Memorial Day-Celebrating the Contributions of Mexican Americans
Since the inception of this nation, immigrants have flocked to the United States, drawn by a multitude of motivations such as the pursuit of freedom, the yearning for a secure nation governed by laws, and the aspiration to pave a smoother path for the coming generations. Over centuries, these immigrants have etched their initial encounters with America in the annals of the immigrant press.
La Opinion, a stalwart in the Spanish press, emerged to cater to the needs of Mexican immigrants in the southwest. It sought to safeguard a community abroad while staying tethered to Mexican local news. Rooted in its original vision, La Opinion aimed to preserve and defend Mexican cultural, religious, and moral values in the southwest. As the Mexican population burgeoned, the press’s significance swelled, becoming a vital resource and advisor in addressing the community’s daily trials and triumphs.
A scrutiny of its news content, editorials, columns, and advertisements unveils the paper’s role as a guide and confidant for the community, evolving into an invaluable asset for Mexican migration. La Opinion adopted a pedagogy of ethnic consciousness, emphasizing the importance of immigrant law and the significance of behavior as catalysts against discrimination.
During World War II, the press spotlighted Mexico as the good neighbor and Mexican Americans in California as courageous individuals eager to prove their allegiance by enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces. A poignant example is the Navarez family, whose story, featured in La Opinion on August 19, 1944, depicted a patriotic Mexican-American mother awaiting the mailman with an expectant smile. The homemade tapestry of the American flag she worked on bore seven stars, each symbolizing a Navarez son serving in the U.S. military.
The enlistment of these brave sons, six in the U.S. Army and one in the Marines, became a daily routine for the family, capturing the attention of the United States Secretary of the Navy. In response, a letter expressing gratitude was sent, commending the family’s loyalty and patriotism.
As Mexican Americans joined the U.S. military during World War II, La Opinion played a crucial role in endorsing and promoting Mexican military enlistment. The press not only celebrated the sacrifices of Mexicans in California who joined the armed reserves but actively supported recruitment efforts. Colonel Jack Hastie Jr., Chief of the State Guard of Southern California, enlisted La Opinion’s help in promoting recruitment, emphasizing the importance of cooperation irrespective of citizenship status.
The Spanish press’s collaboration with Colonel Hastie Jr. proved fruitful, as over 1,000 Mexican men volunteered, forming a regiment eager to contribute to the defense of the California coast. La Opinion’s impact resonated, mobilizing the Mexican community in support of the United States’ security and defense objectives.
The enlistment of Mexican Americans in the reserves had begun before World War II, with soldiers signing up during times of peace. The transition from voluntary service to full-time soldiers was accelerated after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The National Guard, initially formed by civilian volunteers, federalized, and drafted Mexican soldiers from diverse backgrounds, including “alien non-citizens,” local rural youths, and High School graduates.
Mexican American enlistment in the military continued to swell, encompassing a diverse group of individuals—some American-born of Mexican parents, others born and raised in Mexico, and a significant contingent born in the United States with roots tracing back to the original settlers and early immigrants in the Southwest. Over 300,000 Mexican Americans volunteered or were drafted, serving with distinction in both the European and Pacific theaters and earning the most Congressional Medals of Honor among all minority groups.
Soledad Quartucci | Latina Republic
Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is a reporting, research, advocacy and charitable organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We fill the void in coverage of urgent social, political, human rights, economic and gender inequalities affecting the Americas. Through our allies in Latin America, we highlight contributions, heritage, history, leadership and innovation. Latina Republic reports on stories that integrate local strategies to the betterment of the region. We make space for and empower unheard voices and celebrate the rich histories of Latin America.