FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Paradox of Mexican-Americans at War

by JORGE MARISCAL

A recent edition of the New York Times (June 20) reported that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hopes to promote Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez to four-star status and head of the Southern Command. Despite the fact that Sanchez was the highest-ranking officer in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, an internal Army inquiry exonerated him from any wrongdoing. According to the Times article, a key factor in the decision to promote Sanchez would be his ability to attract more young Latinos into the military.

Citing sources inside the Pentagon, the article reports that “Sanchez’s promotion would showcase the nation’s highest-ranking Hispanic officer and his compelling personal story of growing up poor in southern Texas and using the military as an escalator out of poverty, at a time when the Army is struggling to meet its recruiting quotas.”

The Times quotes a senior Army officer as saying “General Sanchez, as a role model, is extremely important. The Army sells growth, opportunity and development. We cannot ignore what our population makeup is.”

The “population” in this instance is the rapidly growing Latino military age cohort trapped in inferior public schools, with high drop out rates and minimal access to higher education, and the long-term target of the Pentagon’s multi-billion dollar military recruiting campaign.

History teaches us that the war record of Mexican Americans is distinguished and beyond reproach. The invasion and occupation of Iraq will extend that record into the future. But the dark side of this community’s wartime experience illuminates the contradictions at the heart of U.S. society’s treatment of its own citizens of Mexican descent.

Early in the summer of 1943 with thousands of Mexican Americans fighting and dying in Europe and the Pacific, sailors attacked Mexican American youth in the streets of Los Angeles and other Southern California cities. While police stood by and conservative newspapers fed the anti-Mexican hysteria, servicemen assaulted young men and women ostensibly for wearing zoot suits and then widened their attack to the general population.

In East Los Angeles, one young Mexican American wrote: “This is supposed to be a free country. We don’t go around beating up people just because we don’t like the clothes they wear…Whose side is the Navy on anyway?”

In the summer of 1970 with thousands of Mexican Americans fighting and dying in Southeast Asia, Chicano antiwar protestors gathered in East Los Angeles to denounce the war’s impact on local communities. The 25,000 men, women, and children in attendance had just arrived in Laguna Park when L.A. County sheriffs and L.A. police tear-gassed and attacked the crowd, clubbing men and women to the ground and eventually killing three people.

Writing to a local newspaper, one G.I. in Viet Nam said: “We, the Chicano soldiers have something to say to our brothers in East Los Angeles. We were proud when we heard of the East Los Angeles demonstrations. But why did you stop there?…We sit here impatiently waiting to get home.”

In the summer of 2005 with thousands of Mexican Americans (as well as thousands of non-U.S. citizen Mexican nationals) fighting and dying in Iraq, the so-called Minutemen hunt Mexican workers along the border and harass them in locations as diverse as Southern California and eastern Tennessee. Hiding behind the issue of illegal immigration and tacitly supported by politicians like Arnold Schwartzenegger, the Minutemen join the long line of racist bullies who pockmark U.S. history.

As Chicano Viet Nam vet Charley Trujillo puts it: “They call us Americans when they need us for a war. The rest of the time we’re just dirty Mexicans.”

How ironic if Lt. General Sanchez, whose mother picked cotton in South Texas, were to become the poster boy for transforming young Latinos and Latinas into fodder for a misguided foreign policy at the same time that vigilante groups intimidate and threaten poor Mexican workers.

Given the painful history of Mexican Americans in times of war, Spanish speakers across the nation cannot ignore the paradox of Sanchez becoming a pitchman so that their sons and daughters might bring “freedom” to Iraq while nativist vigilantes terrorize Mexican communities at home. As history repeats itself yet again, young and old alike will ask themselves whether those who enlist to serve the agenda of Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush do so por patriota o por pendejo [because they are patriots or fools].

JORGE MARISCAL served with the U.S. Army in Viet Nam in 1969. He currently teaches at the University of California, San Diego. He can be reached at: gmariscal@ucsd.edu

 

 

 

 

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
April 28, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz Díaz
Puerto Rico: a Junta By Any Other Name
Alfredo Lopez
Where the Bern is Fizzling: Why Sanders Can’t Win the Support of People of Color
Peter Linebaugh
The Commons and the Centennial of the Easter Rising
Dan Arel
What Next? Can the #Movement4Bernie Accomplish Anything?
John Wight
An Indictment of Thatcher’s Legacy: Justice for Hillsborough Families, at Last
Bob Lord
Inequality Will Increase Until There’s a Revolution
Cathy Breen
Kurdistan: Can We Feel the Heat?
Nicolai Petro
Odessa: Averting Another Massacre
Doug Johnson Hatlem
On Open Marriages and Closed Elections
Polly Hughes
Rev. Pinkney was Right: It’s Comin’ to Your City Next!
Manuel E. Yepe
The People of the USA will Have the Final Word
Rebecca Green
How Big Money in Politics Fuels Inequality and War
Sam Husseini
Could Voters Opposed to Both Clinton and Trump Team up Using VotePact?
Franklin Lamb
Can Responsibility to Protect Preserve our Cultural Heritage in Syria?
Carl Finamore
SF College Faculty Strike for Justice Stop Class Reductions & Pay Cuts
Binoy Kampmark
The Failed Cruz-Kasich Pact: Donald Trump and GOP Desperation
Terry Simons
Hillary Clinton is DINO-mite to the Billionaires
April 27, 2016
John Stauber
#FeelTheBern Goes #UpInSmoke
Pepe Escobar
Hillary: Wall Street’s Golden Girl
Lawrence Ware – Lauren Whiteman
Tell the Negroes to Wait: Obama, Black Lives Matter, and Compromising with White Supremacy
James McEnteer
Ecuador: the Geopolitics of Generosity
Gareth Porter
The Classified ’28 Pages’: a Diversion From Real US-Saudi Issues
Katie Fite
Toxic Range: the BLM’s Growing Chemical Addiction
Kevin Grandia - Brendan DeMelle
Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s
Maidhc Ó Cathail
Likud Becomes a Regional Member of the European Parliament
Peter Lee
US Pivot to Asia Poised to Enter Nuclear Phase
Franklin Spinney
Pentagon Gong Show
Jesse Jackson
Rahm AWOL on Chicago Police Reform
Sam Jojola
Grizzly Bear Reintroduction vs. Multiple Conflicts and Political Land Grab
Binoy Kampmark
Anzac Day Memories: The Sullen Child of History
Jonathan Latham
God’s Red Pencil? CRISPR and The Three Myths of Precise Genome Editing
April 26, 2016
Mary Anne Henderson – Brian Platt
More Than a Few Rogue Cops: the Disturbing History of Police in Schools
Manuel E. Yepe
The Return of the Coup in Latin America
Maria Dyveke Styve
An Ode to the Death of Europe and a Concerned Love Letter to Žižek
Doug Johnson Hatlem
To Clear the Air, Sanders Should Challenge New York Vote
Paul Craig Roberts
Washington Launches Its Attack Against BRICS
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia and 9/11: the Kingdom May be in For a Nasty Shock
Sam Gordon
In / Out: Which Way for the European Union?
Jack Smith
The Future of US / Cuban Relations
James Rothenberg
Sanders’ Choice
Binoy Kampmark
Meddlesome Empire: Obama and Client Britain’s EU Referendum
Halyna Mokrushyna
Left-wing, Antiwar Voice in Ukraine Assaulted by Rightist Extremists
Kim Nicolini
How Can You Just Leave Me Standing? I Cried When Prince Died
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail