When Enriqueta Andazola's four sons left Sacramento to fight in World War II, her trepidation about what they might face was outshined by a stronger emotion: pride. Andazola—like other mothers of the half million Mexican Americans who fought in the war—was immensely proud of her boys for serving their country. Despite spending years in the United States enduring rampant segregation, lower wages and poor housing conditions on the home front, her patriotism never wavered.
It's widely acknowledged now that World War II was a watershed moment for America's Mexican and Latin American communities. After years on active duty, returning soldiers started making demands for long-overdue civil rights and previously denied respect. It must have been heartening, then, for the veterans to find that some of the groundwork for this new battle had already been laid by the women they'd left at home. One of the most impactful of them was Enriqueta Andazola.
Born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1892, Andazola first came to Sacramento in 1917 to escape the chaos and violence of the Mexican Revolution. Although she had worked as a schoolteacher in Chihuahua, her first job in California was at the Sacramento Wool Company. Andazola subsequently spent 25 years of her life working at the Del Monte cannery.
Though locked out of her profession of choice, cannery work was the primary source of income for much of Sacramento's Chicana community at the time. Andazola found a silver lining in the camaraderie and friendships she enjoyed through work. More from anything else, after her split from husband Ignacio Ramírez, the cannery gave her a steady income on which to raise their sons Joe (née José), Edgardo, John and Paul.
Though Andazola considered herself a proud American, it was never at the loss of her own cultural identity. As her granddaughter Diana Salgado Zuñiga would later note, "If there was anything she passed on to me, it was a true feeling of pride in being a Mexican. She assimilated into the society, but she kept her sense of culture."
As such, throughout her life, Andazola actively kept Mexican traditions alive in Sacramento. She was instrumental in organizing and promoting Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day celebrations, and she was active in establishing community groups for Mexican Americans throughout her lifetime. In 1936, that included a branch of Alianza Hispanoamericana—a community organization that educated, empowered and advocated for people of Mexican descent living in the United States.
For decades, though, Andazola's primary focus was on establishing spaces by and for women. "Men had clubs," she once noted. "I felt that women deserved [clubs] too." So, in 1920, she founded Las Amigas Del Hogar (Friends of Homemakers), a women's group specifically for Chicanas. Nineteen years later, she established the Union Femenil (the Feminine Union). And in 1942, most significantly of all, she co-founded Las Madres Mexicanas de Guerra (Mexican War Mothers), alongside her dear friend, Antima Perez.
Though all women of the era were expected to join in the war effort, Las Madres went above and beyond. They tended to wounded soldiers in local military hospitals. They launched letter-writing campaigns to the soldiers and sent care packages abroad. They held fundraising dinners and dances to raise money for the Veterans Affiliated Council. They regularly donated money to Yountville's Veterans Home of California—an organization that, at that time, took care of the widows and orphans of servicemen. They attended Sacramento's monthly USO meetings to serve home-cooked Mexican food. They even assisted with the burial service of Mexican American soldiers who were killed in action.
Even after the war, the service of Las Madres Mexicanas de Guerra didn't stop. And their love for both America and Mexico was present at every one of their general meetings, when they stood to recite the pledge of allegiance in Spanish. Soon after the war ended, the women began selling pan dulce, tamales and raffle tickets at the local Catholic Church to raise yet more funds—this time for a monument to honor all Mexican Americans who served America in World War I and World War II.
Once the women had raised $4,000, they commissioned a statue to be made in Italy. It was sculpted in the likeness of a soldier—specifically Andazola's son, Joe—and named "El Soldado." And in 1951, it was installed at El Centro Mexicano de Sacramento (the Sacramento Mexican Center)—an organization Andazola had co-founded in 1948 with Phil Zúñiga. The community center was a physical symbol of Mexican American pride and fellowship in California's capital, and "El Soldado" represented the contributions of the community to American society.
In the years since the Sacramento Mexican Center closed its doors in 1975, "El Soldado" has stood guard over the State Capitol building. The statue was rededicated in 2017, having undergone major repairs and renovations. It was also given a new plaza and a more elaborate pedestal, listing scores of Mexican American Medal of Honor recipients. Every year, it is the site for California Mexican American Veterans Day ceremonies.
To this day, "El Soldado" is the only memorial that specifically recognizes the service of Mexican American soldiers. But it also stands as a reminder for all that Andazola did for her community.
The reverence and respect for Enriqueta Andazola, by those who remember, remains strong. After her death in 1980, one eulogy at her funeral summarized the feelings of many friends and family in her life: “La pionera de nuestra colonia Mexicana.”