they began demanding for more rights especially through the GI Forum. Discrimination against Mexican Americans then reduced considerably as there was more representation of Mexican Americans in government.
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