Professor Moraña10 May 2018
Latinos Contribution to U.S. History
There are talks, movies, papers, and books all describing the lives of people who had effect in the United State history. Whether about people being oppressed, segregated, discriminated, people being racist and more. Also, the Industrialization and modern advances. We hardly hear about Indian descent today, but we do hear about the Africans or African Americans in the U.S. There’s a wonder if any of the young generations know about their ancestor’s struggle to live in a world where they were also hated and worked hard to make a living. Do they even know that Latinos have been involved in United States history too? Latinos in American history are very important as they made impactful contributions in founding cities, participating in American wars and education, all while facing discrimination.
With Latinos being in all fifty states today, Neil Foley writes that “by midcentury nearly one in every three Americans will be of Hispanic origin” (x). Latinos have been living in North America since the nineteenth century living along those who came to North America looking for religious freedoms and other various reasons. Though today people see and grow up in multiethnic communities, years ago it was not the case. There was a time when Mexicans, and Native Americans, were living in what is now North America. This was before the Anglo-Americans settlers arrived and crossed the Mississippi River. In fact, the Spanish colonist and mestizo settlers were the one to have founded cities that are well known today (Santa Fe, San Antonio, Saint Augustine, and Los Angeles).
Foley cites a Mexican writer’s words, “the Hispanic world did not come to the United States, the United States came to the Hispanic world” (15). He uses these words to describe how huge the Spanish empire was, from Rio Grande to Peru, and how some Americans have not thought about this at all. So, some Americans might be upset about Hispanics being in “their” land or culture when it was not theirs to begin with as the Spanish first ruled over the land. This view, of the U.S. always being under English rule, might be one of the reason as to why there is white privilege and a sense of superiority among some. This might have caused various emotions toward Hispanics.
For years immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants, have been seen as a “threat” not only because they are seen as “taking” Americans’ job but also there is a fear of changing the American culture. This view was not always in existence where Mexican came through to the U.S. to work at places where the economy was rapidly growing (Foley, 3). Wages in the United States are higher than in Mexico, thus attracting Mexicans for better pay. This way they did not have to beg for their survival. Mexicans and other Hispanics are known to take on the jobs that white would have had years ago. This created different emotions among white Americans even though they themselves might not even take on some blue-collar jobs. Mexicans and other Hispanics populated cities and integrated their cultures into their new homes.
This fear of Mexicans taking over or immigrating at a fast pace has always been in history. There are just moments in which we see them more in the surface than in others. For example, during the War on terror there was a huge fear and anxiety about immigrants, spies, and terrorism. The focus of the War on terror was terrorism but there was still fear of immigrants. Foley describes this in “During World War I the New York Times carried the front- page headline “Anarchists Flock Here from Mexico— Dangerous Aliens Smuggled across the Border at the Rate of 100 a Day” (5). There were arguments by politicians that Mexicans would “destroy white civilization”, which of course was not true at all (5).
Foley writes on the outcome of this fear, “over half a million Mexicans were voluntarily or forcibly deported to Mexico because jobs had become scarce and local relief programs were intended primarily for Anglo Americans” (5). But it did not stop there, the U.S. attempted to import braceros but caused, during anticommunist hysteria, a launch of an operation that rounded up and deported Mexican immigrants. It also caused for others to dread Mexicans and to an increase of border security and immigration restrictions. This all being in a world that once did not have a physical border as Foley describes, “Our border with Mexico was never more than a line in the sand from Tijuana to the Río Grande, and crossing the border was never, until recently, a serious challenge to Mexicans desiring to work in the United States” ( 5).
Latino’s participation in American wars
To many of this generation it might come to a shock that there were Latinos and Hispanics in World War II, the Navy and Air Force. Latinos were part of the United States army as soldiers, doctors, and nurses, worked in the defense workforce and more. Latinas were also part of the war effort both at home at the battle fields. “Approximately 350,000 females served in the military” (Rivas-Rodriquez, 63). Men going to join the war allowed women to work in jobs they had never thought of obtaining and allowing for new experiences.
Women at home “served in the Red Cross, worked in Civil Defense, or performed for the United Service Organizations” and “participated in letter-writing campaigns to boost the spirits of American GIs” (Rivas-Rodriquez, 63). Being at home also allowed women to wrap bandages, collect scrap metal and grease, buy war bonds and plant victory gardens (Rivas-Rodriquez, 65). Rivas-Rodriguez shares the experiences of Latina women at home, “Martha Vidaurri experienced the war in a more intimate way. Her six brothers served in the military. One was killed in the Normandy invasion, and another was imprisoned by the Japanese and forced to join the Bataan Death March” (74). Other Latinas had similar experiences where their brothers and husbands would join the war, get hurt and they were left with worry, fear and having to take care of the family. Rivas-Rodriquez describes this, “Latinas and Anglo women endured rationing, nutritional concerns, child-care and financial responsibilities, the upkeep of their homes, wartime travel, and even work outside the home” (74). They had to learn how to get threw the difficult which they face through discrimination and segregation before and after the World War II.
