At the heart of the modern Latino experience has been the quest for first-class citizenship. Within this broader framework, military service provides unassailable proof that Latinos are Americans who have been proud to serve, fight, and die for their country, the U.S. Thus, advocates of Latino equality often note that Latinos have fought in every U.S. conflict from the American Revolution to the current conflict in Afghanistan.
By 1940, people of Mexican descent in the U.S. were twice as likely to have been born and raised in the States than not. Often the children of immigrants who had entered in previous decades, they strongly identified with the country of their birth. The result was massive Mexican American participation in World War II, the most recent estimate being that some 500,000 Mexican Americans served in the conflict For many, a novel sensation of belonging accompanied the experience. Private Armando Flores of Corpus Christi, Texas, for example, fondly recalled being rebuked for putting his hands in his pockets on a cold day during basic training. "American soldiers stand at attention," a lieutenant told him, "They never keep their hands in their pockets." Years later, Flores still marveled at the significance of the occasion in his estimation: "Nobody had ever called me an American before!"
The massive mobilization effort that the war required, moreover, ensured widespread participation from non-combatants. Countless Latinas joined the Army's WACS, the Navy's WAVES, or similar all-female auxiliary units associated with the U.S. Air Force. Just 19, Maria Sally Salazar of Laredo, Texas, for example, was so eager to join the Army's Women Army Corps that she borrowed her sister's birth certificate so that she could pass for 21, the minimum age requirement for women. After basic training, she spent 18 months in the Philippine jungle working out of an administrative building but also tending the wounded when needed. In addition, thousands of Mexican American men and women found jobs in defense industries, an opportunity that was almost denied them because anti-Mexican prejudice remained so high. Although President Franklin Roosevelt had issued an executive order in 1941 banning discrimination in defense industry hiring, the war's seemingly ceaseless demand for labor soon proved more effective in trouncing employer reluctance to hire Latino workers. The upshot was that wartime sacrifice was often a family affair. The Sanchez family, transplanted from Bernalillo, New Mexico to Southern California before the war, is a case in point. Of ten grown siblings, three sisters each became a "Rosita the Riveter," while all five brothers served: two as army soldiers, one as an army medic, one as a Seabee, that is, a member of U.S. Navy Construction Battalion, and the eldest, who turned 50 during the war, as a civil defense air-raid warden. The family's participation was so extensive that members remember waiting to hear of one brother's fate during the Battle of the Bulge just after hearing another brother had died in combat in the Philippines.
With good reason, Mexican Americans took tremendous pride in their combat record during World War II. Thus, a tiny two-block lane in Silvis, Illinois, originally settled by Mexican immigrant railroad workers, earned the nickname "Hero Street" for sending an amazing 45 sons off to war. Sent to the Philippines because of their ability to use Spanish to communicate with their Filipino allies, many New Mexicans meanwhile experienced the horrors of the Bataan death march. Pinpointing ethnicity by looking at Spanish-surnames in addition to birthplace makes clear, moreover, that at least 11 Mexican Americans received the Medal of Honor during the conflict. Among them was Joseph P. Martínez, the child of immigrants and a Colorado beet harvester before the war. For leading a dangerous, but strategically critical, charge up a snow-covered mountain on the Aleutian Island of Attu, Martínez received that honor posthumously, the first draftee to do so. Many ethnic group members attributed their willingness to serve, and to serve so courageously to their unique cultural inheritance, one rooted in both Iberian and indigenous warrior societies. As Medal of Honor recipient Silvestre Herrera explained his decision to enter a minefield and single-handedly attack an enemy stronghold in France, a decision that cost him both feet in an explosion, "I am a Mexican-American and we have a tradition. We're supposed to be men, not sissies."
