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

Duncan Tonatiuh

Hardcover edition

Awards and Honors
2020 Orbis Pictus Award Honor
Kirkus Best Books - 2019
CPL Best Books - 2019
CSMCL Best Books - 2019
Pura Belpré Author Award Honoree - 2020
Discrimination: Reference/Discussion, Violence: War/Harsh Realities of War

José de la Luz Sáenz 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.

Author’s note. Source for quotations. Time lines. Select bibliography. Glossary. Photograph of José de la Luz Saenz. Index. Full-color illustrations were hand drawn, then collaged digitally.

Discrimination: Reference/Discussion, Violence: War/Harsh Realities of War




Page Count


Trim Size

11" x 9"




5.3: points 0.5





Scholastic Reading Counts


JLG Release

Dec 2019

Book Genres



José de la Luz Sáenz (1888–1953). 360th Regiment, US Army. Mexican American participation in World War I (1914–1918). Mexican Americans in Texas. Civil rights workers. Tejano culture. Biography. Hispanic and Latino Americans.

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Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Kirkus Reviews*, Booklist*, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal*, The Horn Book Magazine

School Library Journal

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. 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.

Horn Book

Growing up Mexican American in Texas at the turn of the twentieth century meant racism and discrimination to José de la Luz Sáenz: the first word in the book is “Greaser!” hurled at young Luz by another boy (whom Luz then tackles to the ground). Luz grows up, marries, has children, becomes a teacher, and goes off to fight in World War I, where his facility with languages—he was already fluent in Spanish, and has now also learned French—allows him to act as a translator. Despite his serving his country faithfully, injustice and inequality persist when he returns home, but Luz never stops fighting for what’s right. He remains politically active in various organizations and helps create the influential League of United Latin American Citizens. In this informative and inspiring story, Tonatiuh’s signature style is on full display: digitally manipulated colors and textures complement thin lines and flat shapes, inspired by the artistic style of Mexico’s indigenous Mixtec people. Moreover, Tonatiuh’s obvious pride in Latinx heritage, coupled with that heritage’s sociopolitical undertones, places his body of work in the broader tradition of Latinx political art—and this fine picture-book biography is the latest iteration. An author’s note, sources, timelines, a bibliography, an index, and a glossary are appended.

Grades 2-6
Biography Elementary Plus
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