"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Belated Veterans Day Chicano(a) Literature Reading List and meditations

Greek Warrior

Well, Thursday, I'm preparing for my class that I teach, so I was a bit behind in preparing and so I did not finish this post, but here it is:

Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

As long as we have had the Pluma Fronteriza blog, we have posted many books about Chicano(a) veterans.

Past Posts on Veterans

B-17 bombers
Sabine Ulibarri (Photo: Cynthia Haines)
In 2005, we posted a review of Sabine Ulibarri's Mayhem Was Our Business, about the author's experience in a bomber crew during World War II (WWII).

This year, we posted several items about the Korean War, as we were in the 60th Anniversary of the start of the war this year:
Books on Veterans and Their Experiences

Among the books in Chicano Literature, probably the first one to really focus on Chicano veterans was Among the valiant: Mexican-Americans in WW II and Korea by Raul Morin.  

 But there are other books that focus on WWII, veterans, and other wars. Here are a few:

Hardcover - Arte Publico Press; First Edition 1995
ISBN-10: 1558851402
Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez

Despite some awkward writing and morally simplistic plot resolutions, Grattan-Dominguez's first novel offers a generally interesting account of a Mexican family's struggle to make it in America after emigrating to Texas at the start of WWII. When the family farm in Chihuahua fails, Sebastian Salazar sends his clan led by his sons Francisco and Jose Luis north in pursuit of the American dream. 

The novel's first half deals with the wartime heroism of Jose Luis's son, Miguel. After winning the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor as a member of a Hispanic-American platoon fighting the Nazis in Italy, Miguel returns stateside only to confront the corruption of the construction company that has hired him to capitalize on his military record. The second half chronicles Francisco's efforts to unite the migrant farm workers in the Rio Grande Valley, focusing on a confrontational strike against the growers that brings tragic results. 

Miguel's tale is the more compelling, in part because the military efforts of Mexican-Americans in the war remain largely undocumented. The conclusions to both Miguel's and Francisco's stories are somewhat predictable and formulaic, and at times Grattan-Dominguez seems only to skim the surface of his characters' emotional lives. Still, the author (who directed a feature film about the Mexican experience, "Only Once in a Lifetime"), is a solid storyteller who here has created a tale that sheds new light on a recent yet shadowed aspect of American history.
---- Publisher's Weekly

Paperback Bilingual Press/Editorial Biling-Ue 1998
Language: Spanish ISBN-10: 0927534770
Luis Leal (Author), Victor Fuentes (Author) 

Don Luis Leal
Autobiography. Biography. Memoir. Interview/Essay. In Spanish. Luis Leal, long-time professor at both the University of Illinois and the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of 16 books of essays and criticism and countless articles which have been instrumental in giving Chicano and Mexican literature the attention they deserve in the U.S., was born in Linares, Mexico in 1907. 

DON LUIS LEAL recounts his memoirs in the form of a fascinating, warmly intellectual conversation with fellow UC Santa Barbara professor Vmctor Fuentes, beginning with his childhood experiences as a "son of the Mexican Revolution," including the arrival of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata in Mexico City, and tracing his life in Chicago and his military experience in the Phillipines before ending in a substantial exploration of his views on Chicano literary criticism and cultural production. 

Hardcover University of Texas Press 2009
ISBN-10: 0292721153
Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez (Editor), Emilio Zamora (Editor) 

Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez 's edited volume Mexican Americans and World War II brought pivotal stories from the shadows, contributing to the growing acknowledgment of Mexican American patriotism as a meaningful force within the Greatest Generation. 

In this latest anthology, Rivas-Rodríguez and historian Emilio Zamora team up with scholars from various disciplines to add new insights. Beyond the Latino World War II Hero focuses on home-front issues and government relations, delving into new arenas of research and incorporating stirring oral histories. 

These recollections highlight realities such as post-traumatic stress disorder and its effects on veterans' families, as well as Mexican American women of this era, whose fighting spirit inspired their daughters to participate in Chicana/o activism of the 1960s and 1970s. Other topics include the importance of radio as a powerful medium during the war and postwar periods, the participation of Mexican nationals in World War II, and intergovernmental negotiations involving Mexico and Puerto Rico. 

Addressing the complexity of the Latino war experience, such as the tandem between the frontline and the disruption of the agricultural migrant stream on the home front, the authors and contributors unite diverse perspectives to harness the rich resources of an invaluable oral history.

[Paperback]University of Texas Press 2005
ISBN-10: 0292706812
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez (Editor) 

Up to 750,000 Chicanos served in World War II, earning more Medals of Honor and other decorations in proportion to their numbers than any other ethnic group. 

Chicana women entered the workforce on the home front, supporting the war effort and earning good wages for themselves and their families. But the contributions of these men and women have been largely overlooked as U.S. society celebrates the sacrifices and achievements of the "Greatest Generation."

To bring their stories out of the shadows, this book gathers eleven essays that explore the Chicano(a) experience in World War II from a variety of personal and scholarly perspectives.

