- To the Line of Fire: Mexican Texans and World War I
José A Ramírez's study of the Mexican American experience in the early years of the twentieth century is a prime example of the new scholarship produced by the next generation of Texas historians. He describes the world Mexican Americans lived in during the years leading up to the first world war, but more importantly, he examines the attitudes that white Texans had about Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the training Tejanos received prior to going "Over There," and the encounters that shaped their lives during the last few months of the Great War. Ultimately, Ramírez explains, the experience was transformative for Tejanos, many of whom returned home expecting to be treated as full Americans.
Ramírez, who teaches at Laredo Community College, explains that his work is not a "guns and drums" history of WWI, but rather a social history of the attitudes that shaped the Tejano community, and how the community responded to the mobilization and military service. He bases much of his narrative around the experiences of José de la Luz Sáenz, a teacher from Comal County who wrote a memoir of his experiences following the war. As Ramírez points out, prior to the United States' involvement in the hostilities, incidents like the Plan of San Diego, [End Page 216] the Mexican Revolution, and the Zimmermann Telegram raised suspicion against Tejanos. At first, he notes, the Tejano community reacted in diverse ways to the news of the war. Some left during the so-called Mexican Exodus, some protested, and others hailed the war as an opportunity to show their loyalty to the United States and Texas. Furthermore, an easing of immigration restrictions encouraged many Mexicans and Mexican Americans to return to Texas as the hysteria subsided. Thus, Mexican Americans and Mexicans alike registered for the war effort, and some five thousand served in the conflict.
Ramírez writes that the army's training program had an Americanization component, which for non-English speakers included English-language classes, free legal advice for non-native service personnel, multicultural pamphlets, and efforts to prohibit ethnic slurs among the soldiers. He notes one article in a camp yearbook entitled "Many Soldiers, Many Types: War Made Strange Bunkies, But the Army Made Them All American" (90). In these ways, military service helped Tejanos overcome many of the stereotypes Anglos held about them, especially when the army recognized thirteen Spanish-surnamed soldiers for valor in the field, including five from Texas. World War I thus inculcated a concern for social activism within the Tejano community that led to the establishment of many of the civic groups that eventually gave rise to the League of Latin American Citizens in 1929.
Ramírez's To the Line of Fire is an example of Tejano history's broadening landscape. Rather than focusing solely on the discrimination Mexican Americans faced in early twentieth-century Texas, he successfully illustrates that Tejanos possessed historical agency within their community, and that they adapted to the new roles they made for themselves as a result of the war effort. This book is a welcome and essential addition to Mexican American, Texas, and World War I history scholars' bookshelves.