Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Who Are You Calling "Amigo"?

I’ve noticed something within the past few days. Everybody in Boston had a smile on their face. They have flocked to the Common in order to romp with their dogs or toss a ball around with each other. At first, I thought all this giddiness resulted from the sudden warm temperatures after frigid, frigid cold. Then I realized it’s that special feeling we all get when Bushie is out of the country. Yes, nothing makes our hearts feel lighter than knowing that Bush is some other country’s problem, even if just for a little bit of time. Every moment like it is precious.

You know that the pilots on Air Force One must be tempted to just leave him behind one day. The Brazilian Ambassador will arrive at the airport and find a note pinned to Bush’s jacket:
“Here is little Georgie. We can’t take care of him anymore. Please find him a good home. He takes his nap at four.” Can heads of state be foundlings?

This time Bushie (who has to be the least traveled president in recent memory (not counting his never-ending vacations at his ranch)) decided that he would pretend to care about Latin America – or, for that matter, pretend that he even knew where Latin America appears on a globe. No matter which Latin American nation he visited, Bushie must have been surprised at the almost universal condemnation.

During his tour, Bush claimed that he cared about Latin America and wanted to improve relations. In the United States he is used to being able to simply say that he cares and people take him at his word. For some peculiar reason, the people in Latin America wanted actual proof of said caring.

How did he try to make good on that? Well, he started by barely spending six hours in Colombia. Hey, he said he wanted to improve relations, not spend the night. After visiting three other nations that he never knew existed before last Tuesday, Bush jetted up to Mexico. Once again, Bush took the opportunity to reiterate his support for a massive wall along the border between his nation and the other. Some in Mexico pointed out that the money spent on the wall, which will accomplish nothing, could actually be used to provide direct aide to the poor in Latin America. This, in turn, might negate the need for migration in the first place. Bush, however, was too busy trying to find a Taco Bell to listen.

Really, though, Bush’s incompetence and his half-hearted interest in Latin America doesn’t surprise me. Another story on Latinos caught my attention much more.

PBS commissioned yet another Ken Burns documentary. This time, Burns set out to chart the little discussed Second World War. How often have I said, “If only somebody would stop and think about that forgotten war!”

Bitch, please. Does the United States even remember that it fought in any other war?

Burns, however, decided that Latinos’ experiences during World War II were simply not important. In seven episodes (fourteen-hours of television), Burns does not once mention any Latino veteran – at all.

Around 500,000 Latinos joined the various branches of the U.S. armed forces out of a total population of about 2.7 million (To put that another way, almost a fifth of all Latinos living in the U.S. served in the military during World War II). The Latino enlistment rate, as would be the case for Korea and Vietnam, was higher than the population at large in relation to their percent of the total population.

Latinos served in both theaters, often with distinction. In Italy, Company Z of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Division consisted entirely of Tejanos, most of them from El Paso. This regiment won wide praise for heroics on the battlefield In particular, Lieutenant Gabriel Navarette from El Paso and Sgt. Manuel S. Gonzales from Fort Davis, Texas, both won the Distinguished Service Cross.

Latinos disproportionately served in the Pacific theater. Government officials specifically selected Mexican American units for service in the Pacific based on a belief that their alleged racial characteristics meant that they could “better endure the hardships.” The War Department, for instance, converted a major chunk of New Mexico’s national guard into the 200th Coast Artillery Corps to defend the Philippines. This unit faced inhuman torture during the infamous Bataan Death March after the U.S. abandoned the islands to Japan early in the war.

Mexican Americans were one of the most highly decorated ethnic groups in the U. S. Armed Forces. Mexican-American soldiers won scores of Silver and Bronze Stars, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart. Twelve Mexican Americans received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Stories of Mexican American service to the United States are easily found. Joe Martínez, born in Taos, worked the sugar-beet fields of Colorado before he enlisted in the army. Posthumously, Congress awarded Martínez their medal of honor for gallantry in the Aleutians.

