Media Resource

Latino Americans: War and Peace

President Harry Truman awards the Congressional Medal of Honor to Macario Garcia, 1945
Photo caption

President Harry Truman awards the Congressional Medal of Honor to Macario Garcia, 1945

The NEH-funded PBS documentary series Latino Americans chronicles the long history of Latinos in what is now the United States. Episode 3: War and Peace focuses on the contributions of Latino Americans during the second world war and the experience of returning servicemen who faced discrimination despite their service. These lesson plans and activities from Humanities Texas include viewing guides to support students as they watch the episode and primary sources to draw out key themes and events introduced by the film.   

Classroom Connections 

The lesson plans and extension ideas in this collection can be used together as a stand-alone unit or broken up to provide a fresh and inclusive supplement to existing units in your curriculum.  

Guiding Questions

  • How did Latino Americans contribute to the war effort on the battlefield and on the home front? 
  • How do the stories of Latino American contributions during WWII change our understanding of the war effort? 
  • What barriers were faced by Latino Americans during the years surrounding WWII? What barriers exist today? 
  • How is service to country related to citizenship? 
Lesson Plans from Humanities Texas

Lesson Plan I focuses on Macario Garcia, the first Latino American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. As students learn in War and Peace, Garcia was later refused service at a café in Richmond, Texas. 

Lesson Plan II examines the Zoot Suit Riots, a series of attacks on Mexican Americans by U.S. servicemen in Los Angeles. Many of those attacked were targeted because they were dressed in baggy and flamboyant "zoot suits" that were associated with Mexican American, African American, and Filipino American youth during the 1940s. 

Lesson Plan III highlights Hector P. Garcia–doctor, veteran, and advocate. He founded the American G.I. Forum to fight for the civil rights of Hispanic veterans, work that eventually led him to serve on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. 

Extension and Research

These lessons use several newspaper articles as primary sources, including an article from the West Texas based Sweetwater Reporter describing the “surrender” of the Zoot Suiters. Use historic newspapers from Chronicling America to explore how these events were reported by local papers throughout the country. Consider comparing articles from mainstream publications as well as papers serving specific populations, such as "Negroes Involved as 'Zoot Suit' Rioting Grips Los Angeles, Calif." from the Jackson Advocate, a Mississippi publication for African American readers. How do these accounts differ? What is at stake for these different publications? 

We offer a Chronicling America Teacher's Guide that provides tips, lessons, and activity ideas for working with historic newspapers. 

Students can use our Smithsonian Learning Lab collection on Race, Gender, and the U.S. Military to get a broader understanding of how issues of race and gender have acted as barriers to equal treatment in the military. Practice analyzing these primary sources with your students or use the collection as a starting point for a research project.