The book opens with accounts of the war's impact on individuals and families. It goes on to look at how the war affected school experiences; how Chicano(a) patriotism helped to soften racist attitudes; how Chicano(a) in the Midwest, unlike their counterparts in other regions of the country, did not experience greater opportunities as a result of the war; how the media exposed racist practices in Texas; and how Mexican nationals played a role in the war effort through the Bracero program and through the Mexican government's championing of Chicano rights. 

As a whole, the collection reveals that World War II was the turning point that gave most Chicano(a) their first experience of being truly included in U.S. society, and it confirms that Chicano(a)s of the "Greatest Generation" took full advantage of their new opportunities as the walls of segregation fell.

Paperback - U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project, University of Texas at Austin; illustrated edition edition 2006 ISBN-10: 0292714181
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez

Since 1999, the U.S. Latino and Latina WWII Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin has captured the untold stories of this WWII generation. Altogether, the project videotaped more than five hundred interviews throughout the country and in Puerto Rico and Mexico. 

The future Judge Albert Armendariz Sr.
This volume features summaries of the interviews and photographs of the individuals. Among the people included are Chicano civil rights leaders such as Pete Tijerina and Albert Armendariz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Virgilio Roel of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). 

Others are community leaders such as Pete and Elena Gallego of Alpine, Texas, and military leaders such as Colonel Hank Cervantes and flying ace Richard Candelaria. Women who served in the military are also included.

There are academic trailblazers, too, such as Frank Bonilla, who became a major figure in Puerto Rican studies. And there are a few Latinos who describe serving in segregated "colored" units during the war, as their physical features placed them in African American communities. Overall, the vast majority of the men and women interviewed in A Legacy Greater Than Words led private lives, and their stories chronicle the everyday existence of Latinos in the 1930s and 1940s--stories that generally have been omitted from historical accounts of either the Great Depression or World War II.

Chicana Veterans

Also, there is one recent book on female veterans of the current Iraq War that focuses in one Chicana.

Beacon Press April 2010
ISBN-10: 0807061492
Helen Benedict

Winner of the 2010 Ken Book Award. More American women have fought and died in Iraq
than in any war since World War II, yet as soldiers they are still painfully alone. In Iraq, only one in ten troops is a woman, and she often serves in a unit with few other women or none at all. This isolation, along with the military's deep-seated hostility toward women, causes problems that many female soldiers find as hard to cope with as war itself: degradation, sexual persecution by
their comrades, and loneliness, instead of the camaraderie that every soldier depends on for comfort and survival. 

As one female soldier said, "I ended up waging my own war against an enemy dressed in the same uniform as mine." In The Lonely Soldier, Benedict tells the stories of five women who fought in Iraq between 2003 and 2006. 

She follows them from their childhoods to their enlistments, then takes them through their training, to war and home again, all the while setting the war's events in context. We meet Jen, white and from a working-class town in the heartland, who still shakes from her wartime traumas; Abbie, who rebelled against a household of liberal Democrats by enlisting in the National Guard; Mickiela, a Mexican American who grew up with a family entangled in L.A. Gangs.

Paperback - Chusma House Publications, San Jose, CA; 1ST edition 1997
ISBN-10: 0962453692

Peacetime is one of the few creative works written by a Chicana veteran. Publisher's description: "Peacetime: Spirit of the Eagle is the first novel by Elena Rodriguez. Peacetime, a rite of passage book, focuses on Eliza Medrano, who joins the army because it's her way out of the working class and her sheltered life. Along the path to inner peace, she encounters a cast of confused characters in basic training. With sergeants yelling, together they go through PT (physical training), M-16 rifle training classes, the tear gas chamber, and other grueling experiences. At the end, they all have a better understanding of each other and their individual personas."


Chicano Veterans and Oral History

For other stories, visit the VOCES Oral History Project (formally the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Projec). It recently change names now taking on Post WWII wars. The site has many oral histories of WWII Chicano vets, and even some Chicana vets, something we don't find very often, even nowadays.

Hon. Albert Armendriz, Sr.
Ernesto Pedregon Martinez
Two oral histories are of interest, especially to El Pasoans, Hon. Judge Albert Armendariz, Sr., (see Judge Albert Armendariz Federal Courthouse "a fitting tribute to a hometown hero) famed civil rights attorney and MALDEF co-founder; famed muralist Ernesto Pedregon Martinez who's unit liberated the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp; and of course our own Felipe Ortego.


Ernesto Pedregon Martinez
Martinez' oral story is interesting. Talking about Mittelbau-Dora, he says, "It was an awful sight. Some of them must have weighed 80 pounds...People cried and hugged us...There were piles of dead bodies inside the barracks."

An American soldier and medical officer view the bodies of prisoners lying on the ground in a barracks in the Nordhausen concentration camp. 5,000 corpes were found at Nordhousen.

While drinking coffee with Dr. Ortego a last month, he talked about teaching high school English and Chicano drops outs. He reminded us that he, himself, was a high school drop out.

Now, Chicano poet Ricardo Sanchez was famous for getting this GED and then his Ph.D. Sanchez never got a undergraduate degree. In Ortego's case, he received neither a GED or high school diploma. 

