This is a book review submitted as part of my final portfolio for Composition I at OLLU.
Defending Diversity in San Antonio
When I read for pleasure, I normally choose a biography of a well known historical figure. Books concerning current events also catch my eye. I normally request these selections from my local library branch via the Internet. I was pleasantly surprised when one of my latest selections arrived because it is a cross between living history and current events taking place here in San Antonio.
In recent weeks the local media has directed our attention towards the Mexican-American contribution during World War II. Ken Burns' latest documentary The War has been criticized for its lack of inclusion of the Hispanic community. Reading Mexican Americans & World War II, edited by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, challenged my overall knowledge about World War II as well as what I think I know about the history of San Antonio and the Latino population at large. Ms. Rivas-Rodriquez is an associate editor of journalism at the University of Texas in Austin.
When I open a book for the first time, I usually glance at the table of contents. I will then skip the preface and introduction and dive right in at the first chapter. Today I'm glad I did not follow my normal routine. Without knowing this important background information, my judgment would have been jaded towards the controversy, without really knowing why the book was compiled in the first place.
Mexican Americans & World War II came to light as part of a two day conference organized in 2000 titled "U.S. Latinos and Latinas and World War II: Changes Seen, Changes Wrought." This book is one component of an oral history project compiled during the conference. The author also states this book has its roots in an article she wrote in 1992 for the Dallas Morning News titled "Brothers in Arms."
Each chapter is an essay written by a different author about a particular theme, such as identity, discrimination and the changing roles for Latina women during this time.
On the West Side, a portrait of Lanier High School during World War II, challenges my own knowledge of the history of San Antonio. This chapter is a must read for anyone living on any side of San Antonio. I did not know that the Alazan/Apache Courts were the first and oldest public housing community in the nation. I read with great interest concerning the history of Lanier Senior High School. The San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) established the first junior high school system in the county, as well as the first vocational junior high school of its kind.
The concept of patriotism during war time was also discussed in detail throughout this chapter. The sale of war bonds by the Lanier student council in 1943 resulted in salvaging 123,000 pounds of scrap metal.
The remaining essays engage the reader by discussing topics that were important in the late 1930's and 1940's. These issues are equally important today; and in most cases, still unresolved. Some of the issues discussed by the remaining essays are racism and race riots, education, lack of advancement without higher education, women in the workplace and immigration. I am hoping that someone in our political arena today will debate these issues and bring them to the forefront of what should really matter in America today.
I had only read the first three chapters of this book when I realized I needed to divert my attention away from the controversy of recent days and weeks, and focus more on the reasons why it is important to be inclusive in society. We can't relive the past, but we should remember and honor the contributions of all Americans during World War II. This book defends diversity and is an important contribution to the legacy of those individuals whose stories unfold before the reader.
Throughout the history of our country, the stories of people of color have often been silenced. Years later, when these voices scream to be heard, we tend to reach out and embrace the culture and begin to chronicle what has been overlooked. I agree that the tremendous achievements recorded in this book demand our respect and attention.
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez is also the author of A Legacy Greater Than Words: Stories of U.S. Latinos and Latinas of the World War II Generation. This volume was published in 2006. I look forward to reading this collection of stories with renewed interest. Ms. Rivas-Rodriquez is also the Director of the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project.