War

Rearview Mirror

It is an axiom that no culture can look upon its sins objectively without flinching. Actually, I just made that up, but it certainly sounds axiomatic to me.

For example, here in the United States, we went decades before admitting that putting Japanese Americans in camps during World War II was a bad idea. And that was positively light speed compared to how long it took us to apologize for slavery or to acknowledge that we weren’t exactly nice to the Native Americans.

Before we beat up too much on the USA, keep in mind that nations such as Germany, Turkey, and China all have trouble acknowledging that at some point in the past, they kind of, sort of, did some unpleasant things.

That’s why it’s fascinating that Guatemala is the first nation “in the Americas to prosecute a former head of state, in its own domestic courts, for the ultimate crime.”

The crime is genocide, and the defendant is former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, whose forces wiped out whole villages when he was in power during the 1980s.

The outcome of the trail, of course, is of great interest to Guatemalans in the United States, many of whom fled here during Efraín Ríos Montt’s reign of terror.

On a larger scale, however, the trail shows how it’s never too late for a nation to face its past, no matter how unpleasant the process.

 


Anticlimax

Iraq isn’t our problem anymore. Who cares. Good riddance.

—Internet commentator

USA! USA! USA!

—The same guy, nine years ago.

Future generations will never confuse it with VJ Day. This time, there were no jubilant crowds in Times Square or iconic photographs of sailors kissing nurses or a cross-continental outpouring of relief and exuberance.

Instead, there was a collective shrug as a military convoy rolled through the Iraq desert. The war that began with Shock and Awe ended with Confusion and Indifference.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Muy Peligroso

I’ve written before about my family’s roots in El Salvador. I’ve also written about how I have never been there, but hope to go someday.

Well, it looks like I sure can pick lovely vacation spots. A recent report pegged my family’s homeland as the most dangerous country in the world. The homicide rate is 71 per 100,000 inhabitants — the highest rate on the planet.

For the sake of comparison, such terrifying places as Colombia (35 per 100,000), South Africa (34 per 100,000), and Haiti (22 per 100,000) all register at less than half the homicide rate of El Salvador.

I am less than thrilled to hear this, if for no other reason than Cousin #7 now lives there, and I am naturally concerned about him. But I also don’t like hearing that one of the few countries I really want to visit someday has so many murders that you have to wonder if the babies carry handguns.

The culprit, as it is in much of Latin America, is the out-of-control drug war. El Salvador had actually gotten on the right track after its gruesome civil war ended in the 1990s. But the cartels and their bloody business model have wiped out the nation’s meager improvements.

I suppose I can use this new information to create some kind of tough-guy origin myth. I mean, how many Americans can say that their family emigrated from the most dangerous country in the world? Come on, how badass are we?…

Actually, that’s not very satisfying, and nobody’s impressed anyway — so skip it.

By the way, the United States clocks in at 5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, which is a pretty good number compared with the rest of the planet. But if you really want to feel safe, go to Iceland, which has the lowest crime rate in the world and a murder rate of zero.

Think about that — nobody gets killed in Reykjavik. The same cannot be said of El Salvador.


American Tragedy

For the past year or so, I’ve been critical of Arizona, and with reason. But now is not the time for rehashing SB 1070 or the state’s attempts to whitewash its culture.

Instead, all of us are sending positive thoughts, good karma, and, yes even prayers to Tucson.

The assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords left six people dead and a dozen wounded.

We have no idea if the gunman was, as many pundits presume, motivated by right-wing vitriol or Sarah Palin’s crosshairs or some other conservative fear-mongering tactic.

However, it would be the ultimate elephant-in-the-room moment to avoid bringing up the unsavory connections.

After all, we’re talking about a psycho in a red state who took advantage of lax gun-control laws to carry out an attack on a Democrat. The guy spouted conspiracy theories that are close to right-wing talking points, and he expressed hatred for the government. Let’s face it: It’s unlikely that he’s an Obama man.

Still, we don’t know what this domestic terrorist’s agenda or motives are, and we’ll set aside the hyper-defensiveness of right-wingers who are tripping over themselves to shout, “It wasn’t us, so don’t you dare even bring it up!”

