May 23, 2008

Memorial Day: A Latino Perspective

By Gus Chavez

Memorial Day is almost upon us and on Monday, May 26, our nation will celebrate and pay tribute in honor of our fallen men and women warriors. This day of honor has been around since the American Civil War and over the years has gained importance and significance to generations of families whose sons and daughters made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. While questions remain over the wisdom of engaging in particular wars, there is no question over the patriotism, participation and ultimate commitment exhibited by the U.S. Latino and Latina warrior community.

This has been most evident when we see that over 500,000 Latinos fought and were involved in World War II and thousands more in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The Latino combined death toll in these three wars alone was in the thousands and represented warriors from all communities including Puerto Rico. More recent, the final number of Latinos and Latinas sacrificing their lives due to our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is unknown at this time, but given the instability of these countries and others in the world, many will continue to perish.

Unfortunately, until recently the Latino and Latina U.S. military experience had never really been accepted or recognized by many public and private entities, including some in our community, as being vital and important to our history. We, the Latino and Latina community, whether we are citizens, resident aliens or undocumented persons, have been loyal fighting patriots. The first recorded American death in Iraq was 28 year old U.S. Marine Lance CPL Jose Gutierrez, a U.S. green card holder from Guatemala City, Guatemala. He was killed on March 21, 2003.

Today over 4,000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and as in past wars, many have been Latinos. To date, more than 391 Latinos have been killed in Iraq.

Latinos and Latinas have made an impact on our nation’s ability to defend itself. Some have asked, “Why are Latinos opting into military service?” University of California San Diego Professor Jorge Mariscal responds pointedly when he analyzes the strong military Latino and Latina recruitment campaigns in our communities. He states.” “Mexican American or Chicano/a youth — that is, the children of families who have been in the U.S. for many decades, if not centuries — continue to have a relatively limited range of life opportunities.”

Today there are over 45 million Hispanics in the U.S. and growing. Given our numbers, it is not surprising to read about the military’s interest in our youth. According to John McLaurin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Human Resources, who spoke recently about the size of the “Hispanic ... recruiting market.” The goal is “to boost the Latino numbers in the military from roughly 10 per cent to as much as 22 per cent.”

Will Memorial Day continue to be as significant a day of honor in the future for the Latino and Latina community? If successful in his quest, the latter comments by John McLaurin strongly suggest that Memorial Day will continue to be an important day for Latino families as we honor and pay our respect in remembrance of our heroes. Rafael Ojeda from Tacoma, Washington quotes “All gave some, some gave all.”

To our fallen Latino and Latina warriors on this Memorial Day, we don’t say goodbye to you, we say gracias and may you rest in peace.

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