Jorge Mariscal speaks about the recruitment of Latin Americans in the US army

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Proyecto Yano activista Jorge Mariscal dirige a los periodistas en una conferencia de prensa el 29 de agosto en San Diego, el anuncio de una campaña nacional para contrarrestar el reclutamiento militar entre los estudiantes de secundaria y universitarios latinos.

Interview with Jorge Mariscal, anti-recruitment activist of the YANO (Non-Military Opportunities for Young People) organization.

The Hispanos who choose to enlist in the US army to fight in Iraq.

Jorge Mariscal is a professor of the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies at the University of California in San Diego.

The vast majority of Hispano youth in the US have the possibility to open three doors toward their futures. One of them has badly paid jobs of little importance, where they will be discriminated against continually. The second door that they can open is that of the prison. The last one briAngs them in front of the recruiter. They bring registration forms to them while they listen to promises about the world of opportunities. All they have to do is “defend their homeland” in Iraq.

“Very few Latinos that live in the United States reach university. 40% do not finish secondary school. The demographic growth of the Hispano community in this country is very high, but on the other hand, the opportunities for better jobs are fewer and fewer. The truth is that some but very few manage to complete their studies, thanks to being enlisted in the army and many lose their lives in places like Iraq. In 20 years we will have in the southern states of the Union a true “Apartheid”, like that which South Africa suffered.” Jorge Mariscal

Tell us how a recruitment day is in a school in San Diego. What psychological, economic, social and political factors enter in to play for the army recruiters filling their forms with young Hispanos?

First, allow me to say that I work for an organization whose initials in English are “Project YANO” (Project of Non-Military Opportunities for Young People). This project has been doing work against enlistment by making the same young people that are the targets of the recruiters aware of what enlistment to the United States army means and in addition holding conversations and workshops with their families. Already in 1980 we realized that the government did not grant loans for studies that did not enlist them. This showed us that the war and its entire apparatus have a component of discrimination of social and economic class. The war is a tool of the perpetuation and deepening of economic differences.

During the Clinton administration, it realised the small representation of our community in the army and in turn the few opportunities for economic and social improvement that Hispanos have in the United States.

A very low percentage of our youth reach university, more than 40% do not complete secondary school. So this presents an entirely new effort, on the part of the government, in presenting the army as an opportunity for economic and social ascension for our youth.

The recruitment programs are in Spanish, the recruiters begin to manipulate the signs and symbols of the Hispano youth, and they penetrate their culture, in order to be able to convince them of the benefits of enlisting in the army. The school changes in to the ideal place for the recruiters. They share lunch with the youth, in the playgrounds playing basketball and chatting to them about the benefits of enlistment, but also the study programs that exist, like for example “the military version of history”, “patriotic values” and the rest. The same recruiter’s manual says that these must “take control” of the school. In San Diego we have schools where the tutors bring students to military bases or to a Marine Core graduation. Sometimes the same soldiers arrive at the classrooms with posters and slides to talk about military life.

What are the three principle reasons that cause young Latinos to say “But I need to do this now”, enlisting as a Marine?

J.M. - The main reason is “I want to study and my family cannot pay for my education.” That is to say, they enlist themselves in order to be able to study in the future (another account of the postponed and diverted desire, typical of the working class in the USA). The truth is that some but very few finish their studies, thanks to being enlisted in the army and many lose their lives in places like Iraq. Secondly, the youths say “I want to be someone” or “I want to make my parents proud”, or “I want to make a difference”, that is the result of the alienation created in the poor and minority communities within the capitalist system in the USA. Since the youths are missing a feeling of belonging or personal choice, in order to be able to have an impact on the world as an individual they look for belonging offered through the military (another illusion, of course). And third you have to admit that many young Hispanos operate within blind patriotism or blind nationalism, a result of brainwashing, in which they reproduce the ideologies of the ruling class saying silliness like “USA, we are number one” and things of this nature.

What response does the anti-recruitment campaign of the YANO project have? How are the young Latinos responding to this campaign?

J.M. Project YANO provides information to the youth about the realities of military life. The war in Iraq is going to stop any day now. We are dealing with stopping the next war, by means of a grassroots movement against militarism, above all against the militarization of the school system in the USA. The fact that the Marines have a program for children from eight years old indicates the level up to which militarization has reached in this country. But certainly, what we need is an agenda about national priorities that is totally different to the current one. If the questions of education, health and economic justice are not resolved, the masses of Hispanos and other non-privileged groups are going to be pushed toward the armed forces, the least desirable jobs or prison. Many young Hispanos realise that their future is at stake and they respond very positively to our campaign. Above all the new coming immigrant families have supported us.

