World War II was a turning point for the United States, and the war had an impact on U.S. Latinos just as much as other groups. It has been estimated that anywhere from 250,000 to as many as 750,000 Latinos and Latinas served in the armed forces during World War II. Difficulty in pinning down that number is due to the fact that under the race categorization on enlistment and discharge papers, Latinos were variously described as "White," "Mexican" and "NA."
Back home, women worked in civil service jobs or with defense contractors, wrote letters to soldiers and waited for their husbands and brothers to return.
At the end of the war, many (particularly Mexican Americans) returned to segregated communities and an unfriendly society. The war, however, had imbued them with a strong sense of entitlement, as well as educational benefits that would give them tools to challenge inequality. They mounted strong and effective challenges.
Yet, despite making strong contributions to the nation and to their communities, the general histories of the period have not included the experiences of this generation of Latinos, regardless of national background.
Because of that omission, the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project was begun. By creating an archive of excellent primary source material, it is anticipated that writers will understand and include the stories of U.S. Latinos in future accounts. The project has interviewed more than 500 men and women since the spring of 1999. The project's archives are comprised of the interviews, most of them on videotape, as well as digital copies of photographs they have lent to the project and other supporting materials. Archives are being prepared for transfer to the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection and the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
The project has been known for the production of a newspaper dedicated to the interviews. Eight issues of the newspaper Narratives were produced over five years. The final issue was published in the summer of 2004, to make more time to work on books based on the interviews and photographs. The project will continue to accept interviews and encourages the interviewing of family and friends.
A strength of the project has been the building of partnerships with national organizations and universities. One of the most productive of those partnerships has been with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Readjustment Counseling Service, which has Vet Centers in cities throughout the country. With the support of Vet Centers' Hispanic Centers' Hispanic Working Group, the project has been able to conduct individual videotaped interviews with as many as 14 men and women in one day. The project also enjoys a partnership with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and with the California Chicano News Media Association, whose members have interviewed men and women at their sessions.
Over the years, the project has received support from numerous private and public sources.