The World War I Diary of José de la Luz Sáenz

The World War I Diary of José de la Luz Sáenz

The World War I Diary of José de la Luz Sáenz

The World War I Diary of José de la Luz Sáenz


"I am home, safe and sound, and reviewing all these memories as if in a dream. All of this pleases me. I have been faithful to my duty." Thus José de la Luz Sáenz ends his account of his military service in France and Germany in 1918. Published in Spanish in 1933, his annotated book of diary entries and letters recounts not only his own war experiences but also those of his fellow Mexican Americans.

A skilled and dedicated teacher in South Texas before and after the war, Sáenz's patriotism, his keen observation of the discrimination he and his friends faced both at home and in the field, and his unwavering dedication to the cause of equality have for years made this book a valuable resource for scholars, though only ten copies are known to exist and it has never before been available in English. Equally clear in these pages are the astute reflections and fierce pride that spurred Sáenz and others to pursue the postwar organization of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

This English edition of one of only two known war diaries of a Mexican American in the Great War is translated with an introduction and annotation by noted Mexican American historian Emilio Zamora.


José de la Luz Sáenz, the author of the only extant war diary published by a World War I doughboy of Mexican origin, was born on May 17, 1888, in Realitos, Texas. His widowed paternal grandmother, Marcelina, moved her family from the Mexican border town of Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas, to San Diego, Texas, in the 1860s to work for a Mexican family with ranch properties that extended into Texas. The arrival of a family on its way from San Antonio to Mexico led to the expansion of the Sáenz household when the newcomers’ daughter, Cristina Hernández, stayed in Realitos to marry Rosalío, one of Marcelina’s sons. Their union produced six children, including José de la Luz Sáenz. His first name, José de la Luz, suggests an abiding Christian faith as it denotes the biblical José and the heavenly message that he received and obeyed. This association with the divine may explain why Mexican parents give both boys and girls the name “Luz,” a term Sáenz family members affectionately used with him. His adult friends and colleagues preferred his surname. I defer to this more formal salutation.

The young Sáenz-Hernández family led a difficult life that depended on Rosalío’s meager earnings as an itinerant railroad worker and migratory farm laborer. Cristina’s passing, on June 28, 1896, brought even greater hardship, as Rosalío now had to depend on the help of relatives and his oldest daughter, Marcelina, to care for their home and raise the children. Sáenz, who was eight years old when his mother died, recalled spending time with other relatively unsupervised boys, seeking youthful adventures in the ubiquitous chaparral brush. Rosalío’s concern with the welfare of his children may have contributed to his decision in 1900 to marry a woman named Petra Ramos. According to Sáenz, Petra raised them with the same deep love that they had been accustomed to receiving from Cristina. Soon after their marriage, Rosalío and Petra made another important decision: they moved the family to the nearby town of Alice so the children could attend school. This move had a profoundly positive effect on Sáenz’s social and intellectual development.

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