War & Locale: World War II -- China-Burma-India Theater
Date of Birth:
Maggie Rivas Rodriguez
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By Amanda Roberson
When Raymond Muñiz came home to Corpus Christi, Texas, after serving his country in World War II, he expected to see greater equality for Mexican Americans: more Latinos in city positions such as mayor, for example.
Unfortunately, Muñiz says he didn’t find this to be the case: Anglos were still in charge and Mexican Americans were virtually powerless.
It wouldn’t be until the 1970s -- when, among other things, his nephew, Ramsey Muñiz, ran twice for governor of Texas as a candidate of the Raza Unida party -- that he’d witness Latinos make serious challenges to the Anglo-dominant political power structure. These years were the height of the Chicano Movement, of which Muñiz was a strong supporter, particularly through Ramsey’s 1972 and 1974 campaigns.
“The Chicano movement should have been stronger,” said Muñiz, who noted his politics aren’t conservative because, “I’ve seen too many things.”
Muñiz grew up aware of inequality. In school in Robstown, Texas, and later in Corpus, Anglos and Latinos were separated into different classrooms. Exacerbating the inequality, most Latino students had to work on farms and only attended school intermittently.
“We should have been together,” Muñiz said. “It was a two-room school; one for Anglos, one for Hispanics. They weren’t created the same.”
Muñiz was born Feb. 25, 1923, in Laredo, where his father worked as an immigration officer and later became a deputy. In the late 1920s, the Muñizes moved to Robstown, where his father was a sharecropper on 500 acres, raising maize, corn and cotton. Educational opportunities for the 10 Muñiz children were limited in rural Robstown, however, so the family moved to Corpus in the late 1920s.
When Pearl Harbor was hit Dec. 7, 1941, Muñiz was still in high school and working at Jitney Jungle, a local grocery store chain. Muñiz and three of his brothers, Rudy, Reynaldo and Robert, entered the war, but unlike his older brothers, Muñiz was too young to be drafted. At only 17, his mother had to sign him in. She was reluctant, but he persisted.
“I didn’t want to be drafted, I volunteered,” said Muñiz, who entered the service in 1942, attended basic training in San Antonio, Texas, and then went to Gulf Port, Miss., for aviation mechanic training.
“Every time I saw a plane fly, I said that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
As a flight engineer with the Army Air Force’s 1103rd unit, Muñiz’s job was to watch the airplane instruments while the pilots flew and navigated. He says he made sure engines didn’t overheat and that fuel transfers between engines were successful.
Any time he came across another Latino, from anywhere, he was happy to hear the Spanish tongue, says Muñiz, who recalled thinking: “Well hey, you’re talking my language!”
He says Latinos in the military felt a unity because they’d overcome many of the same obstacles.
Muñiz grew up speaking only Spanish at home. In addition to being comforting and convenient at times, his Spanish-speaking skills made him a hero at one point during the war to a group of Brazilian pilots who spoke little Spanish and no English. He helped fly cargo planes from Dakar, Africa, to Calcutta, India, and at one reload in Dakar, he and the Brazilian pilots had similar engine problems.
“They were tickled pink about it [speaking Spanish] because they had a serious problem on one of the engines,” Muñiz said. “They called the chief from that area and he was Anglo and he didn’t understand.”
According to Muñiz, some military officials disapproved more than others of American Latinos speaking Spanish. For example, a group of Latinos was reprimanded at one point for speaking Spanish amongst themselves, but when they subsequently appealed to a commander, he sided with them, demoting the sergeant who’d punished them, Muñiz says.
Even though Latinos sometimes faced obstacles in the military – for example, Muñiz claimed in writing after his interview that the time limits the Air Force gave him and fellow Latinos to work within while taking qualification tests were different from the time limits Anglos were given to work within – the war opened doors for them as well. Among other ways, veterans could use the GI Bill to pay for schooling and help build careers after they served.
“World War II was the best thing to happen to Mexicanos because once they got back they had the GI,” he said. “They could go to any school for free, GI rights.”
Muñiz served almost four years in the war. He was discharged Feb. 18, 1946, seven days before his 23rd birthday, at the rank of Corporal.
As a member of the Air Force Reserves, the United States called upon him for duty during both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. He says he left the Reserves in 1972 at the urging of his wife, Elida Garza Muñiz.
Sixty years after being discharged, Muñiz says life for his children and grandchildren is much better.
“I think they are going to be better off.” he said. “For one thing, you make sure they start and stay in school. Education is a must.”
At the time of his interview, Muñiz had five children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and had been married to Elida for 58 years.
He says the war opened his eyes to a broader world, making him realize upon his return, “There’s another world and other things you can do to better yourself.”
Mr. Muñiz was interviewed in Corpus Christi, Texas, on June 25, 2006, by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez.