Once thought to be among the most uncritically patriotic of communities, Mexican Americans created a massive antiwar movement during the Viet Nam period. Since that time, corporate and government managers have sought to erase this history in order to replace it with a passive “Hispanic” identity that fits well with conservative national agendas. On the threshold of another unnecessary war, the spirit of Chicano/a progressive politics has reappeared. In just two days, over two hundred people of Mexican descent signed an open letter to Congress demanding that members vote “no” on granting the Bush administration unlimited war powers. The letter also demanded that the nation’s priorities be shifted from a growing militarism to issues of health care, education, low-cost housing, and other social needs.
The letter states: “As a community that has sacrificed many of its young in U.S. wars, we resent the campaign of fear and prejudice being waged by the Bush administration to justify militaristic foreign and domestic policies and so we must speak out. We believe there is a need for disarmament, especially the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. But the U.S. is the only country capable of destroying the globe with its weapons. Let disarmament begin at home.” It was distributed to key members of Congress, read at an antiwar rally in San Diego, and published in several Latino newspapers. Although recent antiwar rallies have included few people of color, Latinos are organizing in their communities and putting pressure on elected representatives. In Los Angeles, Congresswoman Hilda Solis reported that over ninety percent of her constitutents were opposed to Bush’s war plans. Included among the signatures on the Chicano antiwar letter were the mayor of Huntington Park, CA., a councilwoman from Hanford, CA., dozens of Chicano/a academics, students, and working people. At an antiwar rally in San Diego last Sunday, one speaker reminded the crowd that Mexican American soldiers have won more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group. “We honor that service,” he said, “but we will no longer sacrifice our son and daughters in useless wars.”
On October 8, I was interviewed as co-author of the letter on Radio Bilingue, a Spanish station broadcasting in San Francisco but heard throughout live throughout California and as far south as Guadalajara, Mexico. Callers were almost unanimously against a first strike in Iraq. Speaking in Spanish, one elderly lady pointed out that Iraq has biological weapons because the U.S. supplied them. She then asked “Que mueve a Bush?,” that is, what are Bush’s true motives? Another caller asked “Para que vamos a mandar a nuestro hijos a morir en tierra ajena?” “Why should we send our children to die in a foreign land?” Bush may get his war resolution but support for his policies is weak in grass-roots Latino communities poised to raise their voices for peace as they did a generation ago.
JORGE MARISCAL is a Viet Nam veteran who teaches at the University of California, San Diego, and is a member of Project YANO, an antimilitarism organization working to demilitarize California’s public schools. He can be reached at: email@example.com