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War & Locale: World War II -- Other Theaters
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By Melanie Sewell
A pioneer in his field at a time when jobs were scarce, Joe Reyes Nevarez was one of the first Mexican Americans to work for The Los Angeles Times as a reporter.
"I used to tell the managing editor, 'Why don't you employ Mexican Americans?'" said Nevarez, adding that his editors always told him there wasn't anyone who was trained.
"Of course today," he said, "I think the whole staff is Mexican American. There are so many Mexican-American reporters at the Times."
Nevarez came to the United States as a three-month-old baby when his mother crossed the Mexican border into El Paso in 1912. When he was older, he attended a Spanish Catholic school there. Nevarez didn't learn English, however, until he moved with his mother to Los Angeles and was integrated into an English grammar school. He became a U.S. citizen in 1925.
Nevarez's first experiences in journalism were at Lincoln High School, where he became Sports Editor for the school's daily paper. His career at the L.A. Times began as a copy boy, when a friend, who’d worked on the high school paper with Nevarez and had recently been promoted to head copy boy at the Times, offered him an opening. Nevarez's job was to paste up New York Stock Exchange quotations, but he often had the afternoon free to help out in the financial section of the paper. He was paid only $12 for a six-day week, but, at a time when the Depression was hitting the hardest, Nevarez was glad to be working at all.
In May of 1942, at age 31, Nevarez was drafted into the Army. He became part of the Army Air Corps and was stationed at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he worked as permanent personnel – specifically, as a clerk and typist for three years. His job was also to represent his squadron by writing a monthly report for the Army Air Base newspaper.
During a furlough, Nevarez married Theresa Juarez on May 28, 1944. The two lived off-base until he was sent overseas.
"I was old to be getting married," Nevarez said. "I was 32 and she was only 21 years old."
In his four years in the Army during World War II, Nevarez eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant, but never saw combat.
"It was luck of the draw," he said. "They could have sent me to any Army base in the service. After three years in Sheppard Field, everyone was being shipped out. My orders came to go to the Azores."
The Azores are a set of Portuguese islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and North America. Americans gained strategic use of the islands under a British agreement with the Portuguese in 1943.
"Those were my darkest days, not knowing where I would be shipped out to. We had been working in the Orderly Room but now it was time to war," he said.
During his stay on the Azores Islands, Nevarez became a chaplain assistant. He performed the duty of an altar boy during mass, was the driver for the chaplain and handled paperwork pertaining to the ministry.
During his time on the islands, he developed asthma and was hospitalized. He was sent to Birmingham General Hospital in Van Nuys, Calif., where he stayed for his final months before being discharged in December of 1945 at the rank of Sergeant.
Nevarez went back to work at the Times immediately, as a reporter in the business section. He recalls there only being a few Mexican-American reporters at that time.
As a make-up editor, it was his job to set the pages and make sure everything was fitting correctly in the typesetter, or printer. Newspapers at the time were printed on a Linotype machine, which used a 90-character keyboard to print one line at a time in a method called "hot type."
"It's easy to put it on in pencil," he said. "But it's much harder to make it fit with hot type." The ads didn’t give, so they had to work around them, he explained.
The Times employees who worked with the typesetters in the composing room had a club that hosted dinners and gatherings. Navarez says he was the only one from the editorial staff to be invited to these events.
"I was the only guy to become friends with everybody in the pressroom," he said. "Most reporters don't have anything to do with Linotypers or pressmen."
Nevarez says he also volunteered with his local post of the American Legion, later serving as commander of the post.
He and his wife, Theresa Juarez Nevarez, have three children: Margaret, Daniel and Cecilia. Nevarez says he raised his kids speaking English, remembering he and Theresa were punished if they spoke Spanish on school grounds.
"We didn't speak Spanish at home," Nevarez said. "It wasn't until high school that my kids wanted to learn Spanish and wished I had taught it to them earlier. Now all of them can speak Spanish with different levels of fluency."
English was the language everyone spoke around them in Monterey Park, Calif., where Nevarez says he and his wife experienced difficulty finding housing.
"They would not sell to us because we were dark Mexican Americans," he said. "We were lucky to finally be allowed to buy where we did live."
Though he never attended, Nevarez put all three of his children through college. All became professionals; the two daughters went into the education field -- one as a high-school counselor and the other as a teacher -- and his son worked with the Internal Revenue Service.
Nevarez worked for The L.A. Times for a total of 52 years, during which time he also was a founding member of the California Chicano News Media Association. Though he enjoyed his time in the service, he says he was happiest in the newsroom.
"There's nothing better than being a reporter," Nevarez said. "There's something new everyday."
Mr. Nevarez was interviewed in Monterey Park, California, on July 3, 2004, by Steven Rosales.