Instead, what interests me is the story of Daniel Hernandez, the young intern who is credited with saving Giffords’ life. Five days into his job, he wound up running toward gunfire, taking action to prevent his boss from choking to death on her own blood in a Safeway parking lot.

The irony, clearly, is that in Arizona, a lunatic can obtain a Glock without question, while a hero named Hernandez may be stopped by cops and asked to present citizenship papers.

It should also be noted that the maniac in question is a native-born American. I mean, I thought undocumented immigrants were causing all our crime. But here this suburban thug raised in comfort has caused more death and destruction than whole neighborhoods of illegal immigrants ever have.

It’s all very depressing, of course. But even this most grotesque of events has its black-comedy moments. For example, the gunman was apparently obsessed with grammar, and he believed that the government controlled people through the manipulation of the English language.

Who knows; maybe he would have been less crazy if he just spoke Spanish.


A Grimace and a Quick Changing of the Subject

Let me thank Ashley and ColdSpaghetti for their comments on some of my recent posts.

Otherwise, it’s been kind of a glum week here at Hispanic Fanatic worldwide headquarters. Besides the stress of selling my house (see my earlier post), I was brought low when I foolishly read a newspaper.

I was checking out how the latest version of the war on terror is going when I noticed that we captured an American who fought with Al Qaeda. It isn’t too often that a real-life traitor is apprehended, so the story got my attention.

But I got queasy reading the article. Because just when I thought we had gotten over Jose Padilla, here comes Bryant Neal Vinas.

He is a Latino born in New York who, according to the L.A. Times, grew up in “working-class suburbs, where Elks Lodges mixed with taquerias.”

Perhaps that mixture didn’t work out so well, because Vinas has “admitted to meeting Al Qaeda chiefs and giving them information for a potential attack on New York” and has “fired rockets during a militant attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.” Vinas has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and to providing material support to a terrorist organization.

Now, as I’ve written before, Hispanics sometimes feel an irrational shame whenever a fellow Latino does something criminal, stupid, or vile. Reading about Vinas, I had to sigh and say, “Where’s John Walker Lindh when you need him?”

It’s not all bad news, however. A U.S. government official said that, when it comes to Al Qaeda, “Vinas’ background is clearly unusual. He stands out. A Latino American is an unusual profile.”

Well, at least it’s not common.

That’s something, isn’t it?


The Most Perverse kind of Pride

In a recent post, I talked about the insecurity that many Hispanics feel in relation to African Americans. As I’ve written before, we’re just not as cool.

Apparently, a few Latinos have taken this jealousy to a new low. According to this report, some Hispanic gang members in California “waged a racist campaign to eliminate the city’s black residents through attempted murders.” According to indictments, “Gang members take pride in their racism and… have expressed a desire to rid the city… of all African Americans and have engaged in a systematic effort to achieve that result by perpetrating crimes against African Americans.”

I’ve written before about the tenacity of Latino gangs. The usual factors of poverty, alienation from majority culture, and weak-willed groupthink help explain their popularity. If there is anything unique about Hispanic gangs – in contrast to black gangs – it is their appropriation of ethnicity as a motivating factor for lawlessness.

But I’m don’t know what to make of people who know claim the banner of ethnic pride, then proceed to reinforce every negative stereotype and fear-mongering accusation through sociopathic behavior. If I could excommunicate them from Hispanic culture, I would.

Now, I certainly don’t feel responsible for every idiotic move that a Latino makes. But this warrants a public display of disgust.

At the very least, I don’t want to fall into the trap that ensnared many Muslim Americans. A few years ago, they tried to object to their frequent demonization. But every point they made was effectively silenced with the rebuttal “You didn’t complain this much about Al-Qaeda. Denounce them if you’re so all-American.”

It should be obvious that every civilized person, regardless of race or creed, automatically rejects homicidal behavior. But just so everybody is clear: Let me be among the Hispanics who denounce these thugs.

And now we can return to our regularly scheduled rants.


