A May 26, 1997 article in the Topeka Capital-Journal indicated that Rudolph (Rodolfo) A. Negrete was likely the only ethnic Mexican war hero from Kansas. At this point, it’s difficult to argue the point.
Negrete was born in Mexico on July 27, 1896. According to the 1997 article, his mother was killed in the Mexican Revolution, and shortly thereafter he and his father came to the United States. They tried their hand at farming near Horton, but by 1915 they were in Topeka working at the Santa Fe shops.
With the American entry into the Great War, Negrete enlisted in the army because he understood in doing so, he could become a American citizen in two years. He enlisted in Texas–there is a question why there and not Kansas–but many Latinos entered the army from Texas and New Mexico. Perhaps it was easier to enlist there than in Kansas. In any case, Negrete was assigned to Company F, 360th Regiment, 90th Division, made up of soldiers from Texas and Oklahoma and which gained the nickname, “Tough ‘Ombres.”
He was discharged at Camp Funston on June 17, 1919, but not before seeing action at Saint Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. He also volunteered for duty in Russia, that often forgotten part of the war.
He returned to Topeka, where he married, raised a family, and was quite active in the community. See the biography: http://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/rudolph-negrete/19686
Rudolph Negrete passed away in Topeka on October 15, 1983.
Let’s raise the question which I can’t seem to find an answer–how many Latino soldiers served from Kansas?
According to the 1997 Capital-Journal article, Negrete himself might object to the Latino classification. His daughter was quoted as saying, ” He always said the day he set foot in this country he was an American. Period. No hyphens.” While we respect the viewpoint, that doesn’t stop anyone from asking the question: How many Kansas Latinos?
Discrimination was as much an issue with Latinos as it was with African Americans. It may have even played a part in why Negrete enlisted from Texas, instead of Kansas. Consider this paragraph from the Kansapedia article about Mexican-Americans in Kansas during the First World War:
“In time, Mexican immigrants began to move into the railroad shops and to acquire jobs with a greater degree of permanence. This was of benefit to workers who wanted to bring their families to the United States and establish a permanent residence which formed authentic Mexican American communities. During the First World War Mexicans entered factories to fill the labor shortage caused by men leaving their jobs for the military, the interruption of immigration from Europe,and the massive growth in industry for the war effort.”
Not a word about serving in the armed forces in the First World War. Just filling the labor shortages caused by those who did enter the service.
So here is an opportunity to learn a little more about Latinos / Hispanics in Kansas during the Great War. If you know of a source that reveals such information. please comment. If you have an ancestor who served in WWI, please comment. This seems to be an area of forgotten history.