The Latino Experience in Veterans Day

Last year, Project Economic Refugee featured a post with a collage of videos of dogs welcoming back their owners from military deployment.  If you are an animal lover, you have got to check these videos out.  In that post, I lamented how it was often a challenge to find in-English media pieces featuring the amazing contribution Latinos have made in defending our freedom in the U.S. Military.  This year, it is a pleasure to see PBS’ Independent Lense feature a documentary on Mexican American soldier Felix Longoria. Today, a local Latino musician wants to name a post office after Longoria to honor the soldier’s memory, but some white folks in Texas are angered at such a prospect.  Here’s the preview of the documentary:

Watch the full episode. See more Independent Lens.

PBS’ website explains:

Sixty years ago in Three Rivers, Texas, the only funeral home in town refused to hold a wake for Felix Longoria, a decorated Mexican American soldier killed in battle during World War II. Longoria’s widow was told, simply, “The whites wouldn’t like it.”

Those words became front-page news across the country, sparking outrage and setting off a series of events that would come to be known as the Longoria Affair. The incident fueled the rise of a national civil rights movement led by Mexican American veterans, and bitterly divided Three Rivers for generations to come.

Two stubborn and savvy leaders, newly elected Senator Lyndon Johnson and activist Dr. Hector Garcia, formed an alliance over the incident. Over the next 15 years, their complex, sometimes contentious relationship would help Latinos become a national force for the first time in American history, carry John F. Kennedy to the White House, and ultimately lead to Johnson’s signature on the most important civil rights legislation of the 20th century.

Today the town of Three Rivers still struggles with its past. Local musician and activist Santiago Hernandez wants to honor Felix Longoria by naming the post office after him. But many Anglo residents are angered by the idea. They believe discrimination against Mexican Americans never existed in their town and the Longoria Affair was blown up for political gain.

You can watch the entire documentary for free here from Nov. 10 through Nov. 16.

On the state of the Latino experience serving our country, LatinoLA recently published this post highlighting the most recent stats available on Latinos’ sacrifice for our country in the U.S. Military:

Hispanic Casualties (2001-2009) – Hispanic Americans have also made up a portion of the casualties that American forces have experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between October 7, 2001 to May 2, 2009, 53 military service members who classified themselves as Hispanics or Latinos died in the service of their country, representing 7.8 percent of military deaths. During the same period, 147 Hispanics have been wounded in action, representing 5.2 percent of all wounded service members.

In a Congressional Research Service report dated March 25, 2009, Information Research Specialist Hannah Fischer reported that the total Hispanic/Latino military deaths in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom up to February 28, 2009, was 450 individuals, representing 10.6 percent of all military deaths (4,245).

Hispanic Military Officers – The Pew Hispanic Center report in 2003 lamented the small percentage of Hispanics among military officers and generals. For several years, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded coalition troops for a year beginning June 2003, had been the highest ranking Hispanic in the military. He had been one of just eight Hispanics ever to rise to the rank of general in the Army by 2003. At the time of his retirement in 2006 – after 33 years in the military – only three Hispanic generals were left on active duty.

There are also, of course, the stories that hardly get any coverage in the in-English media of Latino soldiers that are fighting being deported or are going through the painful experience of having a relative being put on deportation proceedings.  Recently, the Associated Press’ Julianna Barbassa was quoted on Color Lines News that:

[…] around 8,000 legal residents enlist in the military every year, and currently there are almost 17,000 people who are not citizens on active duty. Undocumented immigrants are barred from serving in the military. 

Then there’s the stories of military families being torn apart by such deportation proceedings, as in the case with this mother of a soldier that was killed in Iraq and was put on deportation proceedings.  The G.I. Go Fund reported:

When Sgt. Christian Bueno-Galdos joined the military, he hoped that his enlistment would
help protect those closest to him. Now, after paying the ultimate sacrifice, the country he
left to defend is on the verge of tearing his family apart.

Sgt. Bueno-Galdos was working to help his mother obtain permanent residency status in
the United States. But when he was killed in Baghdad in May of 2009, his mother’s path to
citizenship was put in jeopardy.

Now, still mourning the death of her son, Eugenia Galdos is facing deportation by American Immigration Services.

Univision also did a segment on that story:

On this Veterans Day, let us remember all veterans; but let us not forget our Latino brothers and sisters and others of immigrant backgrounds that proudly served or are currently serving in our U.S. military.

Update: thanks to the Immigration Impact Blog for highlighting the following stats from the Essential to the Fight: Immigrants in the Military Eight Years After 9/11 report from the Immigration Policy Center:

As of June 30, 2009, there were 114,601 foreign-born individuals serving in the armed forces, representing 7.91 percent of the 1.4 million military personnel on active duty. Roughly 80.97 percent of foreign-born service members were naturalized U.S. citizens, while 12.66 percent were not U.S. citizens.