The story of Phoenix American Legion Post 41 is one of proud, valiant men who came back from World War II only to face segregation in their own town. This group of Latino veterans returned from WWII with one purpose in mind: to challenge discrimination and better the lives of their community.
Dissatisfied with the environment at Post 1, veteran Frank “Pipa” Fuentes decides to start his own Post. In October 1945, the all-Latino American Legion Post 41 charter is approved. Immediately, the Latino community looks to Post 41 for help. Among their efforts are desegregating the Tempe Beach pool and helping returning soldiers find integrated housing. On July 19, 1947, ground is broken on a new building south of downtown. On March 14, 1948, a grand ceremony for the new American Legion Post 41 building is held at its present site, 715 S. 2nd Ave.
Latino Perspectives magazine is honoring Pete Dimas for keeping alive the memory and recording the struggles of Valley Latinos who fought for their country in World War II. When these Latino veterans returned home from the war, they faced discrimination in their own state. Dimas, a history professor at Phoenix College, documented this saga in 2007 in Los Veteranos of World II: A Mission for Social Change in Central America. In the documentary, nine founding members of Phoenix American Legion Post 41 recount their transformation, and that of Phoenix, as a result of their experiences in the war. Post 41 was founded because Latino veterans were not allowed to join other American Legions in the mid-1940s. Post 41 broke ground on its current site on July 19, 1947, with an opening ceremony on March 14, 1948. As for Dimas, he’s retired from full-time teaching and working on a series of documentaries on veterans and the history of Latinos in Phoenix. Dimas is a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War.1945Phoenix Veterans Frank Fuentes, Ray Martinez and 14 other Latino veterans decide to form their own American Legion Post, when they find the existing Post 1 of Phoenix to be unwelcoming.
October 1945: After some challenges, the American Legion approves the all-Hispanic Post 41 charter. Sixteen members begin first meeting, writing their notes on a napkin. Also present was childhood friend and future politician, Barry Goldwater.
1946: Post 41 is approached by Tempe Latinos wanting help in desegregating Tempe Beach pool. On May 21, Tempe city council votes to desegregate, and Post 41 has its first victory.
March 23, 1946: During a housing crisis for returning soldiers, Post 41 commander Ray Martinez confronts the city manager about plans to put Latino housing on an old city dump site south of town and without amenities. The post demands inclusion in the same community to be built for Anglos on 16th Street and Garfield.
July 6, 1946: New Mayor Ray Busey agrees to integrate temporary housing. Despite community protests, lawsuits and fears of crime skyrocketing, the mayor stands by his decision. The location is named for a fallen Latino soldier: the Harry Cordova Housing Project. It is completed in February 1947, with 24 homes for Latinos are to be added to the 100 Anglo homes
1947: Ray Martinez challenges Stewart Construction Company after it rescinds a loan to Post 41 member, Professor Donald Gaylien. After several visits, and a threat of legal action that would tie up construction funds, the company agrees to sell to Mexican-Americans.
July 19, 1947: After almost two years meeting at a restaurant, ground is broken on a new building for Post 41, after an amazing agreement with the city is struck to lease property to the south of downtown for $1 per year for 60 years. The building is completed March 14, 1948
Nov 1950: Post 41 members Manuel “Lito” Peña Jr. and others are prodded by student activist Juan Camacho to help fight segregated schooling in Tolleson.
1952: Father Albert Braun comes to Golden Gate Barrio, and helps to build Sacred Heart church, and unify the communities
with help from Post 41 and fight to improve community. He becomes Post 41 chaplain.
1952: Post 41 member, Attorney Valdemar Cordova successfully wins a civil suit for a Hispanic boy who, injured by police in December 1951. He would go on to be an Arizona district judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter.
Nov. 10, 1953: Post 41 member, Adam Diaz is elected Arizona’s first Mexican American city council member.
1966: Post 41 member Manuel “Lito” Peña is a member of the Arizona House of Representatives.
1972: Alfredo Gutierrez, a Post 41 member is elected an Arizona Senator.
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