Starting on a Upbeat Note

In honor of the new year – and the beginning of what so many people are convinced is a modern Era of Good Feelings – I’m going to unleash a positive story on you. It strays a bit from my focus on the Hispanic experience in America, but Mexicans are involved and it’s uplifting and everything, so I thought we could afford it.

Here’s the story.

It was the early days of World War II (for readers of the Millenial generation, that was the one with the Germans). A Mexican diplomat named Gilberto Bosques Saldívar was stationed in France.

In his position, Bosques Saldívar issued visas to refugees to help them escape persecution. He did more than this, however, and at great personal risk. He also provided the refugees with housing and chartered ships that would take them to Latin America.

Bosques Saldívar saved an estimated 40,000 Jews and other refugees from the concentration camps. There is some speculation that his efforts lead to the establishment of whole Jewish communities that endure to this day in parts of Latin America.

For his trouble, the Nazis arrested Bosques Saldívar and his family, holding them for about a year. The Mexican government won his release, and he returned to his country to continue a long diplomatic career.

His efforts earned him recognition as “the Mexican Schindler,” which sounds like the punchline to a joke about Hispanics and/or Jews but is actually quite the compliment. The guy lived to be 103 (!). But unfortunately, his work has only been recognized posthumously.

Recently, the Anti-Defamation League presented his heirs with an award on his behalf. The organization said Bosques Saldívar was “a shining example of human decency, moral courage and conviction, and his actions highlight the less well-known initiatives of Latin Americans who helped to save Jews during the Holocaust.”

It goes to show that, regardless of where you live and what your background is and what others may think of you, a Latino just may be your best bet for help.

Happy New Year.


John Wayne Was Not Latino

Today is Memorial Day, when we put flowers on the graves of dead soldiers, Marines, airmen, and Navy members, proclaiming them all to be a credit to America. This is true, for once, even of those who weren’t citizens.

As I’ve pointed out earlier, the first U.S. service member killed in the current Iraq debacle was an immigrant from Guatemala. And Hispanics have sacrificed by the thousands in U.S. wars.

Yet the contributions of Latinos to America’s military have been so overlooked that Ken Burns had to be culturally bitch-slapped to include a few minutes of extra footage of Latinos for his World War II documentary.

For this reason, “The Borinqueneers,” a PBS documentary, may be the only way for Hispanic members of the theoretical Greatest Generation to get their due. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t vouch for its quality. But it’s about time that filmmakers acknowledge that those fresh-faced corporals weren’t all redheaded kids from the Nebraska cornfields. Some of them went by Ramirez and Hernandez and Sanchez – you know, American names.


Are They American Enough?

As pointed out here, the first U.S. service member killed in the Iraq War was an immigrant from Guatemala.

The Marine profiled in this news story is from my mother’s home country of El Salvador, and he is not a U.S. citizen.

There are more than 20,000 “green-card warriors” in the U.S. military, and many of them are getting shot at in the Middle East. They fight under the U.S. flag, even as millions of citizens back home debate the best way to kick them out of the country.

It may surprise some people that non-citizens are allowed to fight in the U.S. military. But we have always embraced immigrants when they are convenient – when they can mow the lawn or take care of the babies or step up to be cannon fodder. After they have served their purpose, we give long speeches about how the sanctity of the nation demands that they be banished, and quickly before they take over.

Now, should a non-citizen die in combat, he or she receives automatic (albeit posthumous) citizenship. This has happened several times during this war. Nobody has protested this policy, because of course, a deceased Mexican-American will never move in next door to citizens and make them nervous. It seems to be our country’s way of saying, “Some of you have to die before we’ll agree that you’re fit to live among us. Ironic, isn’t it?”

Personally, I think anybody willing to face death in the service of America should get immediate citizenship upon induction, no paperwork needed. I have other ideas about the citizenship process, but that will have to wait for a future post.

Also, at some point I will go into detail about my personal stake in this story: My cousin was on his second deployment to Iraq before his citizenship papers came through. Again, I’ll talk more about him and his adventures in a future post.


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