"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mayhem Was Our Business by Sabine R. Ulibarri

Note at the time of the writing of this review Among the Valient had not be republished. Mayhem was already an older book at the time of this review. I wrote it upon the passing of Ulibarri.


Book Review: Mayhem Was Our Business
By Raymundo Elí Rojas

Memorias de un veterano
Author: Sabine R. Ulibarrí

More than 50 years ago, something out of the ordinary happen to a group of people. Actor Tom Hanks said, "they did nothing less than save the free world." He spoke of the young men and women who went to fight in World War II.

However, another thing happened to many Mexican Americans, many who had never before left their cities and hometowns. Suddenly, 18-year-old boys from the Segundo Barrio of El Paso found themselves on the beaches of Normandy. Mexican American men from the Argentine barrio of Kansas City, were suddenly in the previously unknown island of Guadalcanal, and in Sabine R. Ulibarrí's case, young men from the Tierra Amarilla of Northern New Mexico were flying bombing missions over Europe.

So are the tales in Mayhem Was Our Business: Memorias de un veterano (Bilingual Press ISBN 0927534649) by Sabine R. Ulibarrí. Like Abelardo Delgado, Felipe Ortego, Americo Paredes, Josephina Niggli, and other Mexican Americans, Ulibarrí was publishing way before the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 70s caught up with them.

Ulibarrí attended Georgetown University, but when he could no longer afford it, he withdrew and volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Force.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. "The following morning," Ulibarrí says, "there were long lines of young men at the Tierra Amarilla draft board. The Hispanos came out of the mountains, out of the valleys, from all surrounding villages to volunteer. What we were ready to fight for, suffer for, die for, was our Hispanic way of life."

Ulibarrí passed the test to become a pilot, but after the Air Force found his hands shook too much, he was sent to gunnery school.

Soon the author rushed home to marry his girlfriend and then found himself on his way to the war. "We assumed we were going to the Pacific, but once up in the air in the bomber, the pilot opened our orders and it was to Europe." Like many American G.I.s, Ulibarrí enjoyed himself in the streets of London, England.

One of the most touching stories about his stay in England is "The English woman," where he describes the plutonic relationship he developed with a woman. Meeting her in a lonely bar, the woman showed him the many parts of London. The two would write to each other over the years.

His squadron flew daily bombing missions over Europe. "They (Germans) shot cannons at us that fired metal projectiles that exploded in the air at the altitude determined by them and filled the sky with thousands of pieces of murderous metal . . . I felt a blow on my side.

A piece of shrapnel, the ize of my fist, hit the parachute I carried on my left side with uch force hat it knocked me out."

"It was a time of dying," Ullibarrí describes. "A river of corpses flooded the cemeteries and other unknown graves . . . "

Ulibarrí's memoir is one of the few narratives coming from the Mexican Americans veterans of the Greatest Generation.

The other, Among the valiant: Mexican-Americans in WWII and Korea by Raul Morin is yet to be republished. Morin published that book with the help of the American G.I. Forum, the organization that Mexican Americans created when many returning Mexican American veterans found that because they were Mexican American, and though they risked their lives for their country, they were denied membership to the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW).

Families found that many of their sons, who had given their lives, could not be buried in the local cemeteries because they were brown. This was a darker side of the Greatest Generation.

Nonetheless, WWII was a liberating event. "The G.I. Bill was the Emancipation Proclamation for the Hispano," Ullibarrí says, describing how the bill let many Mexican Americans and other Latinos go to college.

Born in Tierra Amarilla, N.M., in 1919, into the 21st Century, Ullibarrí was one of the few Mexican American writers who still published in Spanish. Teaching at the University of New Mexico for many years, Ullibarrí won many literary awards, not to mention the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.

Ulibarrí passed away, January 2002. Dennis Bixler-Marquez, director of Chicano Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso said he was "a teacher to some and friend to many others."

Raymundo Elí Rojas is the editor of Pluma Fronteriza (plumafronteriza@msn.com), a publication dedicated to Latino and Chicano writers in the El Paso/Cd. Juarez/Las Cruces region. He is currently studying law at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
(c) Raymundo Elí Rojas 2003. This is copyrighted and property of Raymundo Elí Rojas. This book review may not be published without his consent.

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