FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mexican-Americans, Iraq and the Politics of Immigrant Bashing

At the southern tip of Texas on the Mexican border across from Matamoros lies the city of Brownsville. According to the official visitors’ bureau website: “Brownsville, Texas is a truly international city located in a semi-tropical paradise where two cultures meet to create a unique land of exotic sounds, flavors, history and natural beauty found nowhere else in the U.S.”

Kristian Menchaca was born in Houston but grew up and attended schools in Brownsville. The son of immigrants, he often visited his many cousins on the Mexican side. In Brownsville there are no walls that separate families and cultures. This week family members from both sides of the border will gather to bury Kristian’s remains.

A typical working-class youth, Menchaca had dropped out of high school and obtained a GED. He loved to play basketball, rooted for the Houston Rockets, and worked at a gas station and a Wendy’s before enlisting. But hamburgers were not his favorite food. According to friends, he preferred taquitos de trompo con cilantro y cebolla.

On June 16 insurgents in Iraq abducted Pfc. Menchaca, 23, and fellow soldier Tommy Tucker, 25, at a checkpoint somewhere along the Euphrates ten miles south of Baghdad. Their bodies were found a few days later. A third soldier, David Babineau, 25, died in the initial attack.

On MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Norah O’Donnell introduced Kristian’s uncle Mario Vásquez (“Vaskwez” she said repeatedly) and tried to spin the story: “You know, there’s this debate raging in this country about the troops coming home, but a lot people who have family members over there say we need more troops to make sure we keep the guys safe. I assume that’s what your family believes.”

Tío Mario agreed: “Yes, we believe very strongly that, if we’re going to have our soldiers over there, we should have more soldiers protecting our soldiers of our own country.”

But what O’Donnell failed to report and what was not widely covered in the English-language media was that days earlier Menchaca’s mother, Maria Guadalupe Vásquez, had issued a statement in Spanish: “Estoy en contra de la guerra y me duele mucho lo que pasó a mi hijo” (“I am against the war, and I feel very hurt by what happened to my son”).

The statement was mentioned briefly on June 20 in the Houston Chronicle and quickly disappeared. Several relatives reported that both Vásquez and Julio César, Menchaca’s brother and an Iraq veteran, did not agree with her son’s decision to join the military.

In a mixture of bravado and clarity, Julio César told a local Spanish-language newspaper: “Kristian nunca tuvo miedo de ir a la guerra, aún cuando esta guerra en Irak no es una guerra por la que vale la pena morir” (“Kristian was never afraid to go to war even though this war in Iraq is not a war worth dying for”).

On Monday, Menchaca returned to Brownsville. As poet María Herrera Sobek wrote about the U.S. war in Southeast Asia: “Another Mexican American hero brought home under the Stars and Stripes/Long gone the need to prove his manhood/Long gone the need to prove his red-blooded American genealogy/And only the stars twinkle at our foolish pride.”

While America once again kills its young in a needless war, senators and congressmen in Washington play politics with the issue of immigration and nativists harass Mexican workers on street corners across the country. It is a crushing irony characteristic of Mexican American communities that Kristian Menchaca had joined the Army in hopes of someday becoming a Border Patrol agent.

Later this week in Los Angeles, the Latino youth organization Coordinadora estudiantil de la Raza (Student Coordinating Committee of the People) will attack that irony head on by holding a protest downtown. Building upon an earlier action in which Chicano high school students resigned from their JROTC units, the group brings together two of the most pressing issues in their community–the unchecked stream of Latinos and Latinas into the lowest ranks of the military and the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In their literature they ask the question that might have saved Kristian Menchaca’s life: “If you are thinking about joining the (J)ROTC or the MILITARY consider this: DO YOU WANT TO BE SENT TO IRAQ OR THE BORDER?”

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: gmariscal@ucsd.edu

 

 

More articles by:

February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
Bruce E. Levine
“Heavy Drinking” and the NYT’s Offensive Obit on Herbert Fingarette
Lisi Krall
This Historical Moment Demands Transformation of Our Institutions. The Green New Deal Won’t Do That
Stephanie Savell
Mapping the American War on Terror: Now in 80 Countries
Daniel Warner
New York, New York: a Resounding Victory for New York Over Amazon
Russell Mokhiber
With Monsanto and Glyphosate on the Run AAAS Revokes Award to Scientists Whose Studies Led to Ban on Weedkiller in Sri Lanka and Other Countries
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Fake National Emergency Moves America Closer to an Autocracy
Alex Campbell
Tracing the Threads in Venezuela: Humanitarian Aid
Jonah Raskin
Mitchel Cohen Takes on Global and Local Goliaths: Profile of a Lifelong Multi-Movement Organizer
Binoy Kampmark
Size Matters: the Demise of the Airbus A380
February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail