Soldados Razos at War: Chicano Politics, Identity, and Masculinity in the U.S. Military from World War II to Vietnam by Steven Rosales
Scholars have always looked to wars to engage important themes in U.S. history, not the least of which is the military service of minorities and its impact on their lives, families, and communities. Steven Rosales revisits this subject with a focus on Mexican Americans during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. His purpose is to give depth and breadth to their [End Page 127] experience with ground-level autobiographical accounts drawn mostly from oral narratives. He demonstrates the value of oral histories in revealing personal experiences and motivations to inform trying and often horrific combat experiences, social and cultural adjustments upon returning home, and psychological changes that help us better understand the important role that veterans can play in their communities: the martial citizenship that many of them practice upon their return.
The book spans thirty-five years and provides a broad historical sweep with a clear and thorough knowledge of works on Chicano and Latino history, critical men’s studies, war and society, and oral history methodology. Rosales’s introduction offers a lucid and comprehensive conceptual and historiographical statement that sets up the various chapters with the omnipresent voice of the informants. Rosales focuses on the experience of military service as well as socioeconomic mobility, gender identity, and postwar political activism across three generations of veterans. One of Rosales’s major challenges is to make sense of the impact of very different experiences and historical circumstances associated with each of the wars.
Rosales addresses important research questions and deepens our understanding of the subject. For instance, he provides social histories about veteran communities from the Southwest and selected places in Michigan to establish the largely working-class background of the soldiers as well as the challenges of poverty and discrimination that they faced. Rosales examines the three-war period by addressing important topics such as the motivations that led to military service, combat contributions, acculturation experiences, military history, and popular U.S. culture. He follows with interpretive chapters on the effects of military service on masculinity, socioeconomic mobility, and postwar political activism.
Rosales predictably concludes that military service reinforced masculinist ideas and practices. He also posits that federal programs like the G.I. Bill made a difference in the lives of Chicano veterans. Regarding post-war activism, Rosales concludes that military service accentuated an ethnic political consciousness and an expanded sense of group belonging and civic responsibility that often found expression in organizations like the American G. I. Forum. The author certainly provides a far-reaching and well-prepared account of Mexican American soldiers and veterans.
Despite the book’s obvious strengths, Rosales could have interrogated some central research questions more fully. For instance, how does the Mexican American military experience compare with other groups or between the U.S.-born and other Latinos who served in the U.S. military during WWII? Also, to what extent can we single out the G.I. Bill to explain changes in the socio-economic standing of Mexicans if they were also benefitting from sometimes meager, yet important, prior upward mobility trends in the 1920s, 1940s, and 1950s? In this same vein, how does one disaggregate military service in the relationship between military service [End Page 128] and activism to account for pre-war continuities like movement politics, urban-based liberal coalitions, and Americanization campaigns?
Rosales’s book is the best work yet on Mexican Americans in the military and its impact on their persons and communities. His reliance on first-hand accounts is unprecedented and lends great authority to the book. Rosales clearly advances our knowledge of Mexican American and Latino veterans, and their varied responses to military service.