Not surprisingly, after the war, Mexican Americans found continued inequality deeply ironic and increasingly intolerable. In recognition of Herrera's heroism, for example, the governor of Arizona decided to name August 14, 1945 Silvestre Herrera Day. Unfortunately, in advance of that date the governor also had to order Phoenix businesses to take down signs that read, "No Mexican Trade Wanted." Similarly, at war's end, the owner of the Oasis Café in the town of Richmond, Texas, made clear that he only served an Anglo American clientele. When told to leave, however, Macario Garcia, another Medal of Honor recipient, refused to do so and instead got into a scuffle with the café owner. Although local city officials charged Garcia with aggravated assault, nationally he won in the court of public opinion, especially after the radio celebrity Walter Winchell decried the injustice of the incident on his program. Especially after fighting a fascist dictatorship that championed an ideology of racial supremacy, the idea that wartime sacrifice merited peacetime equality resonated with more Americans than ever.
By far the most famous instance of ill treatment directed at a Mexican American World War II veteran was the case of Private Felix Longoria of Three Rivers, Texas. It also contributed to the success of another civil rights organization dedicated to addressing Mexican American concerns. Four years after his combat death in the Philippines in 1945, Longoria's remains were shipped to the U.S. The local funeral home, however, refused a request by his widow, Beatrice, to use the funeral home's chapel for a wake in his honor. As the funeral home director explained then, "We just never made it a practice to let them [Mexican Americans use the chapel and we don't want to start now." He was correct. Across the Southwest, segregation against Mexican Americans endured less as a matter of law than as a matter of social custom. Yet what had been common practice before the war was no longer acceptable to Mexican Americans or to their Anglo American allies.
A Corpus Christi physician, Hector P. Garcia, led the charge to address the injustice. Garcia, who had served as a medic in Europe during the war, had upon his return to the States formed an organization called the American G.I. Forum to secure equal treatment for Mexican American veterans at Veteran Administration hospitals. Receiving a call from a Beatrice's sister to intervene in the dispute with the funeral home, Garcia called the funeral director himself to ask him to reconsider. He was quickly rebuffed. To Garcia, the irony of enforcing segregation even in the case of dead soldier amounted to a "direct contradiction of those principles for which this American soldier made the supreme sacrifice." Immediately, Garcia sent notes of protest to news media outlets, elected politicians, and high government officials. In response, Lyndon B. Johnson, then the junior senator from Texas, graciously arranged for Longoria to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. For Garcia, however, his work on the civil rights front had just begun. The Longoria incident propelled the American G.I. Forum to the front lines of the fight for Mexican American equality. Joining with LULAC, the Forum throughout the 1950s vigorously challenged segregation directed against Mexican Americans. So successful were the two organizations that the most overt manifestations of this practice as it was aimed at Mexican Americans substantially diminished by the end of the decade. Thus, a civil rights strategy born after World War I reached fruition after World War II.
Unfortunately, the experience of Puerto Ricans during World War II also echoed their experience during the previous global conflict. Once again, Puerto Ricans on the island eagerly registered for the draft or volunteered in the dual hope of contributing to the war effort and along the way helping their island through an infusion of defense dollars and technical training. Once again, military officials limited those hopes. Although the classic bolero La Despedida has its origins in the World War II era because so many soldiers left the island during those years, the military preferred to keep islanders in security and service roles. Charged mainly with hemispheric defense, members of the 65th Infantry Regiment (formerly the island's provisional regiment) were stationed as far away as the Galapagos Islands and again in the Panama Canal Zone, where some soldiers became subjects in army medical experiments about the effects of mustard gas. Army researchers concluded that Puerto Ricans burnt and blistered just like "whites." Finally, near the end of the war, a few island soldiers experienced combat directly. After being deployed to North Africa and Italy to guard supply lines, they came under assault from German forces in Europe. Meanwhile, about 200 Puerto Rican women contributed to the war effort by joining the WACS or WAVES. They received training in the States, and, unfortunately, in some cases experienced discrimination, before returning to Puerto Rico.
