The War for Latinos | The Nation


The War for Latinos

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While the war for young Latino hearts rages in all corners of the country, the strategic theater of battle for Latino bodies remains the Southwest, especially Southern California. A 2001 study by the US Army Recruiting Command (USAREC), for example, defined Los Angeles, the rest of Southern California, Phoenix and Sacramento as its top markets for Latino recruits. But California has also become the de facto heart of the nascent movement among US Latinos. Animating it is Fernando Suarez del Solar, a former student activist in Mexico who now lives in Escondido, California. Del Solar traces his struggle against the military to the moment he witnessed Mexican military personnel "push their bayonets into young men--and women" during a 1972 protest in the Zocalo, the central square of Mexico City. "That was my first encounter with militarismo."

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Roberto Lovato
Roberto Lovato, a frequent Nation contributor, is a New York-based writer with New America Media.

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Three decades later Del Solar took another, sharper turn against militarismo after his son, Jesus, a marine, died in Iraq in 2003. Since then, his denunciation of the "lies and half-truths" recruiters use on kids like Jesus has been unceasing. Because he can't shake images of how his then-13-year-old boy was first "seduced" by the trinkets, posters and ideas given to him by recruiters at a mall in National City, Del Solar works to educate other parents and students about recruitment and war.

Bemoaning the "lack of leadership among Latinos at the national level," Del Solar and others in the Latino counterrecruitment movement complain that national advocacy groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza are not only silent but complicit in finding fresh Latino bodies to feed the war machine. LULAC and NCLR do accept sponsorships from and provide forums for Pentagon promotion at some of their national conferences and local events. In their determination to meet what recruiting handbooks call "influencers," Marine, Army and other Defense Department personnel can be seen at LULAC and NCLR events either glad-handing or manning the recruitment Hummers, chin-up challenges, inflatable obstacle courses and other props in front of their trinket-stuffed information booths. To fill the void, Del Solar's organization, Guerrero Azteca, and Mariscal's group, YANO, have joined forces. They plan to convene a national meeting of Latino counterrecruitment organizations and leaders to connect the numerous efforts springing up across the country.

But the forces of counterrecruitment face an armada of military recruitment organizations backed by the best civilian, corporate and community alliances our tax dollars can buy. Continuing the Latino recruitment focus that started with the Clinton Administration's Hispanic Access Initiative, the Pentagon has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to turn poor Latino neighborhoods and decrepit, Latino-heavy schools into soldier factories. Last year alone USAREC deployed five brigades, forty-one battalions, 5,648 recruiters and 1,690 recruiting stations. The military won't reveal what share of its recruitment resources is being targeted at Latinos, but it's clearly substantial. For Hispanic Heritage month, the Army is highlighting Hispanic soldiers in a massive ad campaign and a Congressional Medal of Honor tour of high schools across the country.

In Puerto Rico counterrecruiters have fanned out to all 200 of the island's high schools to deliver the antimilitaristic and opt-out messages to thousands of students there. "We are picketing recruitment offices and asking Puerto Rico's Department of Education to give us 'equal time' or 'equal access' so that we can go to the schools to talk to the students against military recruitment," says Jorge Colon, spokesperson for the Coalición Ciudadana en Contra del Militarismo (Citizen's Coalition Against Militarism), a broad-based network of labor, parent, teacher, student and other groups. Like Mariscal, Colon and other Puerto Ricans link current counterrecruitment efforts to antimilitaristic traditions; much of the energy and momentum of the successful movement to rid the island of Vieques of bombing and other military exercises has been transferred to the counterrecruitment effort.

In the northernmost corner of Washington State, Rosalinda Guillen is also drawing on tradition to combat what she sees as deception in the farmlands of Skagit and Whatcom counties, where recruiters are seeking to harvest new recruits among the Oaxacan and Chiapanecan Indians and Mexican, Salvadoran and Nicaraguan immigrants working the fields. Guillen, a former leader in the United Farm Workers, returned to her hometown to fight for Latino rights, including the right of youth to decline military service. "Recruiters are going into high schools. They're going after our young people and new immigrants," says Guillen, whose organization translates opt-out materials, does educational work and plans larger strategy to fight Latino recruitment.

Like many Latinos I spoke with, Guillen has one message for the larger progressive community, especially those fighting the war and recruitment: "White-led social justice programs and organizations need to do something. They need to make broader strokes to make sure they include Latinos, and they're not right now. All they need to do is help bring the resources and we can do the work like we always have."

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