The War and Changing Identities: Personal Transformations
RICHARD GRISWOLD DEL CASTILO
During World War II, millions of people all over the world struggled with fears and deprivation, suffering and death. The effects of this worldwide cataclysm were to be felt for generations to come as the survivors of the violence and unbelievable cruelty shaped their futures and carried with them memories and lessons from the past. For large numbers of Mexican Americans and Mexicans in the United States, this war had many lasting consequences, probably the most important being the redefinition of self-identity from “Mexican” to “Mexican American.” Young men and women left their homes and families for the first time and learned how to live closely with other Americans in an entirely foreign environment— one that challenged others to rethink who they were and the meaning of their lives. For all Americans, it became increasingly evident that this war, fought to eliminate racism abroad, also meant that discrimination at home was morally wrong. Mexican Americans refused to continue to accept their second-class status as a result. This chapter explores the effect of wartime experiences on how Mexican Americans thought of themselves in relation to the larger society, how they constructed their identities during these national crises, and how these identities had implications for a consciousness of civil rights.
More than 3.5 million persons of Mexican descent lived in the southwestern part of the United States when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Of that number, more than half were native-born U. S. citizens, and probably about one-third, or just less than one million,