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Japanese Invade Philipines! Donald Duck learns Spanish! Women vote!

20 August 2007

  (With some enforced time off from the Mex Files, I’ve been working on getting that book I never really got finished put together.  There is a publisher seriously interested – not that I expect a best seller – who I’ve been putting off for much too long.  Since I’ve been working on a short booklet on Gilberto Bosques, too, I guess it’s worth presenting some more on Mexico and the Second World War)  

Although the Cardenas government had briefly flirted with the Axis countries (Germany, Italy and Japan) during the oil crisis, even before World War Two started in 1939, Mexico had agreed to support the Allies (Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, China and the United States).  All recognized the importance of Mexican oil in the coming war, and agreed to put aside their disagreement until the fascists were defeated. 

The Mexicans and the United States governments were both realistic, recognizing neither could afford an enemy for a next door neighbor.  Japan threatened the United States colony of the Phillipines.  Pro-Filipino sentiment among traditonal Catholics in Mexico created anti-Japanese sentiment.  Mexican culture is largely a mixture of Spanish and Indigenous influence.  Filipino culture adds an Asian layer on top. 

Although the Philipines have ethnic ties to the Japanese, the the Filipinos had been converted to Catholism by Mexican missionaries in the 1500s.  The Asian archipelego was part of Mexico until 1814.  After nearly 300 years of the Acapulco-Manilla fleet  there were many Mexicans (and Filipinos)  with social, family and business connections.  Acquired by the United States in 1898 (during the Spanish-American War), the Spanish-speaking Roman Catholic majority Philipines had their own government, and had been promised full independence by 1945.  

Japan openly planned to invade the Philipines, and began a brutal attack in 1941.  Germany and Italy, both as allies of Japan (unpopular with traditional Catholics) and of Spain (unpopular with the leftists) lost still more support among the Mexican people, even among the German and Italian immigrant communities.After the United States declared war in December 1941, the Axis forces tried to cut off oil shipments.  After two Mexican oil tankers were sunk by German submarines, Avilla Camacho declared war,  joining the Allies in May 1942.

The United States was providing most of the Allied weapons and food, and much of the fighting men.  Mexico had never been in a foreign war, but had resources vital to the Allies, besides oil and minerals.  In the end, it would supply 40 percent of the raw materials and food the United States required to fight the war.  The United States was only able to turn out weapons by converting factories that normally made consumer products (things like refrigerators, washing machines and radios) to weapons production.  Even though there was not much consumer demand in the United States, Mexican industries suddenly found they had a huge new export market.  Some US factories simply moved their regular equipment to Mexico, where they could continue to do normal business.

And Donald Duck learned Spanish.  In return for cooperating with the allies in providing oil, President Franklin Roosevelt had promised technology transfers to Mexico as part of the war effort.  While Roosevelt was unable to convince Congress to approve these transfers, he was able to convince Walt Disney and Howard Hughes that Mexico needed help in countering Fascist propaganda.  Both Disney and Hughes’ RKO Studios sent sent film stock and equipment to Mexico, and the technical expertise to set up Churobosco Studios.

The early 1940s was the start of the golden age of Mexican cinema. Nelson Rockefeller, the son of Rivera’s one-time patron John D Rockfeller, Jr. and the future New York Governor and United States Vice President, was at that time a wealthy young man with a serious interest in Latin America.  President Roosevelt sent young Rockefeller on a top-secret mission to research Latin American attitudes toward the United States and the war. 

Rockefeller’s report was worrisome.  Nearly every Latin American country, including Mexico, resented the United States, and there was still widespread support for the fascists.  However, throughout Latin America, Rockefeller found two gringos were extremely popular.  Micky Mouse and Donald Duck.  Disney turned out Latin-flavored cartoons, and Donald Duck learned to do the Mexican Hat Dance as part of the war effort.   

