Chapter 8: World War II and the Emerging Civil Rights Struggle
4. What contributions did Mexican American women in San Diego make during World War II?
Women too were mobilized during World War II and their experience was crucial for the later struggle for civil rights. In the war hundreds of thousands of Mexican American women had their lives drastically changed by the national emergency of war as they went to work in jobs that had always been reserved for men, in aircraft factories or other war industries.
It was not always easy for women to enter the work force. Lorinda Flores, a Mexican immigrant to San Diego in the 1930s remembered her experience: "
I really enjoyed working... I wanted to grow up and be a buyer work in a store, but I married a typical Mexican male who said you're not going to work your going to have kids and stay home. So that was my jale, I was a house wife." Additionally married women usually had small children and growing families to tend care for, and it just was not possible to hold down a full time job in addition to being a mother. Countering this cultural and economic limit on Mexican American women’s working for wages was a long tradition of their working in part-time and occasional jobs in order to support the family. This was especially true for migrant farm worker families where the entire family worked to help make ends meet. The experience of Hortencia Carrasco, a farm worker in San Diego during the 1930s was typical: "
When I started working I was about 14 or 15 years. I started working at Van Camp in 1943. I went to work to help the family. I had no choice, I had to help my mother, my parents, and the younger kids."
It should be noted that the majority of Mexican American women during World War II were not Rosie the Riveters. They contributed to the war effort in other ways, by raising families and taking care of others. Their prosaic stories have not yet been told--of the difficulties of making ends meet with rationing and scarcity, of the continued discrimination in public services and in education, of the grief over the loss of brothers, uncles, fathers and husbands, of the heroic sacrifices made to keep families together and support the morale of loved ones.