JUST LOVED READING
The School the Aztec Eagles Built
Nicholson, Dorinda Makanaohalani. The School the Aztec Eagles Built. New York: Lee and Low Books, 2016.
Relations between Mexico and the US were not always cordial especially when they fought over what were once Mexico’s northern territories. In 1835, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. This led to the US – Mexican War which lasted from 1846 to 1848. When it ended, Mexico lost Texas, Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Wyoming and Colorado.
On May 13 and 22, 1942, German U-boats torpedoed two unarmed Mexican oil tankers off the Florida coast. Germany refused to apologize for the aggression and Mexico declared war on the Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan. Mexico had a small military and had never fought another country overseas.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mexican President Manuel Avila Comacho met to discuss how the two countries could help each other. By this time, Japan had attacked the US at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The result of these discussions was the formation of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force. The flight operations unit was known as Air Fighter Squadron 201 or the Aztec Eagles.
The Squadron consisted of pilots and ground crew who took care of the airplanes. They trained initially in Idaho and then in Texas where they encountered prejudice from the locals and distrust from the American air pilots with whom they were going to work. Eventually, the American and Mexican pilots forged a mutual respect. The Squadron flew missions from the Philippines which ended when the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the pilots and crew returned home, they were hailed as heroes and decorated veterans.
Angel Bocanegra was a school teacher in his village of Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico. Tepoztlan had a small two room schoolhouse that could barely hold a couple of the grades. Many of the children formed classrooms on neighbors’ porches, on the grass and anywhere there was space to sit and learn.
Bocanegra enlisted as one of the Squadron’s ground crew. President Comacho reviewed the men before they left for the US and asked if anyone had any requests. Bocanegra shouted out that he had a request for a schoolhouse for his village. President Comacho agreed.
When Angel Bocanegra returned to his village, he saw a brand new building named Escuela Escuadron 210.
WHY I LOVED READING THIS BOOK:
This book narrated the little known story of the Aztec Eagles, Squadron 210 of the Mexican Air Force and how World War II helped to establish goodwill between the US and Mexico. The footnote about Angel Bocanegra was interesting, too. But the book also narrates an account of the Bracero Program brokered by President Roosevelt and President Comacho. The program allowed Mexican workers to enter the US on temporary work permits. So from 1943 to 1945, over 100, 000 laborers worked on farms and railroads. This helped to plug the hole in the work force left by enlisted soldiers and sailors and was another way Mexico, with its small military, could help with the war effort.