On the mainland, Puerto Ricans found ways to contribute, too. Puerto Ricans who served in the regular army units (versus service-oriented African American ones) likewise experienced combat. In addition, Puerto Ricans participated in D-Day and were at the Battle of the Bulge. In some cases, a single family sent sons to war from both the island and the continental U.S. Although many Americans families saw multiple sons go off to war, the stereotype of big, Catholic families certainly held true in the case of the "Fighting Medinas," who were seven brothers from a single Puerto Rican family divided between the island and Brooklyn, all of who served. Stateside, U.S. officials tapped Puerto Rican aviators for a special assignment: training African American pilots who became the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Whether chosen to train black men or to be subjects of army medical tests, Puerto Ricans found that the military's continued preoccupation with racial difference framed their experiences during World War II.
Not until the Korean War did Puerto Ricans have the chance to prove themselves in battle in significant numbers. Following the surprise outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula in June 1950, the sudden and urgent need for manpower propelled the 65th Regiment to the front lines where they engaged in some of the most heated fighting of the entire war. Although the armed forces had been desegregated in 1948 by presidential order, the 65thRegiment, comprised entirely of islanders, remained an all-Puerto Rican unit. Proud of their service, they soon adopted the nickname the Boriqueneers, a name that was both a tribute to the island's original indigenous name, Boriquen, and possibly as well a nod to Puerto Rico's pirate past and the time of the buccaneers. Thrust in the thick of a war that featured a dramatically shifting front line across a rugged, mountainous terrain, these island soldiers also slogged through mud and snow as they faced both North Korean and Chinese enemy soldiers. By the end of 1951, the 65th Infantry Regiment had been in battle for 460 days, suffered 1,535 battle casualties and taken 2,133 enemy prisoners, meaning it had fought more days, lost fewer men, and taken more prisoners than comparable regiments on the front line. Little wonder that General Douglas MacArthur, who until April 1951 was in charge of military operations in Korea, said that the 65th "was showing magnificent ability and courage in field operations." A later study by the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico also concluded that Puerto Ricans suffered disproportionate casualty rates as a result of the tremendous role played by the 65th.
For Puerto Rican politicians on the island, moreover, the Puerto Rican soldier exemplified the new working relationship they hoped to see between the island and the mainland. The 65th Regiment was both wholly Puerto Rican but also completely partnered to the U.S. Increasingly, Puerto Ricans had settled on a middle road between independence and statehood: they looked for maximum autonomy within the U.S. orbit. Thus, just as Mexican Americans used their military service to push for civil rights at home, Puerto Ricans used the demonstrated patriotism of the island's young men to ameliorate the colonial relationship between the island and the U.S. In the wake of World War II, islanders had received the right to elect their own governor. During the Korean conflict, U.S. officials decriminalized both the Puerto Rican flag and the Puerto Rican anthem for the first time since 1898. Shortly afterward, Puerto Rico officially became a Commonwealth of the U.S., a status between independence and statehood.
This is from an essay that focuses on Latinos in the United States military during the wars of the late 19th and entire 20th centuries as well as the peacetime roles of American Latino soldiers and veterans. The essay also discusses the economic and social significance of military service to American Latinos. It is from the National Park Service's Latino Heritage Initiatives Fighting on Two Fronts: Latinos in the Military by Lorena Oropeza
The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848)
The U.S.-Mexican War—(1846-1848): The Mexican-American War was the first major conflict(continue reading..)
U.S. Troops at the Siege of Veracruz
The U.S.-Mexican War—(1846-1848):
The Mexican-American War was the first major conflict driven by the idea of "Manifest Destiny"; the belief that America had a God-given right, or destiny, to expand the country's borders from 'sea to shining sea'. This belief would eventually cause a great deal of suffering for many Mexicans, Native Americans and United States citizens. Following the earlier Texas War of Independence from Mexico, tensions between the two largest independent nations on the North American continent grew as Texas eventually became a U.S. state. Disputes over the border lines sparked military confrontation, helped by the fact that President Polk eagerly sought a war in order to seize large tracts of land from Mexico.
