Chapter 8 : World War II and the Emerging Civil Rights Struggle
- Who was Luisa Moreno?
- What was the Sleepy Lagoon Case and how did the Zoot Suit Riots affect San Diego?
- What were the Mexican American contributions during World War II?
- What contributions did Mexican American women in San Diego make during World War II?
- How did the war experience affect the Americanization of Mexican American women?
- Who were the Braceros and what was their experience?
- Are there any first-hand accounts of the braceros in San Diego?
- How did World War II change Mexican American identity?
During the 1940s and 1950s the Mexicano and Mexican Americans of the San Diego and Imperial Valley border region underwent profound changes due to the cataclysmic events of World War II, a trauma that affected everyone’s life. Thousands of young men joined the military and went off to fight in the war, many of them died heroes’ deaths, others returned with a new commitment to rebuild their lives and those of their communities. Young Mexican women contributed to the war effort by getting jobs in the many war industries that were created in San Diego. They developed a new sense of independence and self-confidence that provided the basis for a later Chicana movement. Those who lived through these years later were part of the struggle to achieve the full civil rights that they were promised during the war. As a result of the changes in the war years, Chicanos and Mexicanos in San Diego gained valuable experience to continue the struggle against discrimination and segregation. The borders that they encountered in these years included segregation and socioeconomic exclusion yet they collectively never accepted these limitations but joined with others to eliminate these borders and establish a strong sense of community.
Although World War II was supposed to be a war against injustice and totalitarianism abroad, there were also struggles on the home front as discrimination in employment, in public services, in schools, and by officials continued. Beginning in 1942 Mexican laborers were brought under contract to the U.S. as "braceros" and they influenced the development of the barrios and colonias. A new labor activism was born through the efforts of Luisa Moreno, an organizer who lived and worked in San Diego, fighting for labor rights and against the discrimination against Mexican youth, called "Pachucos." Racism continued to plague San Diego, and the Ku Klux Klan continued its anti-Mexican operations. In 1953 the federal government’s sponsored Operation Wetback resulted in the repatriation of thousands of immigrants, creating a period of fear and intimidation. All of this ferment prepared the ground for a resurgence of community organizing and the civil rights activism of the 1960s.