The emigration from a given country implies a denial and the immigration to another, recognition of cultural values. How are the second generation American (Latino) population, including the young people affected in this process of transculturation?

J.M. It depends a lot on where the individual is located. There are some young Hispanos that totally assimilate to the dominant culture. That is to say, they identify a-critically with the values of the system, of power, of the establishment. Some of them reach to high levels of power like the District Attorney Alberto Gonzalez (son of Mexican farmers from southern Texas) “confirming” the myth of “Horatio Alger” or of the vertical mobility for everyone. These function as non-meaningful examples but justifiers of the agenda of the leading class. There are others that recognize that you have to make changes in order to be able to advance with respect to social and democratic justice. Those of Mexican origin know themselves as Chicanos.

The colonialist image of the “noble savage” (the Indian Tonto from the series “The Lone Ranger”) is perhaps that which better fits in the representative figures of American political life like Alberto Gonzalez (Attorney General) and soldiers like Ricardo Sanchez (Lieutenant General and chief General of Operations in Iraq in 03-04). Both are Hispanos, the establishment presents both of them as models, paradigms, examples. However they are the opposite. Why?

J.M. They are all the opposite for us as we want to promote a more just society, not for the “elected” but for everyone. For others, Gonzales, Sanchez and Rice are positive models. Concerning this theme, you have to return to the classical studies of colonialism (Memmi, Fanon) that explain how colonialism produces? some exemplary individuals? taken out of the oppressed group to demonstrate the good intentions of their masters. In reality Bush has been brilliant in his cooption of a policy based on “race” and the demand of minority groups that there are more people of colour in the Government. The cases of Gonzalez and Sanchez are fascinating, not only because both have climbed to high ranks of the Bush Government, but also because their families began as farmers in the countryside of southern Texas. Now the conflict makes itself evident when we know that both have supported the most reactionary and cruel practices of Bush and his cohorts, torture, attacks against the protection of constitutional rights, etc. For me the fact that Sanchez authorized the use of dogs against Iraqi prisoners (the same as what the Spanish did to the ancient Mexicans in the 16th century) is an astonishingly repugnant piece of information.

E.M. The American society in its ensemble is a giant indoctrination machine. One of the most promoted dogmas at present is the “fight against terrorism” and the defense of the “homeland”. What role has the corporate press played and what is it still doing in the enlistment of young people for the war of the corporations?

J.M. The media plays an important role in the militarization of the Hollywood-culture of this country. The presence of the military in all sporting events, the video games (the most popular currently was designed by the army), etc., all contributing to a pro-military inclination amongst the youth and much more since 9/11. In terms of more open recruitment, the Pentagon has a budget of billions of dollars for propaganda and complex strategies to infiltrate the school environment starting with young people from 8 to 18 years old.

E.M. Explain to us the semantic and socio-anthropological differences of the terms Latino, Hispano, Chicano and “Hispanic”

J.M. “Latino” is a generic term that is used in order to be able to include all the groups in the USA of Latin American origin from the Mexican-Americas with origins in the southwest of the country, starting from those that arrived in the previous centuries up to the more recent immigrants. “Hispanic” is another generic term invented by the federal government in the 70s and promulgated by the corporations throughout the 80s until today. Hence, it has had negative significance for many people because it is associated with conservative political positions. “Hispano” is the preferred term by the recent Spanish speaking immigrants and does not entail any of the connotations of “Hispanic.”

“Chicano” originated in the 60s as a product of the Chicano Movement, an uprising in pro civil rights and an internationalism in solidarity with the anticolonial movements in Cuba, Vietnam, Puerto Rico and other places. Currently it brings connotations of a political and progressive activist (with the exception of some xicano groups (with “x”) that promote a kind of narrow nationalism based in the indigenous identities).

E.M. What are the psycho-traumatic syndromes for an Iraq veteran of Hispano origin or, from your experience, of Vietnam, are they different to those which an Anglo-American can suffer?

J.M. The psychological effects impact any veteran according to their support network, or the resources that are available according to their economic class. The veterans of the Vietnam War that live in the streets of big cities, for example, they are from all ethnic groups. Until a certain point, studies suggest that the Hispano veterans from Vietnam suffered less than the Anglo-Americans through the greatest restraint and force of family and community ties that exist in our culture. It seems to me that we are going to see the same phenomenon with the youth that return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

E.M. Even surviving the war and overcoming post-traumatic stress syndrome, being enlisted opens future opportunities for you if you are Latino or even if you are a poor white person?

