March 2, 2007


Ken Burns’ Documentary on WWII an Insult to the Hispanic Veteran

Options for this week’s editorial is a virtually cornucopia of issues from which to pick from: the Presidential visit to South America, Texas legislatures looking to change how the 14th amendment is applied to children of immigrants, the water rate increase by the City of San Diego, immigration, Wall Street, and Paradise Valley Hospital. While these issues, and more, are important, there is one issue, an issue that in the grand scheme of things pales in comparison, but keeps gnawing at our insides, an issue that keeps on going and gathering steam. And the more we think about it, the more we realize that this is a big issue and it should be discussed.

What is the issue? It is the upcoming Ken Burns 14 hour documentary on World War II, set to appear on PBS stations this coming September, that completely ignores the entire Hispanic experience and contribution. Isn’t it ironic that in September we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

Ken Burns is widely hailed as the premier American documentary filmmaker who has created several award winning miniseries such as “The American Civil War,” “Baseball,” and “Unforgivable Blackness,” all receiving Emmy Awards. His work has been noted for their detail, historical accuracy, and cinematography. His miniseries are important pieces of work that are shown in schools as historically accurate and become collectors items. So when previews of his work were released it came as a shock to those in the Hispanic community that there were no Hispanics in any of the 14 hours!

As Chicanos/Hispanos we ask ourselves, how can you do 14 hours about WWII and not include Hispanics in the conversation? Didn’t he research Hero Street USA in Silvis, Illinois where no other street of comparable size has sent as many Hispanic men and women to serve in the armed forces than this block of approximately twenty-five homes. Hero Street USA has sent more than 110 men and women into the military. Fifty-seven men went in during World War II & Korea, and over 20 more to Vietnam. Or the fact that Hispanics have received more Medals of Honor and other decorations in proportion to their numbers than any other ethnic group.

As sons and daughters of World War II veterans, we have become angered over the fact that our fathers and mothers lives and contributions have been discounted in such a way that they have been reduced to insignificance or non-existent. The nation will not know that over 400,000 Hispanic Americans served their country during World War II, fighting and dying. The veteranos at the GI Forum and VFW Halls will watch this documentary and ask themselves what about our contributions to the war, didn’t they count for anything? In their hearts they will still stand proud of their service to their country, but there will be an unspoken pain that they did not get the respect that they deserved! And this is what makes this issue important.

What we find equally disturbing, despite the uproar that has occurred within the Hispanic community from across the nation, Ken Burns is unapologetic for the omission and so far PBS has made no effort to right this wrong. As a public service station supported by tax dollars this is unacceptable. We also find it unacceptable that in San Diego the local KPBS station has stayed silent on this issue, hoping that with time it will pass.

On a sociological level we see this documentary as a euphemism of today’s society and how they see the Hispanic community. This documentary wasn’t created in a vacuum, but during a time when anti-Hispanic hysteria has been at an all time high with Minutemen, border walls, and the anti-immigrant attitudes from our political leadership. This mini-series reflects an attitude in America that the Hispanic community is a major part of the United States, but jingoistic attitudes don’t want to acknowledge and give credit to the growth and importance of this community. That is a shame that apparently Ken Burns has bought into this mindset.

This issue is important and as such the Hispanic community needs to respond. We call for a boycott of the Ken Burns mini-series, we call for boycott of PBS, if you donate stop, and we urge you to contact your Congressperson or Senator, as a Publicly Funded broadcast network through tax dollars, and ask them to contact PBS directly to see what can be done to rectify this glaring omission. And we call upon the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to take a look at this issue and demand answers on behalf of the Hispanic men and women who contributed, fought and died for their country. We call on Congressman Bob Filner, Chairman of the Veterans Committee to take a stand and lead on this issue and demand answers on behalf of all Hispanics veterans.

This is a slap in the face of all Hispanics and we can not turn the other cheek on this one. We need to stand up as a matter of principal, pride and respect.

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