Towards a History of Mexican American Participation in World War I, Part I

9 Oct

Pages from 30-31 - CompositionFormerNatlGuardUnits.1916

The centennial anniversary of American involvement in World War I permits a closer look at the diverse racial and ethnic groups who participated in the Great War. In this blog post, we are attempting to reveal how the construction of social and military histories of Mexican Americans, particularly from Texas, called “Tejanos,” can be built through the examination of Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in Record Group 120. Documents from diverse NARA collections, such as draft registration cards, the federal census, and even maps, further contribute diverse perspectives and triangulation to soldier experiences and backgrounds. Some records have been accessed through Ancestry.com, one of NARA’s digitization partners.

Histories concerning the role of soldiers of Mexican descent, whether U.S. born,  naturalized, or seeking citizenship, are particularly scarce. The U.S. military’s classification of Mexicans as “White” in World War I – and thus interspersed with other ethnicities – has challenged historians documenting participation of this group of Latinos. The AEF’s 36th Division, nicknamed the “Lone Star Division,” and the 90th Division, nicknamed the “Tough ‘Ombres” [‘Ombres for “Hombres” in Spanish meaning “men”] offer researchers rich material to construct histories and collective biographies of Tejano participants.

The path to unearthing and bringing forward these narratives began with identifying divisions composed of former National Guard units from the Southwestern states. Fortunately, volunteers from the National Archives at College Park, had found a cache of over 2,000 first person accounts of soldiers “going over the top” in the 36th Division. Now completely digitized and searchable in the National Archives Catalog, these records offer rich descriptions during the intense battles in France during the last months of war in 1918.

So begins part 1 of a two-part post by MacDonald and Taylor at the National Archives The Text Message. You may read the entire post, with links, here.

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