CAUSES OF CONFLICT:
The war between the United States and Mexico had two basic causes. First, the desire of the U.S. to expand across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean caused conflict with all of its neighbors; from the British in Canada and Oregon to the Mexicans in the southwest and, of course, with the Native Americans. Ever since President Jefferson's acquisition of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, Americans migrated westward in ever increasing numbers, often into lands not belonging to the United States. By the time President Polk came to office in 1845, an idea called "Manifest Destiny" had taken root among the American people, and the new occupant of the White House was a firm believer in the idea of expansion. The belief that the U.S. basically had a God-given right to occupy and "civilize" the whole continent gained favor as more and more Americans settled the western lands. The fact that most of those areas already had people living upon them was usually ignored, with the attitude that democratic English-speaking America, with its high ideals and Protestant Christian ethics, would do a better job of running things than the Native Americans or Spanish-speaking Catholic Mexicans. Manifest Destiny did not necessarily call for violent expansion. In both 1835 and 1845, the United States offered to purchase California from Mexico, for $5 million and $25 million, respectively. The Mexican government refused the opportunity to sell half of its country to Mexico's most dangerous neighbor.The second basic cause of the war was the Texas War of Independence and the subsequent annexation of that area to the United States. Not all American westward migration was unwelcome. In the 1820's and 1830's, Mexico, newly independent from Spain, needed settlers in the underpopulated northern parts of the country. An invitation was issued for people who would take an oath of allegiance to Mexico and convert to Catholicism, the state religion. Thousands of Americans took up the offer and moved, often with slaves, to the Mexican province of Texas. Soon however, many of the new "Texicans" or "Texians" were unhappy with the way the government in Mexico City tried to run the province. In 1835, Texas revolted, and after several bloody battles, the Mexican President, Santa Anna, was forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco in 1836 . This treaty gave Texas its independence, but many Mexicans refused to accept the legality of this document, as Santa Anna was a prisoner of the Texans at the time. The Republic of Texas and Mexico continued to engage in border fights and many people in the United States openly sympathized with the U.S.-born Texans in this conflict. As a result of the savage frontier fighting, the American public developed a very negative stereotype against the Mexican people and government. Partly due to the continued hostilities with Mexico, Texas decided to join with the United States, and on July 4, 1845, the annexation gained approval from the U.S. Congress.
Mexico of course did not like the idea of its breakaway province becoming an American state, and the undefined and contested border now became a major international issue. Texas, and now the United States, claimed the border at the Rio Grande River. Mexico claimed territory as far north as the Nueces River. Both nations sent troops to enforce the competing claims, and a tense standoff ensued. On April 25, 1846, a clash occurred between Mexican and American troops on soil claimed by both countries. The war had begun.
DESCRIPTION OF CONFLICT:
The Mexican-American War was largely a conventional conflict fought by traditional armies consisting of infantry, cavalry and artillery using established European-style tactics. As American forces penetrated into the Mexican heartland, some of the defending forces resorted to guerrilla tactics to harass the invaders, but these irregular forces did not greatly influence the outcome of the war.
After the beginning of hostilities, the U.S. military embarked on a three-pronged strategy designed to seize control of northern Mexico and force an early peace. Two American armies moved south from Texas, while a third force under Colonel Stephen Kearny traveled west to Sante Fe, New Mexico and then to California. In a series of battles at Palo Alto and Resaca de Palma (near current-day Brownsville, Texas), the army of General Zachary Taylor defeated the Mexican forces and began to move south after inflicting over a thousand casualties. In July and August of 1846, the United States Navy seized Monterey and Los Angeles in California. In September, 1846, Taylor's army fought General Ampudia's forces for control of the northern Mexican city of Monterey in a bloody three-day battle. Following the capture of the city by the Americans, a temporary truce ensued which enabled both armies to recover from the exhausting Battle of Monterey. During this time, former President Santa Anna returned to Mexico from exile and raised and trained a new army of over 20,000 men to oppose the invaders. Despite the losses of huge tracts of land, and defeat in several major battles, the Mexican government refused to make peace. It became apparent to the Polk Administration that only a complete battlefield victory would end the war. Continued fighting in the dry deserts of northern Mexico convinced the United States that an overland expedition to capture of the enemy capital, Mexico City, would be hazardous and difficult. To this end, General Winfield Scott proposed what would become the largest amphibious landing in history, (at that time), and a campaign to seize the capital of Mexico.