Rivas-Rodriguez write of personal experience of Latinas living before, during and after World War II. Rivas writes about Latinas and their families being denied help, being lay off or fired during the Depression, untruthful accusation and their possessions being taken (68). This was all because of anti-Mexican ideas and public view of them in a negative image. The Latinas at that times also faced attending segregated schools in which Rivas describes as “Mexican ward schools” where rooms were like shacks, and faculty often had low expectations for their students (70). They were seen as “never going to make it”, “nothing but thieves”, and were never giving the chance to show who they were because of the teacher’s low expectations of them (70). Other experiences included “educators trying to Anglicize their names”, being “punished for speaking Spanish”, not allowed to participate or go to football games as well as name-calling, harassment, and ridicule during school hours, etc. (71).
Despite this there were Mexicans Americans who integrated. Nurses served “behind enemy lines” and helped wounded soldiers in whatever hour they arrived (83). Rivas-Rodriguez really portrays this in her citing interviewees’ experience during the war. “the nurses stayed in combat clothing all of the time: “We were busier . . . in Germany because . . . they were coming in droves, due to the bombing in nearby villages” …They treated soldiers and civilians, including women and children” (83). Latinas were impactful and did it all either for a sense of patriotism or for their families. They rose up the ranks through their hard work and dedication.
Some examples of remarkable soldiers were in 65th infantry during the Korean War. Frank Medina informs his readers on this Hispanic unit, “The 65th Infantry Regiment was the only Hispanic-segregated, active duty military unit in the armed forces. It was established after Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 and was deactivated in 1956.” Before this unit participated in not only World War one but also two. The name given to this unit was borinqueneers after “Puerto Rico’s indigenous name, Borinquen” (Medina). Even though there was a language barrier, segregation, prejudices and more, they were assigned to combat. The achieved military achievements and demonstrated valor and heroism, it helped that they were equipped and best-maned. Their success on taken Chinese-held hills, to seize and hold front lines and fighting with purpose even though they were under heavy fire. Finally, Medina states that “individual members of the 65th Infantry Regiment earned a Medal of Honor, 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, over 250 Silver Stars, over 600 Bronze Stars and approximately 3,000 Purple Hearts” in representation of their heroics acts during the Korean war.
Latino’s influence on education
Another contribution Latinos had was in education. Mendez v. Westminster School District helped pave the way for Brown verse the Board of Education in 1954, making segregation in school unconstitutional. It started with Gonzalo and Felilcitas Mendez asking Gonzalo’s sister to enroll their kids to school as they were preparing the fields for crops. In the enrolling process, the school allowed Gonzalo’s sister, Vidaurii, children to enroll into the school as they had fair skin and whose last name did not sound Mexican (Aguirre,3). In the other hand, the Mendez children were not accepted and Vidaurii was told to enroll then to a school a few blocks away just because they had darker skin and a Mexican sounding last name (Aguirre, 3). The Mendez were all citizens of the United States and the children were fluent in English.
With help of families with similar experiences, Mendez provided evidence and testimonies to the court. Aguirre wrote that the school district argument was that “local school board actions did not constitute state action” (5). In the Mendez verses Westminster School District case, judges found that the schools in the area were “systematically and intentionally segregating Mexican American children into separate schools solely because of their surname and/or the color of their skin” (Aguirre, 2). As the first federal court case, it stated that the schools separating colored children was not equal and so violated their rights. Other cases and law suits followed but most noticeable among them is Brown v. the Board of Education. The Brown case made segregating schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The Brown case later then “extended to housing, employment, voting rights, transportation, public accommodations, and parks and recreations…expanded and protected individual liberties not only for people of color” but for all (Aguirre, 1). These cases helped to “challenge racist educational system through the courts” and that important issues can be solved through the courts without bloodshed (Aguirre, 11).
From having history with lands that were once under Spanish rule to paving the way for people to fight against segregation, Latinos have left an impactful contribution on United States history. Long ago Spanish, ingenious and mestizo people made contribution to the founding of the United States major cities. In the military, Latinos fought hard and with determination. They contributed both at home and in the from lines. In education, Latinos helped to end Mexican segregated schools and to unity people. There are more moments in history that Latinos have been involved in and they should be remembered, told, and rediscovered.
Aguirre, Fredrick P. “Mendez v. Westminster School District: How It Affected Brown v. Broad of Education. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, vol. 4, issue 4, Oct. 2005, pp. 321-332.
Foley, Neil. Mexicans in the Making of America. Harvard University Press, 2014.
Medina, Frank. “Borinqueneers Awarded Congressional Gold Medal.” Army Magazine, vol. 64, no. 11, Nov. 2014, pp. 69-70.
Rivas-Rodríguez, Maggie. Beyond the Latino World War II Hero: The Social and Political Legacy of a Generation, edited by Emilio Zamora, University of Texas Press, 2009.