As eventually happened with Vietnam, U.S. military involvement in Iraq is pulling Hispanics in two directions. Maybe three.
Numbers tell some of the story. The latest Pew Hispanic Center poll found less than a quarter of Latinos (24 percent) support U.S. troop participation. That’s down from 31 percent in 2006 and 39 percent in 2004.
Department of Defense figures show that Hispanics comprise 10.9 percent of those serving in the armed forces, well below their percentage in the eligible age group in the three decades of the volunteer army.
There are those like Jess Quintero, who served two tours — one in the Army and one in the Air Force — toward the end of the Korean War and leading up to Vietnam.
Quintero, president of the Hispanic War Veterans of America, talks proudly of Hispanic contributions in defending the world’s democratic ideals from the Revolutionary War forward. He recites the names of family members, from generations past to grandchildren, who with no hesitation answered the call.
Then there is Pablo Paredes, more recently a petty officer third class and weapons-control technician in the Navy. Declaring his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, he refused to board the USS Bonhomme Richard as it deployed to the Persian Gulf in December 2004 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He received an administrative discharge after serving three months at hard labor without confinement and a demotion in rank. He now works as a peace educator with the American Friends Service Committee.
Then there’s the third and largest element, reflective perhaps of the broader community’s attitude. This group is neither rallying friends and families to “save democracy” nor actively protesting the U.S. commitment.
Few Hispanics were visible in the basically white anti-war protests across the country this month. Nor have they formed visible anti-war groups of their own, such as those that sprouted up in the Vietnam era.
Most memorable was the 1970 national Chicano Moratorium march in East Los Angeles, in which a county sheriff’s deputy killed KMEX-TV news director Ruben Salazar with an armor-piercing tear-gas missile. On the East Coast, the mostly Puerto Rican Young Lords staged similar demonstrations.
Today’s older anti-war Latinos often have a background in Vietnam-era activism, while a smaller number are parents of soldiers who’ve died in more recent Middle East conflicts, says Jorge Mariscal, a professor of Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California-San Diego.
“Younger Latinos are involved because they see the impact of the war on their friends and the militarism in their schools with recruitment,” Mariscal says, suggesting more aren’t involved because of the lack of outreach from mainly white anti-war groups.
(Emily C. Ruiz is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington. Reach her care of e.cruiz(at)hotmail.com.)