By Pablo J. Sáinz
That’s the reason why the GI Film Festival, presented in part by KPBS through Sunday, October 18th, in different locations throughout San Diego, is screening scenes from the documentary On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam at the UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center, on Saturday, Oct. 17th, at 5:30 p.m.
Filmmaker Mylene Moreno will be present for the screening, but she took some time from her busy schedule to talk more about her film, and about Latino veterans and the legacy of the Vietnam War in the Latino community.
“I am glad veterans have a festival of movies dedicated to themes that are directly relevant to them,” Moreno said. “There are many, many movies made glorifying combat. Hopefully they will see films that instead artfully treat other real matters that reflect their experiences before, during and after service.”
Highlighting those experiences are the main goal of the festival, said Jodi Cilley, founder and president of Film Consortium San Diego, one of the collaborators on GI Film Festival San Diego.
“With the largest active duty and veteran population in the country, this event will really give us a place to support our military community through telling their stories,” Cilley said. “I’m so excited to be a part of this as it means we’re beginning to work to bridge the military community with another active community in San Diego – the filmmakers. Attendees can expect diverse, story driven films that will bring out emotion, passion and excitement.”
Although On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam doesn’t address contemporary military issues, Moreno said that she believes “there are parallels which make the experience of Vietnam veterans relevant to post-9/11 veterans.”
For many people in the Latino community, the Vietnam War is like an open wound, it is like a constant reminder of the history of discrimination Latinos have faced in the United States.
“The Vietnam War was a difficult war, simultaneously a civil war and a war for national sovereignty, that we did not win,” Moreno said. “The combat soldiers were primarily from the working class. During Vietnam, only about 2 percent of Latinos were in college. They, like most of the other combat soldiers, were going to high schools that featured military recruiters rather than college counselors. They didn’t have a lot of alternatives to the military. That feels similar, too.”
For many Latinos, Vietnam is still a reality: Veterans continue to suffer the consequences of being involved in a bloody and traumatic event.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not addressed per se, not as a named, specific topic, but the fellows we interviewed talk about the devastating trauma of war,” Moreno said. “I believe that its lingering impact is there to see on their faces, especially when they talk, briefly, about combat and more fully, coming home from war.”
Although the full documentary won’t be screened at the GI Film Festival, Moreno encourages San Diegans to watch the film in its entirety on PBS.org.
“Since these stories about Latino service and the burden Latino communities bore during that war are so rarely told, I hope festival goers, San Diegans, see the entire film,” she said.