Of course, this is just a tiny number of things that I could mention. It also totally ignores the home-front.. Nor have I mentioned the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles. During that event, white sailors traveling in groups of 10 to 150 men entered Mexican neighborhoods targeting Mexican-American teenagers wearing Zoot Suits. That, though, is a story for another day.

PBS is claiming that they didn’t intend to exclude Latinos. They argue that they couldn’t tell everybody’s story. Apparently if you can’t tell everybody’s story, the stories you decide not to tell are the ones given by Latinos.

Burns and his crew decided to focus on the experiences of four “typical” American towns. Apparently what made these towns “typically” American was their total lack of any Latinos. Still, it’s hard to imagine that not a single Latino family lived in or near Sacramento, California, one of the towns selected for the documentary.

Historically, Mexican Americans in California sacrificed a great deal. During World War II, California Congressman Jerry Voorhis observed:

    As I read the causality lists form my state, I find anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of these names are names such as Gonzales or Sanchez, names indicating that the very lifeblood of our citizens of Latin-American descent in the uniform of the armed forces of the United States is being poured out to win a victory in the war. We ought not to forget that..

Not only did PBS forget, they are entirely unapologetic about this historical omission. To add insult to injury, PBS announced that they would release the documentary on September 16 – The starting day of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Burns’ production company has claimed the documentary is “a look at the human experience” during the war. There’s the problem, in my mind. If Burns said that this documentary was narrowly focused on the experiences of just a few people, the absence of Latinos might be more acceptable. The language he uses, however, suggests that he believes this documentary to be greater than just the people he interviewed. Even the title, “The War,” implies that we are supposed to consider these stories “universal.”

When Burns set out to chart what he imagined as the “human experience,” he already had certain presumptions of who he considered typically “human.” Latinos’ experiences during World War II are Latinos’ experiences. Who other than Latinos could relate to that? The experiences of white Americans, however, shows the human condition to which we should all relate.

Sure, Burns included some stories from African Americans. PBS was also quick to point out, in response to the criticism about Latinos’ absence, that they did include a section on Japanese-American internment. Because, apparently, all minorities share the same experience and acknowledging one groups’ story is really acknowledging all minorities' struggles. So, why bother to learn what is unique about each group? Latinos, PBS seems to claim, are just too sensitive. So what if PBS never acknowledges your existence or contributions to this nation?

In reality, there is nothing more “typical” about Mobile, Alabama than there is about Los Angeles, California. Luverne, Wisconsin is not more “American” than Santa Fe, New Mexico. Burns made clear and conscious choices about those towns based on his own hidden assumptions about which stories he wanted to tell. We are told once again that the white experience is the real American experience, everybody else is just a footnote.

Sometimes we hear a defense of this thinking based on numbers. Latinos, Asians, and African Americans, after all, are “minorities.” Of course, the United States is rapidly becoming a non-white majority nation. In Texas, Hawai’i, California, and New Mexico, that is already the reality. Based on that logic, should we feel at liberty to now ignore whites in the history of those states? Should I break out my Sharpie marker and history book every time we take a new census?

Latinos remain on the margins of U.S. history even after decades of concerted effort by dedicated scholars to recover and write those experiences. If this is how the U.S. treats its own citizens of Latin American descent, is it any wonder that Latin America is a wee bit suspicious of the nation’s intentions?


Doug said...

The whites want to paint a Norman Rockwell picture, but they're running out of white paint. It's a sham, the whole thing. The "father knows best" images are pure bullshit.

It's only a matter of time before whites are a severe minority, and enough non-whites have the money and power to bring out the truth. That's the fear behind the Great Wall of America and the immigration controversy.

Roger Green said...

1. Someone quipped, Since Bush is out of the country, maybe now would be a good time to build that wall.
2. In 2000, Bush said the same thing about our relationship with Latin America. "But then 9/11 happened." Am I the only person who believes that 9/11 does not give our govt carte blanche to ignore huge parts of the world, suspend all sorts of civil liberties, etc., etc.?

3. Jerry Voorhis. Didn't he once lose to Nixon?

4. Yeah, all of us colored peiople are the same. Didn't you know that?

Ed said...

