Legacy of Latino soldiers remembered

The flags of Canada and Mexico are displayed at the grave of First World War soldier Private (Pte) Rafael Rodriguez during a Remembrance ceremony for Canada’s unsung Latin American soldiers, Oct. 22 at Toronto’s Mount Hope Cemetery. Pte Rodriguez was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1894 and fought with the 42nd Infantry Battalion of Montreal. A sharpnel wounded him during battle, and he died in Toronto on Jan. 20, 1919. Photo: Captain Rey Garcia-Salas.

Peter Mallett, 
Staff Writer

Last month, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) honoured the unsung Latin American heroes of the First and Second World Wars, giving them long-overdue historical identity and recognition.

“They all joined voluntarily, demonstrated compassion, braveness, courage and loyalty while fighting alongside other Canadian soldiers,” said Captain (Capt) Rey Garcia-Salas, co-founder of the CAF Latin American heritage team. “All these soldiers are heroes who left us a legacy of inclusion that now brings us closer together.”

Organized by the CAF Latin American Heritage Team in Ottawa, Toronto, and Esquimalt, the ceremonies honoured approximately 120 soldiers who travelled to Canada precisely to enlist and fight in the First and Second World Wars, Capt Garcia-Salas said.

“Their legacy is largely unknown but needs to be recognized,” he said.

This year’s three Remembrance ceremonies coincided with the CAF Latin American Heritage Month, marked in October. The Esquimalt Remembrance ceremony was held at God’s Acre Veterans Cemetery on Oct. 17.

Sailor First Class (S1) Ivan Vanegas Lopez, the event organizer, said he wants to boost attendance next year and make the act of Remembrance annual at the Base.

“This is our first-ever ceremony. I wish more had attended, but this is just a starting point and one to build on for the future,” said S1 Vanegas.

S1 Vanegas was born in Colombia and moved to Canada in 2007 with his wife and three children. Two of his children are now CAF members: SLt Sebastian Vanegas, a Naval Warfare Officer with the Royal Canadian Navy, and S1 Susana Vanegas, a Naval Reservist working as a Human Resources Administrator.

The ceremony was equally crucial to S1 Jose Quintero. Born in Mexico City and moved to Canada in 2002, S1 Quintero is the Stoker of HMCS Saskatoon.

“It’s time to recognize the people who fought for our freedoms and human rights so many years ago, and fought alongside Canadians to make the world a better place,” he said. 

Inaugural Latin American First and Second World War Remembrance ceremonies were held at Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery on Oct. 17 and at Toronto’s Saint Monica Parish and Mount Hope Cemetery on Oct. 22. Sergeant Guillermo Garza-Risueno organised the Latin American Remembrance ceremony at Villanova Canadian War Cemetery, Province of Ravenna, Italy. Corporal Nydia Gelvez organized the Latin American Remembrance ceremony at Last Post Fund National Field of Honour Quebec.

“All of us belong to the Latin American Committee Soldiers in Canada in addition of DND/CAF Latin American Heritage Month Committee. Our Committe was the one that organized the events with the support of the Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs, Veterans, Gallery 55, Beechwood National Cemetery, Mount Hope Catholic Cemetery, friends, family, and other organizations,” Capt Garcia-Salas said.

Left – Sailor First Class (S1) Espinoza, S1 Charlie Devine and S1 Damien Caci lay a wreath to remember Latino soldiers from Canada, Mexico and the United States during a Remembrance ceremony at Veterans Cemetery in Esquimalt on Oct. 17. Photo: Peter Mallett/Lookout.

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