J.M. In many cases yes. The military service has served the Hispanos of the USA as a route toward the middle class, since the first Mexicans enlisted themselves after the conquest of the South West in 1848. This happened most after the Second World War. The absence of options makes the military service one of few doors open to a community that is considered by the governing class as cheap labor. For many veterans, however, the opportunities do not increase after service and for many they diminish. Many of the men that live in the streets of the USA without homes are war veterans.

E.M. If since 1991 more than 11 million veterans of the Golf War have died of unknown or unclear illnesses (depleted uranium) and more than 160 million suffer exhausted or in a chronic state, how do you see the repercussion that the return of the veterans of this war will have on American society in general and in the Latino communities in particular?

J.M. Now we are seeing the impact of the war with the veterans, physically and psychologically unwell, the many that have lost an arm or a leg, those that are full of resentment and hate and those that have already committed suicide. For the Latino communities it is a tragic loss of talent, that we need as much or more than other more privileged communities. In respect of the long-term effects of depleted uranium and the experimental vaccines, we are going to see similar consequences to those which we saw after Vietnam, such as the illnesses caused by chemical weapons like Agent Orange.

E.M. In the case of the enlistment of Latina women, three levels of underestimation and racism exist on the part of the dominant American military society. To the factors of immigrant and Latina, add the factor of gender. What is it that a Latina woman suffers with the military enlistment? Let’s take as an example, a Puerto Rican woman and a poor Mexican woman.

J.M. First and foremost you have to recognize that all women experience high levels of harassment and bullying in the American armed forces. Recent studies indicate that more than 80% of women have received insulting comments and even acts of violation. Now, the woman of colour is always more vulnerable to this type of conduct. In respect of the reasons for which Latin women are enrolling, there are many reasons that men give, even though at times the woman is looking for an exit from a negative domestic situation. The Puerto Ricans as much as the Mexicans enlist for economic reasons, with the difference that some Puerto Ricans from the Island inherit anti-colonialist traditions, so that their presence in the US armed forces is painfully ironic. On the other hand, a poor Mexican woman is more vulnerable to the ideologies of Horatio Alger and of blind nationalism.

E.M. The desire to be recognized, wanted and needed by the “hegemonic culture of power” is stronger in Latina women than in the men?

J.M. In my experience this is not so. All the young people that are missing a critical awareness facing the dominant myths are going to want to assimilate. In fact, the men are several times more aggressive in their a-critical patriotism, for example the colonized that identifies with the colonizer.

E.M. Does it not seem to you that there is a lot of hypocrisy in the US anti-war movement? Now that “their friends” are falling, they want the war to finish. What differences, to your mind, exist between this anti-war movement and the one of Vietnam?

J.M. The anti-war movement in the USA is composed of many distinct sectors. Some sectors are pacifist with origins in the North American churches, others are liberal or socialist of the anti-imperialist type and others included are conservatives but pro-isolation in foreign policy. I do not see any hypocrisy in these sectors. In fact, these groups formed an impressive anti-war movement before the invasion of Iraq. The problem is that for the vast majority of people, the war is distant precisely because “their friends” are not affected, however the friends of the lower middle or working classes are. The big difference between today and the war of Vietnam is the fact that currently we do not have conscription or obligatory military service. The “draft” is always capable of mobilizing millions of young people that are threatened by the imperialist wars.

E.M. Why is the American anti-war movement not putting more emphasis on reinforcing the concept of Patriotic Forces, Heroic Warriors and Town Martyrs to all the Iraqis that gave their lives in defense of their country, of their culture, sovereignty and liberty?

J.M. It would be difficult to reinforce this type of solidarity position as in the USA we do not know the details of the Iraqi resistance. We presume that there is a sector of resistance that is socialist and secular, but who are they? The media in the USA do not say any word about them, but they talk constantly about the Islamic fundamentalists, the remnants of the Ba’ath Party, etc. Whilst during the USA war in Vietnam it was quite easy to promote the solidarity with the Vietnamese farmer. Now the complexity of the situation in Iraq makes this more problematic.

E.M. The “hard core “of the Yankee Oligarchy (the 500 families) is fighting two bloody wars at present, one has an external face, in Iraq and the other an internal face, against the minorities, the immigrants and the poor in general that live in America. What role do young Latinos play in these wars?

J.M. Of course, the oligarchy in the USA does not function in a monolithic manner. For example, in the case of the immigrants there are native racists like the Ku Klux Klan, for example, the named Minutemen (hunters of illegal immigrants on the Mexican-USA border), supported by conservative intellectuals of high rank like Samuel Huntingdon of Harvard University, say that the Hispano immigrant is the most serious threat to the culture, the traditions and the American identity. Now, there is another more corporate sector represented by Bush and his cohorts that agree that the immigrant is an economic necessity that has to be managed in order to be able to best exploit it. Currently, the Hispano youth form a vanguard of resistance to the new waves of anti-immigrants and the resurgence of racism. Concerning the imperialist wars, the Hispano community still has not said enough.

