Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh

Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh
Purchased from FirstBook

Teacher, father, soldier, translator, organizer, shiner of "light on the injustices that the people of Mexican origin" living in America experienced: Luz Sáenz was all of these things, and more. Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War is yet another superb picture book biography about an important American civil rights activist. Tonatiuh is a talented artist and author who has a gift for bringing context to his non-fiction picture books. José de la Luz Sáenz, or Luz, which is how his family and friends referred to him, was born in South Texas on May 17, 1888. A Tejano, a Texan of Mexican or Hispanic descent, Luz experienced prejudice and racism from an early age. Forced to attend separate and inferior schools, bullied, beaten and kept out of stores and restaurants by signs that read NO MEXICANS ALLOWED, Luz let his father's advice, "don't let anyone make you feel ashamed. You should always be proud of who you are," guide him. In 1905 Luz graduated high school and went on to become a teacher of students of Mexican descent like him, frustrated that the school white children attended was larger and nicer. 

Before he could fight for the rights of his students, Luz decided to fight for his country, joining the army in 1918. Luz believed it was his duty to serve his country, but he also hoped to "demonstrate that Mexican Americans loved America and would give their lives fighting for it," encouraging the people mistreating them to being to treat Mexican Americans fairly. Unfortunately, Luz experienced more discrimination and racism in the military. Already bilingual, Luz taught himself French once stationed in Rouvres-sur-Aube, securing him a post away from the trenches, thirty feet underground where he worked as a translating messages and relaying them to others. Before he returned to Texas, Luz and fellow Mexican American soldiers had resolved to "create an organization that looks after the soldiers of Mexican origin that fought in this war."

Luz returned home to parades and celebrations for American soldiers, but when this ended, he was saddened to realize that things has not improved for people of Mexican origin while he was gone. He met with many Tejanos who supported the war effort on the home front, working extra hard and buying Liberty bonds, but still being mistreated. Over the next ten years, Luz met with other Mexican American civil rights leaders, giving speeches and working to get people involved. In 1929, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was born. José de la Luz Sáenz, author of (as far as historians know) the only war diary published by an American World War I soldier of Mexican descent, fought for igualdad, equality, until his death in 1953.

As always, Tonatiuh provides excellent back matter, starting with his author's note. Notations of direct quotes from Luz's dairy, as well as an index, a select bibliography and a glossary are also included, along with a select timelien of the United States' and Luz's involvement in World War I and a select timeline of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

More books by Tonatiuh!

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