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Saving Private Jose: Midwestern Mexican American men during World War II

Over the years, several movies have been produced highlighting the contributions of American servicemen during World War II. With rare exceptions, most of these films ignore the major contributions of Mexican Americans2. Mexican Americans have clearly distinguished themselves during combat, erasing any lingering doubts about their loyalty to the United States. It is estimated that nearly 500,000 Mexican Americans served during World War II. Mexican American women also played a major role both on the homefront and in the military.3 Wartime has been a mixture of both unmeasureable pain and unforeseen opportunities for the Mexican American community. Many Mexican American men have either been killed or seriously wounded on foreign battlefields, and families have suffered physical separation from their loved ones too many times. Yet, wartime has provided Mexican Americans the opportunity to become U.S. citizens, purchase new homes, attend college, acquire new voting rights, and learn leadership skills. The G.I. Bill, for example, allowed Mexican Americans to attend college and learn skilled jobs, as well as break the cycle of housing discrimination by purchasing federally-owned homes outside their segregated community. All of these opportunities triggered a new wave of political activism beginning in 1946.

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