I heard Bushie was in Brazil and the locals were protesting, I said right on I think I'll go join them, then I realized they weren't talking about Brazil, Indiana.
Great Idea, let's build that wall while he's on the other side of it. I can't wait for Clinton to get into the White House, I'm sure he can do a better job even if he has to pretend his wife is in charge.

chilo said...

After World War Two, returning veteranos came back to change the status of being relegated to second class citizenship. Thus the emergence of the American GI Forum under Dr. Hector P. Garcia from Corpus Christi, Texas...and my unsung hero of Latino History Gustavo Carlos Garcia abogado de leyes,amigo de los pobres... his service record says it all; he was Judge Advocate to the Port of Yokohama, served on the War Crimes Tribunals in Japan,and if you look closely enough in your US History books...the black and white photo with the Japanese surrundering aboard the USS Missouri, there stands Gus in all his bravado.
in the end he was right, "Given time, there will be more of us than them".
Time's up.
Que Viva Gus!

Marve said...

Seven installments, fifteen hours, forty families interviewed--and he didn't have space to include something about Native Americans, Latinos, or women? And they're billing this as a look at the "quintessesntial American experience" *cringe*. I call shenanigans. If Japanese-Americans hadn't been interned, I'm betting we wouldn't have gotten any air time either.

dykewife said...

betcha he left out native americans...maybe the movie "windtalkers" was good enough for them. the same thing happens here when documentaries are made about the canadian forces...they leave out the large contingent of aboriginal men who fought in the war and came back to learn that because they were "indians" they weren't entitled to veterans benefits...

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I'm dumbfounded about the PBS series and amazed that they can defend it. It's dumb, stupid, etc, etc.

However, I think there's more going on here than just white folks clinging desperately to some sort of white privilege. For example, there are the commercial aspects of catering to those who control and consume popular culture, people who, in most of the country, are still in the majority.

The whole war on illegal immigrants and the plan for the stupid wall is about catering to a sub-set of white folk (and, if we're really honest, subsets of other racial and ethnic groups, too). These people are easily sold a lie by Bush and his cronies, in the same way that fascist regimes throughout history have sought to scapegoat minorities.

We mustn't be too quick to assume that racist, sexist or homophobic motivations are always at play. Personally, I think these motivations often ARE the real story. But if someone is ignorant of the contributions throughout American history of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latina/o Americans, LGBT Americans, etc., is that the fault of the consumer or the producers of the information? It seems to me that sometimes, at least, "whitey" is a victim in a different way of the same system that oppresses minorities and suppresses knowledge of their contributions.

Schools have to accept some responsibility for their role in dumbing-down history education so that it becomes little more than a sort of greatest hits revue, all-singing, all-dancing and all-white. The media have to accept responsibility for perpetuating myth and stereotype. And all individuals have to take responsibility for their own actions, or lack of them, in becoming better informed.

GayProf, you're certainly doing more than your fair share to educate, and you do it in a way that's entertaining, too. Thank you.

Seeker Onos said...

Again with the identity politics... but indeed, that is the Gravitas that gives weight to even a droll PBS documentary.

Thing I gotta wonder about though, if Doug's "prophecy" bears true, is how we will be when we do get enough of a Hispanic majority that we get around to calling ourselves "Los Estados Unidos de America" and start clamouring for recognition of Spanish as the language of the land.

Might render that whole Aztlan thing quite moot, although if present trends continue, I still tend to think that the USA will eventually balkanize along racial lines - whites in the Northwest (excluding Cascadia, which is where the liberal whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders will flock to -- the rest will likely be full of unpleasant Aryan types), New Nubia in the old confederate states, and the Northeast getting broken up into various corporate duchies and what-have you, with the Great Lakes states becoming an Islamic republic under Shariah law.

Native Americans? Well, they will probably get the shaft on this realignment of the Powers That Be, too... unless they can somehow keep the casinos afloat during Civil War II.

Fun times ahead, indeed.

I guess us white crackas ought to get to making some babies and fast, if we are to hold on to what little shred of a "majority" we have left.

