FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Paradox of Mexican-Americans at War

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

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 22, 2019
Michael Hudson
U.S. Economic Warfare and Likely Foreign Defenses
Evaggelos Vallianatos
If Japan Continues Slaughtering Whales, Boycott the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Mike Garrity
Emergency Alert For the Wild Rockies
Dean Baker
The U.S.-China Trade War: Will Workers Lose?
Jonah Raskin
Paul Krassner, 1932-2019: American Satirist 
David Swanson
U.S. Troops Back in Saudi Arabia: What Could Go Wrong?
Robert Fisk
American Visitors to the Gestapo Museum Draw Their Own Conclusions
John Feffer
Trump’s Send-Them-Back Doctrine
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
Landscape of Anguish and Palliatives: Predation, Addiction and LOL Emoticons in the Age of Late Stage Capitalism
Karl Grossman
A Farmworkers Bill of Rights
Gary Leupp
Omar and Trump
Robert Koehler
Fighting Climate Change Means Ending War
Susie Day
Mexicans Invade US, Trump Forced to Go Without Toothbrush
Elliot Sperber
Hey Diddle Diddle, Like Nero We Fiddle
Weekend Edition
July 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
The Blob Fought the Squad, and the Squad Won
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
It Was Never Just About the Chat: Ruminations on a Puerto Rican Revolution.
Anthony DiMaggio
System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics
Andrew Levine
South Carolina Speaks for Whom?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Big Man, Pig Man
Bruce E. Levine
The Groundbreaking Public Health Study That Should Change U.S. Society—But Won’t
Evaggelos Vallianatos
How the Trump Administration is Eviscerating the Federal Government
Pete Dolack
All Seemed Possible When the Sandinistas Took Power 40 years Ago
Ramzy Baroud
Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis
Ron Jacobs
Dancing with Dr. Benway
Joseph Natoli
Gaming the Climate
Marshall Auerback
The Numbers are In, and Trump’s Tax Cuts are a Bust
Louisa Willcox
Wild Thoughts About the Wild Gallatin
Kenn Orphan
Stranger Things, Stranger Times
Mike Garrity
Environmentalists and Wilderness are Not the Timber Industry’s Big Problem
Helen Yaffe
Cuban Workers Celebrate Salary Rise From New Economic Measures
Brian Cloughley
What You Don’t Want to be in Trump’s America
David Underhill
The Inequality of Equal Pay
David Macaray
Adventures in Script-Writing
David Rosen
Say Goodbye to MAD, But Remember the Fight for Free Expression
Nick Pemberton
This Is Heaven!: A Journey to the Pearly Gates with Chuck Mertz
Dan Bacher
Chevron’s Oil Spill Endangers Kern County
J.P. Linstroth
A Racist President and Racial Trauma
Binoy Kampmark
Spying on Julian Assange
Rose Ramirez – Dedrick Asante-Mohammad
A Trump Plan to Throw 50,000 Kids Out of Their Schools
David Bravo
Precinct or Neighborhood? How Barcelona Keeps Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Global Capital
Ralph Nader
Will Any Disgusted Republicans Challenge Trump in the Primaries?
Dave Lindorff
The BS about Medicare-for-All Has to Stop!
Arnold August
Why the Canadian Government is Bullying Venezuela
Tom Clifford
China and the Swine Flu Outbreak
Missy Comley Beattie
Highest Anxiety
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail