Latinos have been overrepresented in the frontlines. Just after the Iraq War started back on March 20, 2003, a report came out by the Pew Hispanic Center, reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune by Leonel Sanchez, that showed that Latinos, while underrepresented in military ranks overall, were overrepresented in combat positions. Based on DOD data from 2001, it showed that Latinos made up 9.5 percent of active-duty personnel then but were 17.7 percent of personnel who most directly handled weapons. 16.5 percent of all enlisted personnel were in infantry, gun crews, and seamanship. Latinos were 13 percent of the population as a whole. Jorge Mariscal, a longtime anti-militarism activist, goes further with the statistics. Of those Latinos in the Army 24.7 percent occupy those positions, and 19.7 percent of Marines. Overall they are overrepresented in combat positions. Mariscal further states “In the category of “supply” occupations in the Army, Latinos and Latinas made up 10.3 percent and in the Marine Corps 15.6 percent during fiscal year 2001.” Latinos made up 40 percent of the Marine Corps, 10.5 percent of the Navy, 9.7 percent of the Army and 5.6 percent of the Air Force.
For African Americans, who have for a long time been overrepresented in the military, this continued. Making up 13 percent of the population and workforce, they made up 22.5 percent of enlisted personnel, with African American women making up 35.3 percent of all women in the armed forces.
At the end of the Cold War, from 1992 to 2001 the number of active duty personnel decreased by 23 percent but the number of Latinos in uniform increased by 30 percent. At 11 percent of the population in the 90‘s, Latinos were the fastest growing sector, and the Army saw them as constituting 22 percent of the military recruiting market, double their presence in society. Rivals for this recruiting pool were universities and vocational schools.
Latinos have been underrepresented due to immigration and education factors. Caldera worked to eliminate that gap in his programs during his administration, in the programs we wrote about before.
Patriotism and Citizenship
In the Iraq War, one of the first casualties on the American side was Jose Gutierrez, a Marine Corporal. He was a recent immigrant from Guatemala, and a non-citizen. At least six Latinos were listed as killed or captured during the start of the fighting, and at least 10 non-citizens of 300 American dead have been non-citizens. In fact, thousands of non-citizens, at least 3 percent of all personnel, were in the U.S. military, about 40,000 by 2004. A third of these were from Latin America.
In July 2002 the Bush Administration put in a fast track naturalization process for foreign recruits. Instead of waiting three years to apply for citizenship, green card holders in the armed forces who enlisted after September 11, 2001 could apply immediately for citizenship. Permanent resident enlistees jumped from 300 a month before the fast track to 1,300 a month. As most Latinos are Mexican, consulates were reportedly flooded with volunteers. Also, those who died in combat were given posthumous citizenship. A bill to give citizenship to families lingered in Congress.
Another issue of Latinos in the military is the meaning of patriotism. Polls showed that nearly 70 percent of Latinos supported the Iraq War. Latinos have long served in the military. The American G.I. Forum, a Hispanic civil rights organization, was formed when a Chicano World War II vet was refused burial in a Texas town he was from. There are more Medal of Honor recipients who are Latinos. Many recent immigrants talked about the pride of burying their fallen soldier relatives as Americans. Many join the military as a proving ground for them being Americans. But as one interviewer said in the documentary Chicano: A History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, there was growing awareness that Mexican-Americans could not be accepted into American society without spilling their own blood. Vietnam brought up the high number of Latino casualties, especially during the Chicano Moratorium of August 29, 1970. In Iraq this awareness was growing too.
One of the first conscientious objectors of the Iraq War was Camilo Mejia. An immigrant from Costa Rica who still held citizenship in that country, he refused to report back to duty when he saw the reality of the occupation of Iraq, and the lies that led them there. Furthermore, about 600 U.S. soldiers have gone AWOL as of 2004. His case brings up issues with non-citizen soldiers. Recruiters have gone to Mexico and indigenous nations in Canada to get “green card recruits.” Yet non-citizens have little opportunity of advancement as they cannot be officers or get positions requiring security clearance. Thus they are more likely to be on the front lines.
Overall, many Latinos join the military the same as others, for the supposed educational benefits and job skills. They see it as a way to get the American dream. Yet there are alternatives to military service more should take up. The benefits of imperial citizenship do not outweigh the costs. They join a military involved in war and occupation for the empire. This is the legacy Caldera helped create.
Sanchez, Leonel. “Hispanics overrepresented in combat roles, report says.” San Diego Union Tribune web. March 28, 2003. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/uniontrib/fri/news/news_1n28hispanic.html (retrieved April 1, 2003).
Mariscal, Jorge. “Latinos on the Frontlines. (Once again, Latinos and Latinas are over-represented in combat positions.)” LatinoLA. Web published March 31, 2003.
Hutchinson, Earl Ofari. “HUTCHINSON: Latinos Say ‘Yes’ to Iraq War — But Why?” Alternet. April 7, 2003. http://www.alternet.org/story/15571/latinos_say_’yes’_to_iraq_war_–_but_why
Mariscal, Jorge. “They Died Trying to Become Students.” The Future for Latinos in an Era of War and Occupation. www.counterpunch.org/mariscal104182003.html (accessed 6/12/2003).
Gumbel, Andrew. “Pentagon Targets Latinos and Mexicans to Man the Front Lines in War On Terror.” The Independent (UK). September 10, 2003. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/pentagon-targets-latinos-and-mexicans-to-man-the-front-lines-in-war-on-terror-86229.html
Stapp, Katherine. “Green Card Recruits Get A Raw Deal.” Inter Press Service. May 26, 2004.