Marc Wilson, author of the new book “Hero Street, U.S.A.: The Story of Little Mexico’s Fallen Soldiers,” spoke on campus Wed., Oct. 7—and brought with him an interesting companion.
Wilson, a former reporter and Associated Press executive now living in the Quad Cities area, researched the dramatic story of the “Little Mexico” neighborhood in Silvis, IL, which contributed 78 soldiers to the U.S. military during World War II and Korea, giving it the highest per-capita casualty rate of any street in the entire country. The neighborhood, established by immigrants from Guanajauto, Mexico, was officially renamed “Hero Street” in 1971.
But Wilson’s companion for the day could also be considered an expert on the topic: Tanilo “Tony” Sandoval, surviving younger brother of two of the eight soldiers from the block who were killed in action. As Wilson detailed his research, Sandoval provided his childhood memories about each of the eight soldiers killed in action.
Wilson, former owner of a newspaper in Montana, became interested in the story after hearing about it from a newspaper publisher in the Quad Cities.
“Many people in the Quad Cities still know nothing, or very little, about Hero Street,” he said.
Chronicling the prejudice, poverty, and other adversity the residents of Little Mexico had to deal with, especially during the Depression, Wilson pointed out that many of the veterans who gave their life for their country were never recognized as United States citizens, even being blackballed from the local VFW.
Their first-generation parents, unable to speak English, weren’t eligible to receive federal aid during the Depression due to their status as “aliens.” In fact, the street later recognized with the official “Hero Street” name was one of the last in the city to be paved, he said.
“These were ‘invisible’ people in many ways,” Wilson said.
At the end of the presentation, Sandoval shared with the audience the fact that, despite the poverty and prejudice he and his brothers experienced growing up, many from the younger generations of the Hero Street neighborhood, and in his family, have gone on to successful professional positions after earning an education.
And what could have been a better note to end on than this?:
Before the author and his guest speaker greeted audience members, Wilson explained they’d need to leave a bit early.
“We’re going to go try to catch the rest of the soccer game,” Wilson said. Sandoval’s grandson, Johnathan Sandoval, is a sophomore and Leatherneck soccer player at WIU.