B. said...


Roger Green said...

Off topic, UI love this topic, because =this minister has managed to tick off EVERYONE:

brian said...

Thanks chilo for the heads up on Hector and Gustavo Garcia.Something new can be learned everyday!
Seeker you better get on the job and start breeding.I understand you can still get a great deal on Idahoreal estate.
Great post GayProf!

Chad said...

I suppose that I should be thankful a little more attention is given to Native American contributions to World War II, but it's always centered around how the military used the Navajo language. To me at least it comes across as: "The military was able to find this whacky indigenoius language and used it as a code. By the way, there were some Native Americans that even fought in World War II. Now let's move on..."

GayProf said...

Doug: There does seem to be a lot of fear in this nation.

ROG: I totally agree about the 9/11 excuse. It was amazing to me that people could be so easily hushed.

Ed: I thought that we all agreed that it was GayProf in '08.

Chilo: Yes, I had intended to discuss the longer range impact of World War II on veterans, including the leaders who emerged to fight for civil rights. I ran out of space, though. Thanks for pointing it out.

Marve: It is a sloppy documentary to be so oblivious.

DykeWife: I am not willing to take that bet. If Latinos didn't make the cut, I am sure Native Americans weren't even on the radar.

Arthur: I didn't intend to imply that this is part of a larger conspiracy. Rather, I imagine this is how ideas about race work in more subtle ways. Burns' ignoring of Latinos probably does not indicate his a member of the Klan. Rather, it shows a more subtle assumption about who he imagines as "typical" Americans (whites). His inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the problem with this thinking is probably tied to an over-inflated sense of self.

Seeker: I have nothing to say to any of that.

B. "!" indeed.

ROG2 Yes, I did see this. I have thought about an entry on it. Stay tuned...

Brian: There is so much we still don't know about Latinos' roles in the U.S. I hope that more research can be brought to light (even if it won't be coming from PBS).

Chad: Right -- And the discussion that does exist on native peoples often ignores the unfair economic and social circumstances they faced in this nation.

Seeker Onos said...

My earlier commentary was more directed at the general sense of trying to appease each and every "identity group" that politicizes itself...

...I reckon that occassionally recognizing the contributions of this or that subset of Americans helps promote racial pride (to whichever group is concerned)... but I'd be happier to see the pendulum come back closer to the middle of its arc, where we pay less attention to what is in front of the "Great Hyphen", and far more attention to simply being "American".

Un-hyphenated, and unadulterated.

To stay far too focused on pleasing and dividing into so many splintered identities will prove far more harmful than good, and it is the extreme end of that which would lead to Civil War II.

Seeker Onos said...

In fact, my wife and I were discussing this in particular - and I think one thing that would go a ___long___ way toward breaking down so many "divides" would be to encourage far more interacial/intercultural marriages.

The more we truely mix and match, the less important the "Almighty Hyphen" becomes.

Sarah said...

GP: You may want to check out Thursday's episode of "Fresh Air" on NPR - they spent almost the whole program talking with Ken Burns about the documentary, and even asked him about the absence of Latinos and other minority groups from the documentary. Of course, he pulled out the whole "we wanted to document 'universal' experiences, not those of any particular group" bullshit (as if white people weren't also a "particular group"), and basically admitted to what Marve suggested above. Apparently, Japanese internment renders the Japanese-American perspective SO unique that it must be mentioned, but all other contributions don't bear examining.

On second thought, you might roll your eyes so hard that they get stuck in the back of your head. Mine almost did. (I'm sure all those people on the T this morning were wondering...)

Thanks for enlightening us.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

GayProf, I didn't mean to imply that you were implying a conspiracy. I was concerned that the comments might head in the "blame whitey" direction. I apologize to you for not making that clearer because your posts are always fair and balanced, IMHO.

I completely agree with your response to my comment (and the larger post, actually). Reactions to race and ethnicity are often nuanced, as you imply, and that's what I was really trying to get at.

I admire the way you restrain yourself from throttling (metaphorically speaking) some of your post subjects and commenters. It's not like you're not given cause.