Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez

Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

There was no guarantee the late Austin artist Sam Coronado would make it out of Vietnam alive. But after he did, he spent the next few decades of his life dedicated to the arts. His last project is “Hard Fought: Sam Coronado’s WWII Series.”

The series features narrative prints depicting the stories of Latino-Americans during World War II. The exhibit draws inspiration from the “VOCES Oral History Project,” a collection of more than 650 interviews and ephemera that give voice to the American Latino experience in World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War.

“Hard Fought” will be on exhibit at the Benson Latin American Collection through May 15.

“Sam Coronado brought his own eye to something we’ve been looking at for several years,” said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, journalism associate professor and director of “VOCES.” “We would never have seen what he saw, what he selected, what color he used. He really lent it his vision, and we’ll always be very grateful for that.”

Exhibition curator Tatiana Reinoza said she believes that through this exhibit, Coronado, who died in 2013, conveys the pride he had for his people.

“A lot of Latinos are really proud that they served, but they haven’t really been given credit for that honorable work,” Reinoza said. “That’s why this show is called ‘Hard Fought’ because it’s a hard-fought battle to gain that recognition, to gain that validation and to know that their sacrifices are valued in the end.”

Reinoza said Coronado created the prints through the serigraphy process, also known as screen printing. Some prints in the collection are mixed media, which incorporates collage elements in the piece. The narrative prints are coupled with oral elements such as interview excerpts taken from the “VOCES Oral History Project.”

Reinoza said Coronado enjoyed serigraphy so much that he opened his own studio in Austin in 1991.

Coronado, a Vietnam veteran who identified as Chicano, knew firsthand the struggle to feel validated for his services to this country. This prompted him to collaborate with Rivas-Rodriguez in 2006.

Julianne Gilland, associate director of scholarly resources and special collections curator at the Benson Latin American Collection, said it has been interesting for viewers to relate to the exhibit.

“This is true whether as American families, who remember their service and sacrifice in wartime with pride, [or] as Latinos, who have had to reconcile those proud histories with some of the social justice and racism that their families have experienced,” Gilland said.

The exhibition resonated with Reinoza, who said she thinks it is vital for young Latinos to understand the importance of their historical presence in this country amid the current immigration debates and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“Young Latinos need to understand that we have a long history in this country, and we have been a part of that special fabric,” Reinoza said. “I think that’s really important for young Latinos to learn and acknowledge.”

UT history graduate student Valerie Martinez has spent the last two years researching for her dissertation, which focuses on Hispanic servicewomen in World War II. Seeing that there was an extensive amount of material on the Hispanic men who served in the war, Martinez chose to focus her dissertation on the servicewomen and their achievements.
Photo Credit: Alexa Ray | Daily Texan Staff

History graduate student Valerie Martinez has read scores of books about WWII but only a few chapters about the subject of her dissertation — the conflict’s Hispanic servicewomen.

“There was a lot of great material available on the Hispanic men who served in World War II, but there were only chapters here and there that spoke to the servicewomen,” Martinez said. “They deserve to be honored in more than just a chapter.”

Martinez placed ads in local newspapers, traveled across the country and sent out over 400 letters to Latino veterans in the hopes of determining the whereabouts of the servicewomen. Although it took almost a year-and-a-half for her searches to yield any results, Martinez wasn’t discouraged. Martinez met with a number of Latino servicewomen, and eventually turned to UT journalism professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez’s VOCES Oral History Project as a source for additional information. Rivas-Rodriguez’s project interviews Hispanic war veterans and records their stories to preserve the triumphs and struggles of the contributors.  

“A lot of these people who had grown up in segregated communities are thrown in with the general population in World War II,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “They were treated as Americans for the first time, not just as Mexican-Americans. It gave them the chance to compare themselves with other people and let them know their skin color had nothing to do with what they were capable of.”

Maria Sally Salazar, one of the women interviewed for the VOCES project, served as a Private First Class in the Women’s Army Corp. Her interview was  a source inspiration for Martinez’s dissertation. In an interview for the VOCES project, Salazar recounted her experience arriving home after the war.

 “To me, it was an experience I would not change for anything in the world because not just anyone can have that,” Salazar said. “My nightmares are with me, and my dreams are with me.”

Martinez was struck that many of the women, despite the difficulties associated with serving, said they would do it all over again. 

“Just hearing their struggles and knowing that these women made these choices for themselves just fascinated me,” Martinez said. “Maria Sally Salazar used her sister’s birth certificate to join, and a lot of the women did things like that, too. The fact that these women were determined to do this out of the bounds of the law was amazing.”

Rodriguez and Martinez both said, for servicewomen such as Salazar, the fight did not end when they returned home. Though they served alongside other Americans, they struggled to assert their rights as American citizens.

“A lot of veterans came back home wanting first-class treatment,” Martinez said. “Even in uniform, many of them recounted being denied service. A lot of the Hispanic men were spearheading the fight for their rights, but it’s
important to recognize that the women, also as veterans, were a part of that struggle.”

Martinez said she found it crucial to convey the contributions of these women to the future generations of Latinas.

“These women have no idea how important they are,” Martinez said. “That was something I wanted to show them and to show the country. The biggest joys that I’ve had have come from letting these women and their families know the importance of what they did. They’re a part of history. These women will get a book written about them.”