Jose Robert Zaragoza

When Jose R. Zaragoza returned from World War II, he found an invigorated Los Angeles ripe with opportunities for younger generations of Latinos.

Zaragoza was born in Los Angeles, Calif. in 1920. His parents had emigrated with his two older brothers from Mexico to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution. When he was 9, his family moved to the flatlands of Northern California right before the onset of the Great Depression. Although he did attend school in California for a short time, he quit to work in the fields.

Jose Ramirez

By Will Potter

Jose Ramirez remembers his first job: selling newspapers in downtown San Diego. After walking two miles home at the end of his first day of work, he proudly told his parents he earned 3 cents.

He was only 8 years old.

By the time he was 12, he was paying for his own clothing and some other expenses, so his parents wouldn’t have to support him as much. He worked to ease the burden on his parents so they could support his 10 siblings, he said.

Peter Salcedo

By Diana Lee

As a child in southern California, Pete Salcedo hid in embarrassment during lunch to eat homemade tacos.

"At that time you didn't have all these Mexican restaurants," Salcedo said. He thinks their growing popularity in mainstream America caused him to stop hiding his Mexican food.

Tizoc Romero

By Dennis Robbins

Although he faced criticism from minorities for fighting in the war, Tizoc Romero, a veteran of World War II, feels his involvement in the war opened the doors to a lifetime of achievement.

During the 1930s, or Great Depression period, many Americans, especially minorities, faced the hardships of poverty, war, discrimination and an economy that excluded many of them. Romero witnessed a troubled country.

John Rubalcava

By Alexandra Ritchie

Frigid nights out in the snow. Soldiers huddled together for warmth, exposed to the elements and at the mercy of German firepower. Mangled bodies of half-dead soldiers screaming, "Medic, medic!" into the dark. For more than 40 years, these memories have haunted John Rubalcava, who lost countless friends on the battlefield of Europe during World War II.

"You feel terrible when you see your friends get killed," Rubalcava said. "It's something that hits you in the stomach and stays with you."

Leon Leura


In the beginning of 1944, 22-year-old Tech. Pvt. Leon "Jack" Leura was among the American troops able to cross the raging Rapido River, and help gain control of Italy. That summer, a wounded Leura would be taken prisoner by the Germans, escape and then travel across Russia before he would return home.

Leura was in the 36th Division; Company A, 111th combat engineers. As a Tech 5th grade he discovered and destroyed mines.

Gilbert Castorena

By Christine Emmot

Growing up in the North Island neighborhood of San Diego, Ca., before World War II, Gilbert Castorena had a childhood filled with good memories of his family, friends and school days.

Those relaxing days changed in 1940 when Castorena signed up for the U.S. Navy. He was shipped out to fight, mostly in the Pacific Theatre, during World War II.

Encarnacion A. Gonzalez


Lying in a cold stream with a bullet wound to his chest, Encarnacion Armando Gonzales felt his body getting weaker and thought his life was over. Surrounded by the enemy in the Aleutian Islands, he had been shot by a sniper.

Guy Gabaldon

By Ruchika Joshi

Guy Gabaldon said he stopped counting how many people he was taking prisoner in Saipan during World War II. But in a 1957 episode of the television program, "This Is Your Life," his fellow Marines credited him with single-handedly capturing more than 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians.

He was hero at 18. In 1960, a movie was made of his life, called "Hell to Eternity." But the role of Gabaldon was changed from being a short Mexican American from East Los Angeles to the tall, blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter.

Andrew Esparza

By Jacob Collazo

In the late 1930s, as war intensified in Europe, the United States was coming out of the Depression, but not yet directly involved in the War. In San Diego, a high school student named Andrew C. Esparza was biding his time: anticipating that he would serve his country, but enjoying his youth.