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Las Adelitas 2003, Mexican-American Women in Iraq

Just a few days after Veteran’s Day, Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Revolution. A commemoration of the 1910 uprising that overthrew a brutal dictatorship, November 20 reminds Mexican citizens of their revolutionary past. Among the legendary figures of that period are a group of women–Las Adelitas–who fought courageously side by side with the men.

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq bears little resemblance to the Mexican Revolution in which common people rose up to take back control of their country from a corrupt government and foreign influence.

But ever since that Revolution the twists and turns of history have produced a long line of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans who have served in the U.S. military. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War–the current war in Iraq is but the latest chapter.

Among the American soldiers lost are two women of Mexican ancestry-Melissa Valles and Ana Laura Esparza Gutiérrez.

Valles, a native of Eagle Pass, Texas, and the daughter of migrant farm workers, was an honors student at her local high school who joined the Army in 1996. An active basketball and volleyball player, she had been promoted to staff sergeant two weeks before she died.

According to relatives, she saw the military as a way to travel and finance her education. Valles died of a “non-combat” gunshot wound on July 9. The exact circumstances of her death have yet to be made public. She was 26 years old.

Esparza’s story was similar to others we have heard in recent months. A green card soldier who at age seven had come to the United States with her family from Monterrey, Mexico, Esparza joined the Army in 2002 so she could receive money to attend the University of Houston. Her dream was to become a psychologist and buy her parents a bigger home.

According to her father, the military officers sent to notify the family of their daughter’s death did not speak Spanish. Ana Laura’s parents do not speak English. An improvised explosive device had destroyed her vehicle on October 1. She was 21 years old.

The Iraq adventure continues to be hotly debated. George W. Bush’s infamous taunt to the Iraqi opposition–“Bring ’em on”–and Secretary Rumsfeld’s callous attitude about American deaths, so reminiscent of Pentagon chief Robert McNamara during the U.S. war in Southeast Asia, suggest that many more families will be crying in Spanish.

History alone will tell us if Valles and Esparza –these new “Adelitas”–gave their lives in a righteous cause or in an unjust act of arrogance and political miscalculation. But there can be no doubt that they and their families have made the ultimate sacrifice. Their names are inscribed forever on the roll call of young Mexican American men and women whose potential will never be realized. Like so many others before them they were taken too soon from a community that, in its on-going struggle to achieve a fair share of educational and economic opportunity, desperately needed for them to come home so they could realize their dreams.

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran who teaches at the University of California, San Diego. He can be reached at: gmariscal@ucsd.edu

 

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