On March 9, 1847, General Scott landed with an army of 12,000 men on the beaches near Veracruz, Mexico's most important eastern port city. From this point, from March to August, Scott and Santa Anna fought a series of bloody, hard-fought battles from the coast inland toward Mexico City. The more important battles of this campaign include the Battles of : Cerro Gordo (April 18), Contreras (August 20), Churubusco (August 20), Molino del Rey (September 8) and Chapultepec (September 13). Finally, on September 14, the American army entered Mexico City. The city's populace offered some resistance to the occupiers, but by mid-October, the disturbances had been quelled and the U.S. Army enjoyed full control. Following the city's occupation, Santa Anna resigned the presidency but retained command of his army. He attempted to continue military operations against the Americans, but his troops, beaten and disheartened, refused to fight. His government soon asked for his military resignation. Guerrilla operations continued against Scott's lines of supply back to Veracruz, but this resistance proved ineffective.
On February 2, 1848, The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo was signed, later to be ratified by both the U.S. and Mexican Congresses. The treaty called for the annexation of the northern portions of Mexico to the United States. In return, the U.S. agreed to pay $15 million to Mexico as compensation for the seized territory. The bravery of the individual Mexican soldier goes a long way in explaining the difficulty the U.S. had in prosecuting the war. Mexican military leadership was often lacking, at least when compared to the American leadership. And in many of the battles, the superior cannon of the U.S. artillery divisions and the innovative tactics of their officers turned the tide against the Mexicans. The war cost the United States over $100 million, and ended the lives of 13,780 U.S. military personnel. America had defeated its weaker and somewhat disorganized southern neighbor, but not without paying a terrible price.
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CONSEQUENCES OF CONFLICT:
1. The United States acquired the northern half of Mexico. This area later became the U.S. states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
2. President Santa Anna lost power in Mexico following the war.
3. U.S. General Zachary "Old Rough and Ready" Taylor used his fame as a war hero to win the Presidency in 1848. A true irony is that President Polk, a Democrat, pushed for the war that led to Taylor, a Whig, winning the White House.
4. Relations between the United States and Mexico remained tense for many decades to come, with several military encounters along the border.
5. For the United States, this war provided a training-ground for the men who would lead the Northern and Southern armies in the upcoming American Civil War.
UNIQUE FACTS OR TRENDS:
1. This war featured the first major amphibious landing by U.S. forces in history.
2. The defeat of Mexico was the first time a foreign enemy force occupied the capitol of the nation. The French would also occupy Mexico City in the 1860's.
3. Despite early popularity at home, the war was marked by the growth of a loud anti-war movement which included such noted Americans as Ralph Waldo Emerson, former president John Quincy Adams and Henry David Thoreau. The center of anti-war sentiment gravitated around New England, and was directly connected to the movement to abolish slavery. Texas became a slave state upon entry into the Union.
4. One interesting aspect of the war involves the fate of U.S. Army deserters of Irish origin who joined the Mexican Army as the Batallón San Patricio (Saint Patrick's Battalion). This group of Catholic Irish immigrants rebelled at the abusive treatment by Protestant, American-born officers and at the treatment of the Catholic Mexican population by the U.S. Army. At this time in American history, Catholics were an ill-treated minority, and the Irish were an unwanted ethnic group in the United States. In September, 1847, the U.S. Army hanged sixteen surviving members of the San Patricios as traitors. To this day, they are considered heroes in Mexico.