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PBS WWII Documentary “Forgets” about Latino Soldiers


World War II (1941 -1945)

It has been estimated that anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 Hispanics served in the armed forces during World War II. This represents a range of 2.5 to 5% of all persons who served during the war.

Figures are imprecise because, with the exception of Puerto Ricans, data on Hispanics were not maintained. We do know that over 53,000 Puerto Ricans served during the period 1940-1946.

National guard units from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California had a high representation of Mexican Americans. The US Army has never segregated Hispanic soldiers. Members of Puerto Rico’s National Guard, of the present 65th USA Reserve Command, and of its ancestors, the 65th Infantry Regiment and the 1899 Puerto Rican Regiment US Volunteers, were residents of the island.

Approximately 200 Puerto Rican women served in the Women’s Army Corps.

These little known facts found on the web site Hispanics in the Defense of America won’t be a part of an upcoming PBS documentary series on World War II called The War, from the renown documentarian Ken Burns.


Well, Burns’ researchers say it’s because the documentary is not about any one ethnic group. Curious though, since the accomplishments of the African Americans and Japanese are included, as they rightly should be.

Yet, the Latino presence has been overlooked — otra vez (again).

Was it malicious? No, most probably not. Was it sloppy research? Could be.

Since the news has hit Latino communities across the country, there has been an outcry that Mr. Burns and his team amend their 7-part series and include Latino accomplishments.

Why make such a big deal?

Because by the simple omission that Latinos were present and contributed during this horrendous war, history is not complete, and if it’s not complete – it’s not totally truthful.

There are too many examples where the writers of history fail to recognize the contributions or presence of a particular group. When that happens, who is to know that they were there and that what they contributed was important for posterity.

Not to mention important for the later generations to know that there were patriotic heroes from their own communities, or even families.

According to the facts at the top of the page, the military did not maintain data on Hispanic soldiers — but others have since then.

(Source: U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project)

One in particular is Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez, director of the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project.

She launched the project in 1999 and since then over 500 Latino World War II veterans have been interviewed and their stories preserved for history in a Narrative Archive.

Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez published a book last year based on these interveiws and titled A Legacy Greater Than Words
Stories of U.S. Latinos and Latinas of the WWII Generation.

In 2005, the first book about the subject was edited by Rivas-Rodriguez: Mexican Americans and World War II

So, basically if the researchers had been aware (a.k.a. learned about it in school history classes) that Latinos had a significant presence and made important contributions during World War II, they would have easily found the information for inclusion in their documentary.

To ignore the Latino presence in this war undermines the other story that was happening to a group of people who was being persecuted on the home front, yet returning as heroes.

Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez is personally imploring PBS to rectify this all too common historical omission.

It’s time history gets it right and tells the whole story.

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