Historically, our community has always arrived late to an international policy due to the fear created by the racist pressures (example, the US war in Vietnam).

E.M. The fascist policy of Bush has a big resistance from some of the young Latino groups. How are these groups suppressed?

J.M. Unfortunately today, a coordinated movement of young Latinos does not exist even though in all regions of the country there are small groups of activists that follow local agendas like defensive reaction to the effects of the reactionary policy of Bush and the CIA. These groups form around the questions of educational opportunity, migration, solidarity with the Zapatistas and with Venezuela, etc. However they lack a resistance as coherent as Bush, such as Hispano leaders at the national level that are not bought by the system.

E.M. For American society in general and possibly for the youth in particular and more especially for young Latinos, it is very difficult “to see”, to interpret society in dialectical terms. Well, this is no accident. The YANO project explains in its anti-recruitment campaigns that the imperialist armies, like the American one, have a unique objective to protect the economic interests and therefore the politicians of the American oligarchy?

J.M. In our campaigns we have to think strategically for the long term. If we want to enter in to public schools to debate the propaganda of the military recruiters, we cannot include an anti-imperialist analysis in our presentation or in our literature. In doing this we make ourselves useless because we lose access to the big groupings of youth. Nevertheless, in our media writings and in the community forums yes we can enter more into questions of this type, trying to link the question of military service with the totality of the political context in a neo-imperialist era.

E.M. The regressive culture of power has tried to paint a figure of a more folkloric Chicano than political. How has the fight of the Chicanos against the Vietnam War and the Iraq War been?

J.M. The Chicanos mounted their own anti-war movement in 1969. Many were inspired by the example of the Cuban Revolution, the student movement in Mexico and the fight of the Vietnamese people. There were important anti-war demonstrations by the Chicanos and Puerto Ricans during this time and in the biggest of the 29 August 1970 in Los Angeles, California, the police killed three people including the Mexican-American reporter Ruben Salazar. The reactionary forces, above all, during the Ronald Reagan government have tried to delete this history and have had success. Many young Hispanos, above all those which arrived as immigrants in the last decade, do not know this legacy of militancy and resistance. Currently we do not have a Hispano movement against neo-imperialism. Nevertheless, it is important to note that some of the conscientious objectors most noted are Latinos like the ex-sergeant Camilo Mejia of Nicaraguan origin. Mejia fought in Iraq, returned and refused to return to the war zone. He was sentenced to 9 months in prison and now speaks out against the war. It is not easy to take a radical position as a Hispano today when the anti-Hispano and racist environment is increasing each day.

E.M. The doctrine of the Manifest Destiny does not only have an imperial face, beyond the American borders, but also an internal face that is the Manifest Destiny of the English speaking, whites and protestants over the rest of the population. What is the analysis that the minorities make about this internal face of control and domination and is this analysis is based in revolutionary principles?

J.M. Of course the first case of the Manifest Destiny was the invasion and occupation of Northern Mexico by the USA during the 1840s. So as American citizens of Mexican descent and with “Chicana” awareness we know very well that this ideology remains in force at the beginning of the 21st century. To realise this you can read some recent studies of the Pentagon that reproduce the same racial stereotypes about “the Latino” invented in the 19th century. The analysis of the vast majority of Hispanos, however, is located within the pluralism of liberal democracy, that is to say, within the demand for civil rights, equal access to education and other resources, etc. With the exception of some groups of the revolutionary left, there are not any revolutionary analyses by Hispanos. But in thinking with open eyes you have to admit that objective conditions do not exist in the USA for a revolutionary movement. According to Che, an American student in 1963, his book about the guerilla war was not designed for use in the Rocky Mountains.

E.M. What is your evaluation on the military past and patriotic delivery of George W Bush?

J.M. This is very tragic and if there were not as many deaths and as much pain by this means, it would be hysterically funny. As the whole world knows, neither Bush, nor the people that are around him, starting with the vice president Cheney served in the military. Due to the fact that many of them come from rich and influential families, with connections and friends in high places, they manage to escape from serving their country? The most courageous hid during their war on Vietnam. The most hypocritical thing of all this is that they are the men that send our young people to Iraq to kill and to die, in a war that only benefits their oil companies. Perhaps Cheney, now, has experienced something of the military life after the day of hunting partridges and the gunshot wound to his friend.

Who knows? With this administration anything is possible

* Producer of alternative broadcast media in the Ontario Province, Canada.

Source: Antimilitaristas

Translation: Grace Brown