Mexican American Veterans
I still recall a heated discussion I had several years ago with one of my cousin’s friends. Apparently, this individual adhered to the notion that the field of Chicana/o Studies did not belong in academia because it “indoctrinates” students with anti-American views. At the time, I was an undergraduate majoring in Chicana/o Studies, so I found his statement not only insulting but absurd, given the fact that this person had never enrolled in a Chicana/o Studies course. I then challenged his assertion by stating that critically analyzing history or society does not make anybody anti anything; on the contrary, critical thinking should be synonymous with all college students and scholars. Although our discussion focused on different themes associated with Chicana/o Studies, I specifically recall that he did not have a problem with the lack of recognition that Mexican American veterans, of previous wars, have received in mainstream society or popular culture. He then, ironically, stated that it was the responsibility of scholars in Chicana/o Studies to document these stories. This was about the only thing that we agreed on, but I did inform him that Chicana/o Studies scholars had already begun the process.
In regard to the issue of recognition, there have been Mexican American veterans of various wars who have argued that the experiences and contributions of Mexican American veterans, for the most part, have been neglected (Acuña, 2007; Jimenez, 2011; Mariscal, 1999; Morin, 1963; and Trujillo, 1990). Even when we take into account that Mexican American writers have documented the experiences of Mexican American veterans with books such as: Among the Valiant: Mexican American in WWII and Korea (1963), Soldados in Viet Nam: Narratives of the Viet Nam War (1990), Vietnam Veteranos: Chicanos recall the War (2004), and several other publications, non-Latino mainstream writers and directors have failed to acknowledge the veterans’ contributions. For instance, it has been estimated that roughly between 300,000 to 5000,000 Mexican Americans fought in WWII (Gonzales, 1999; Navarro, 2005). Yet, Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation (1998) and Ken Burns’ documentary, The War (2007) failed miserably in honoring the contributions of Mexican-Americans in WWII. For example, Brokaw’s book did not include a single account of the Mexican-American experience in WWII and Burns’ documentary contributed only a fraction of its time to honor Mexican-American WWII veterans. And the time that was allotted to honor these brave men was granted only because veterans, scholars, students, and community activists pressured Burns into doing so. Furthermore, the film Hell to Eternity (1960) depicted the extraordinary accomplishments and valor of Guy Galbadon, who was credited with capturing 1500 Japanese soldiers and as a result, awarded the Navy Cross Medal (the highest decoration bestowed by the Department of the Navy and the second highest decoration given for valor). However, the movie failed to indicate that Galbadon was of Mexican descent, and adding insult to injury, he was “played by a blonde, blue eyed actor” (Acuña, 2007). It seems that without the contribution of Mexican American writers and scholars, the experiences of Mexican American veterans would almost be none existent.
When I conducted the interviews for my thesis, Chicano Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan: Views on Race, Class, and War (2011), some of the veterans either thanked me for conducting the study or expressed that there should be greater documentation of the combat contributions of Mexican American veterans. For those that were grateful for the study, they praised the study not because it documented their own personnel narratives, but for making the effort to document the stories of other Mexican American veterans, whom they felt were not properly acknowledged. They felt that they deserved the same type of recognition that is awarded to veterans of other ethnic backgrounds. The veterans were aware that there have been many other Mexican American veterans who have served before them and who also risked their lives for a cause greater than themselves; something which they believed was worthy of recognition.
Acuña, F.R. (2007). Occupied America: A history of Chicanos (7th ed.). New York:
Brokaw, T. (1998). The greatest generation. Random House: New York.
Burns, K. & Novick, L. (Directors). (2007). The war. [documentary] United States:
Gonzales, G. M. (1999). Mexicanos: A history of Mexicans in the United States.
Bloomington: Indiana Press University.
Jimenez, M. (2011). Chicano veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan: Views on race, class, and war.
Unpublished Master thesis, California State University, Northridge.
Karlson, P. (Director). (1960). Hell to eternity. [motion picture] United States: Warner Brothers.
Mariscal, J. (1999). Aztlán and Vietnam: Chicano and Chicana experiences of the war.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Morin, R. (1963). Among the valiant: Mexican Americans in WW2 and Korea. Alhambra:
Navarro, A. (2005). Mexicano political experience in occupied Aztlán: Struggles and
Change. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.
Trujillo, C. (1990). Soldados in Viet Nam: Narratives of the Viet Nam War. San Jose:
Chusma House Publications.
Ybarra, L. (2004). Vietnam veteranos: Chicanos recall the war. Austin: University of Texas Press.
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