Cans of film were useful, but cans of vegetables would win the war.  Farming had nearly come to a stop in the counties where there was fighting, which left the United States and Mexico feeding the allies. Vegetable farmers especially made money during the war.The huge numbers of soldiers and sailors from the United States also created another problem for the Allies, one that benefited Mexico.  The United States was desperately short of workers. 

The “bracero” program recruited workers willing to go north.   Volunteering to work for the gringos was not only profitable for individual Mexicans (the US salaries were significantly higher than at home), but it was patriotic as well.  If the United States would provide the soldiers, Mexicans could do anything else that was needed.  The “bracero” program was so popular (everyone from poor farmers to teachers and lawyers volunteered to work in US factories, farm fields and to run the railroads), that the Republic itself faced a new situation — there was more work for everyone, and not enough workers. 

Women have always worked in Mexico, but now they were asked to do the jobs always considered “men’s work”.  In the United States, the symbolic women worker was “Rosie the Riveter”, clean-cut, feminine and able to handle heavy equipment.  The “Women Workers Corp” poster girl was a bit earthier – she carried a baby under one arm and a wrench in the other.  Rosie and the Women Workers’ Corps poster sent the same message — a female factory worker was still a woman, but was a patriot fighting a hard battle at the same time. 

Veterans of the “Women Workers’ Corps” (with their own distinctive uniforms) led the push for women’s voting rights after the war.  It should be noted that Mexican women won the right to vote in 1954, earlier than in several European and Latin American countries.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Hiram Joel Jacques permalink
    5 January 2008 9:31 am

    Your forgot to mention the 1941 Treaty between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mexico over claims made against each other. The treaty caused claims to be swapped between the two countries making Mexico then responsible for paying US Hispanics for any of their claims. It was never paid and a clever move by the US to prevent further court actions by US Hispanics against the US.

    San Diego, CA newpspaer article :
    ‘Fight for the Lands’ Texans seek compensation from Mexico for 12 million acres lost after 1848 treaty
    By Sandra Dibble
    April 16, 2005
    EDINBURG, Texas – She learned the story as a little girl, growing up amid rattlesnakes and cactus thorns on a small cattle ranch in south Texas. The land is ours, they told her, all the way to the horizon and beyond. It was granted to our ancestors by Spain and Mexico, they said, then stolen after it became part of the United States in 1848.
    Aminta Zárate wants compensation – from Mexico.
    She is 86, a widow of prodigious memory and unswerving will. Over the past 27 years, she has gone to court, spoken with senators, met with ambassadors, petitioned presidents. And now the former elementary school cafeteria manager has joined forces with a San Diego law professor, demanding more than $2 billion from Mexico on behalf of her group, the Asociación de Reclamantes, or Association of Land Claimants.
    “It’s more than money,” Zárate said on a recent Saturday morning, seated inside a small office attached to her beige brick house in this quiet town of 45,000 residents. “I want justice for what they’ve done to our ancestors, that’s what I want.”
    The story is an odd historical footnote, overlooked in textbooks and unspoken in the classrooms of south Texas. But it has been passed down, like a burning torch, from generation to generation among the descendants of the original European settlers of this harsh, flat region on the U.S.-Mexico border – land that belonged to Spain, then Mexico, then the United States. The Cárdenas and the Cantus and the Ballis, the Longorias and the Cavazos and the Zárates, families whose ancestors never crossed the border. Rather, they like to say, the border crossed them, in 1848, after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
    Their petition boils down to this: In 1941, Mexico signed a treaty with the United States, agreeing to compensate 433 south Texas families for the loss of 12 million acres between the Rio Grande and Nueces rivers. The land once belonged to their ancestors and was part of Mexico, then became U.S. territory when the 1848 treaty was signed. But Mexico never did pay – and it shows no signs it will. ……

  2. 5 August 2011 4:11 pm

    go to and learn the true story of the spanish and mexican land grants in texas by aminta cavazos zarate.

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