Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War

by Duncan Tonatiuh (Author)

Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

Award-winning author Duncan Tonatiuh brings to life the story of a Mexican-American war hero José de la Luz Sáenz (1888-1953)--or Luz--believed in fighting for what was right. Although he was born in the United States, he and his family experienced prejudice because of their Mexican heritage. When World War I broke out, Luz volunteered to join the fight. Because of his ability to quickly learn languages, he became part of the Intelligence Office in Europe. However, despite his hard work and intellect, Luz often didn't receive credit for his contributions. Upon his return to the US, he joined other Mexican-Americans whom he had met in the army to fight for equality. His contribution, along with others, ultimately led to the creation of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which is the oldest Latino civil rights organization. Soldier for Equality is based in part on Luz's diary during the war. It includes a biography of Luz's later years, an author's note, a timeline, a bibliography, and an index.

Publishers Weekly

Although he was an American citizen, José de la Luz Sáenz (1888-1953) was beaten up and denied access to local Texan businesses because his parents were of Mexican origin. He determined to fight back: "Luz knew that knowledge was a weapon that helped you defend yourself against those who were mean to you and ignored your rights." First a teacher, he joined the army and shipped out to Europe to fight in WWI. Quick to learn French, he was promoted to intelligence work, but he was never given a higher rank or more pay. His friendships with other Mexican-American soldiers led him to help form the League of United Latin American Citizens, an organization that advocated for equal rights for Latinx Americans. Characteristic illustrations by Tonatiuh (Danza!) use carved-stone faces and formal, ceremonial postures to represent the characters in this picture book. An inspiring introduction to an underrepresented figure who pursued his lifelong vision for equality and justice. Ages 6-8. (Sept.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 1-3--José de la Luz Sáenz knew that many people who had roots in Mexico were hard workers, just like his father, and he did not understand why people were mistreated simply because of their heritage. Luz, who was born in Texas, experienced discrimination firsthand and made it his goal to help others of Mexican descent. After working as a teacher, Luz joined the army to fight in World War I in the hopes that others would realize that Mexican Americans were also willing to sacrifice for the United States. Although Luz faced discrimination, even from some of his fellow soldiers, he made close friends and spent his time studying French, which helped him earn a position in communications receiving, translating, and sending messages. Upon his return to the States, Luz was disappointed to learn that the discrimination faced by Mexican Americans had not changed. Together with other war veterans in Texas, Luz worked to improve the rights of Mexican Americans, ultimately forming the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)--an organization that fought for democracy, justice, and equality. Tonatiuh's traditional hand-drawn and collage-style illustrations depict Luz and his fellow Mexican Americans' trials and victories, as well as the tragedies of the war. Clear, descriptive text traces Luz's life and provides insight into his thoughts, feelings, and determination. VERDICT A culturally and historically important work focusing on an inspirational Mexican American soldier who fought for America during the Great War, as well as for equal rights for his fellow Mexican Americans. An essential purchase for all children's nonfiction collections.--Selenia Paz, Harris County Public Library, Houston

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"The author's insightful use of Sáenz's war-diary entries boldly introduces this extraordinary American's triumphs and struggles . . . An important contribution to this volatile chapter in U.S. and Mexican American history."—Kirkus Reviews
Duncan Tonatiuh
Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-tee-YOU) is an award-winning author-illustrator. He is both Mexican and American. He grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and graduated from Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College in New York City. His artwork is inspired by pre-Columbian art. His aim is to create images and stories that honor the past, but are relevant to today's people, especially children. He currently lives in San Miguel with his family but travels in the United States often.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Harry N. Abrams
Publication date
September 20, 2019
BISAC categories
JNF053140 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Social Topics | Prejudice & Racism
JNF007110 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Social Activists
JNF007020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Historical
JNF025210 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | United States/20th Century
JNF025130 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | Military & Wars
JNF018030 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - Hispanic/Latino
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
Civil rights workers
United States
World War, 1914-1918
Mexican Americans
Participation, Mexican American
Saaenz, Josae de la Luz

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