Mexican-American veterans honored at State Capitol

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- The annual ceremony celebrated at the often overlooked California Mexican American Veterans Memorial was dedicated to several World War II and Korean War veterans who are now in their 80s and 90s.

The history of the memorial, which consists primarily of a marble statue of a soldier known as El Soldado, has relevance in the current discussions over immigration.

The memorial was created by a group known as the Mexican American War Mothers shortly after World War II.

"They wanted to show everyone not all patriotic, hard fighting veterans looked like John Wayne," said Jessie Orta of the California Mexican American Memorial Foundation. "They came in all types and colors."

Without the help of government or civic groups, the women sold tacos and tamales on Sundays for years, as well as selling baked goods and holding dances.

The statue was moved from the old Mexican American Community Center in Southside Park to across from the State Capitol.

Carmen Candela-Annin remembers being pressed into service by her mother to bake cakes and cookies to raise funds.

"They were very proud when it was finished," the 88-year-old said.

Many of those honored by the memorial were not American citizens when they were drafted or volunteered, despite the discrimination against those of Mexican descent that was prevalent at the time.

They included Candela-Annin's father who was injured during the war and spent the rest of his life in pain.

The memorial was vandalized several years ago in what some Mexican-American veterans called a hate crime. Only partial repairs have been made.

She said some current attitudes against immigrants is upsetting.

"It makes me very angry because if it weren't for these people like the veterans that have stayed in the country, worked in the country, worked in the fields, worked wherever they could get jobs, we're in the great state of California that we are," Candela-Annin said.

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