- The World War I Diary of José de la Luz Saenz ed. by Emilio Zamora
Emilio Zamora has done Texas historians a great service by translating and editing the diary of José de la Luz Saenz. This diary, originally published in Spanish in 1933, explores Saenz’s “thoughts, observations, and interactions” with his fellow soldiers of the 90th Division’s 360th Infantry Regiment (7). Written from wartime notes and letters that Saenz penned while in training and in combat, the diary describes in great detail the trials and tribulations of Mexican Americans as they fought to establish themselves as bona fide members of American society. The diary is an original, detailed, and intelligent portrayal of Texas soldiers during World War I.
Saenz perceived the war as a means to achieve “respect, dignity. and equal [End Page 332] rights at home” (10). Throughout the diary, he places great emphasis on Mexican American contributions to the war effort, while distancing himself from Mexican Americans who resisted the draft and in some cases returned to Mexico. Understanding this interplay is central to understanding Saenz’s diary. As he wrote: “All the rattle and the tremendous technological might of this devastating war that visits suffering on most of the world cannot mean much without the social, intellectual, economic, moral, and political advancement of our people in Texas” (68). While the underlying theme is that effort to translate participation in war into social victories back home, Saenz’s diary also is an irreplaceable record of the daily life of United States soldiers during the Great War. From his enlistment in New Braunfels to occupation duty in Germany, he observed the details of daily life in the Army, whether it was being given his first rifle or the seriousness of receiving his uniform: “We were told of the exalted meaning of the uniform we were to wear and of the honor our country was bestowing upon us at a time it was facing the threat of a terrible and powerful enemy” (52). He also offers subtle yet candid descriptions of his fellow soldiers, and excels in his descriptions of Camp Travis and San Antonio. Finally, Saenz spared little in recounting the combat experiences of his division on the Western Front, and his diary conveys all the horror of World War I battles.
The Saenz diary is critical to understanding Texas in World War I as well as the struggle of Mexican Americans in the early twentieth century. Saenz believed the war could be a means to achieve social equality for Mexican Americans in the United States, but in the years after the war he was disappointed with the lack of progress. It led him to conclude that Texans did not appreciate the service of Mexican Americans in the Great War. In order to understand how this complex interplay of emotions, events, and culture shaped one man in his quest to seek respect and equality for his people, this diary is of exceptional value. Thanks must go to Zamora for making this treasure available to a wider audience.