March 13, 2009

A book “to heal a generation”

Vietnam veterans tell their story

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

When Rudy Razo was sent to Vietnam in 1965, he was an energetic 18 year old Chicano.

When he returned just one year later to his hometown of Guadalupe, in Santa Barbara County, he was a war veteran at 20 years old, one who had seen images that stayed with him forever. It was only a little more than a year, but that year changed his life.

Michael Ornelas, author of “The Sons of Guadalupe: Voices of the Vietnam Generation and Their Journey Home” and Chicana & Chicano Studies professor at San Diego Mesa College, at the Vietnam Memorial Statue, in Washington, D.C., summer of 2007.

“I was never the same that,” said Razo, who is now 62 years old. “I’ve been carrying guilt for 40 years. I was drunk or high every single day after the war for 18 years to hide the pain that I had. I was sick. I had to relive the turbulent experience, the adrenaline that I felt during the war. I just felt anger. Everybody would move too slow to my eyes.”

Razo’s story is featured in The Sons of Guadalupe: Voices of the Vietnam Generation and Their Journey Home, a book written by San Diego Mesa College Chicana and Chicano Studies Professor Michael Ornelas about the 200 young men from the rural small town of Guadalupe that were sent to Vietnam during the war.

What’s striking about this story is that Guadalupe, in northern Santa Barbara County, is a small rural community of only 2,500 residents, and some 200 young men served in the Vietnam war. The majority were of Mexican origin, but there were also Whites, Filipinos, and Japanese, most, if not all, from low-income families.

It seemed as if the future of Guadalupe went away with these young men.

“The town just died,” said Razo, who wrote the preface to the book. “Before it was a happy town: Mariachis tocando, sonrisas, frijoles, carnitas, actividad, luces de vida all over, the lights of the show, of Main Street, everybody knew everybody. Suddenly we were gone, including 43 sets of brothers. After the war the town started fading. It got quiet. It just existed. It is just recently coming back.”

The book The Sons of Guadalupe was written to tell the story of injustice that took place in Guadalupe, said Ornelas, who is a native of Guadalupe.

“With all these poor kids from Guadalupe, the armed forces met their quota in Santa Barbara County,” said Ornelas, whose brother served in Vietnam. “They drafted with a vengeance.”

Before going to war, these young men had known each other all of their lives. They were neighbors. They were friends. They were a community. But everything changed when they returned to Guada-lupe.

“All of us guys we had a special bond,” Razo said. “We played marbles together, worked in the fields together. The war took us apart. I think this book is bringing us together again. It is an incredible story as a whole, not only in honor of our friends, but also about the desperation of our families.”

Razo said that “progressively more people I talked to they realized that they needed to talk to someone as well.”

The Vietnam veterans have recently formed the Central Coast Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Ornelas said that sales of the book, which will be available in mid-March, will be donated to help the Guadalupe veterans, including the creation of a scholarship program for their children and grandchildren.

He is encouraging San Diegans to learn more about these men’s experience during the war, because in San Diego there are thousands of veterans who can relate to their story.

“With your help we will make their story known to history, to their sons and daughters and to the shapers of our historical memory,” Ornelas said.

The book is also serving as closure for many of the Guadalupe Vietnam veterans. For many, telling their story for the first time, was a liberating experience.

“Recently I have healed tremendously in my mind,” Razo said. “This is something very deep and profound for me. For one, it is good to heal, to heal the wound, to heal my generation. It is a good way to show the world the contributions of the Hispanics and other minorities that went unnoticed. We wanted to tell our story so that it won’t happen again. It can’t. It’s wrong.”

If you would like to make a donation or to pre-order a copy of the book at $35 each, please mail your checks to The Sons of Guadalupe, c/o, 2555 North Trail Ct., Chula Vista, CA, 91914.

You can also call (619) 662-0706 or (619) 267-7464.

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