RICHARD GRISWOLD DEL CASTILLO
World War II was a turning point in the experience of many Mexican Americans. Within four years, 1941 to 1945, hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans left segregated urban barrios and rural colonias in the Southwest and, for the first time, experienced a kind of equality with white Americans within the military, sacrificing their lives for the cause of democracy and freedom. Other hundreds of thousands of women and men found new factory jobs working in urban areas where, also for the first time, they earned wages equal to those of Anglo-Americans. After the war, as a result of their experiences on the home front and in the military, Mexican Americans were less willing to tolerate a second-class citizenship, having proven their loyalty and “Americanness” during the war. They had come to believe the rhetoric of patriotism, and they wanted to have the civil rights they knew they had earned.
The Mexican American struggle for civil rights predated World War II. In the prewar years, countless labor union activists and community organizers fought against inequality, and many of them continued to do so after World War II. Zaragosa Vargas, in his book Labor Rights Are Civil Rights, has shown how the working-class organizations in the prewar period contributed to an expanded definition of civil rights for Mexican Americans. He argues that in these years, “Mexican Americans initiated a labor and civil rights movement of the postwar years, which formed the foundation of the modern Chicano movement.”1
Mario T. García, in his pioneering study of the Mexican American generation, Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930–1960, has also shown how leaders and organizations from the 1930s were important precursors to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In his words, this Mexican American generation that came of age during the