Ortego, second from the right. Note his Navy veteran's cap.
His oral history states, "In 1948, Ortego was admitted to The University of Pittsburgh after the Chancellor, Rufus Fitzgerald, declared that any veteran would be welcomed at the university, regardless of his or her academic background. Ortego also signed up for Air Force ROTC." “Going to college was not easy,” he recalled. “I almost failed out the first semester.” Ortego, often amusingly relates how he got all "F"s and "D"s, but later once he got the hang of university life, he began "earning" those "D"s.

Chicano(a) Writers who are Veterans

List is not comprehensive


Luis Leal (Philippines)
S.D. Navarro
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca (Pacific)
Sabine R. Ulibarrí (Europe)
Americo Paredes(Pacific)
Octavio I Romano (Europe)
Cesar Chavez (Pacific)
Albert Armendariz, jr. (homefront)


Rolando Hinojosa
S.D. Navarro

John Rechy


Roy Benavidez
Daniel Cano
Jorge Mariscal
S.D. Navarro
Juan Ramírez
Joe Rodríguez
Michael Rodríguez
Charlie Trujillo
Leroy Quintana
Alfredo Véa
Dennis Bixler-Marquez

Well, I have not updated my list of Chicano(a) war vets for wars after the Vietnam War, but those stories are still being written. But check out our link above to our post about "A Different Side of Chicano Literature: War in Our Times: Books." 

Americo Paredes
One of the more interesting stories is that of Americo Paredes who was a journalist for the Stars and Stripes (a military newspaper) during WWII. Working for the paper, he was allowed to interview Hideki Tōjō who was the prime minister of Japan during most of WWII. Tojo was later executed for war crimes. Paredes also returned from Japan married to a half-Japanese, half-Uruguayan woman.

Perpetual War

Although, Chicano(a)s have fought in every war the United States has been through, and Chicano(a)s were somewhat created by war, within this post,  I've mostly focused on the last 70 years of war. 

War has been a large chunk of the last century, and almost all of the first 10 years of this new century.

No matter how we feel about war, our people had served when called, drafted, or volunteered. 

Today we see the backdoor draft, a subject that Jorge Mariscal has written about both academically, journalistic, and through his anti-military recruitment activism (see Project YANO). What we are talking about is how the government focuses on the poor and people of color to fills its 'volunteer army' to  fight its modern wars. 

It's one thing that war creates veterans, but our country is replete with examples of our government forgetting its veterans and giving them the shaft. This can range from forgetting about veterans once they have returned from war to experimentation on them while in service

For women vets, they face other issues. Government surveys have shown that almost a third of women in the military are sexually assaulted. (National Public Radio, 10/4/07)(NPR: The Nation: The Plight of Women Soldiers). Then of course, homosexuals have never really served in the military or in war (remind me to tell about the guy who wore pink silk women's undergarments while storming the beaches of Saipan during WWII in the South Pacific  -- "There ain't nothing like a dame" or "101 tons of fun"). The army didn't ask John Rechy and he didn't tell back in the day.
My Big Fat Greek War

Presently, we see high suicide rates in the military, and high numbers of returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder or other disabilities. When we says causalities, this means those maimed and those killed in combat. Large are the numbers of returning veterans with missing limbs, head/brain injuries (see Ft. Bliss Says it will Examine Brain Injuries), and much more.

Recently, there was a project created called the Philoctetes Project which does readings of Sophocles' plays "Ajax" and "Philoctetes."

 In "Ajax," Ajax holds grudges about the Trojan War and against its military leaders (namely Odysseus and Agamemnon). The play focuses on the post-war life of Ajax: his torturing of animals, his family relations especially with his wife, his relations with other veterans, and his subsequent suicide.  

"Philocetetes" takes place during the Trojan War. On the way to Troy, the Greeks stop on the island of Chryse and Philocetetes is bit by a snake. His leg infects giving Philocetetes much pain and the wound begins to smell so bad that the Odysseus leaves him on the island of Lemnos. Ten years later, when a prophet tells Odysseus that the Greeks will need Philocetetes' bow (bow given to him by Hercules) in order to win the war, the Greeks have to go back to Lemnos to retrieve Philocetetes. 

Odysseus tries to trick Philocetetes into giving them the bow. The needs of the one are greater than the need of the many -- or vice versa. Sophocles makes us ponder that question. Also, Philocetetes suffer wounds that do not heal. It is also worth noting, but not in the play "Philocetetes," that Odysseus returned to Ithaca without the youths he took with him to war, but Homer doesn't tell us that story. In our present day, not much has changed.

See a stage reading from "Philocetetes" by clicking "Philocetetes"
Below see scenes from both plays: 

The Philocetetes Project has performed readings of these two plays for veterans. When I first heard about this project on National Public Radio (In Ancient Dramas, Vital Words for Today's Warriors), it talked how both these plays were written during the Peloponnesian War (or after, I forget), a 27-year war. The NPR story relates how the Athenians were tired and traumatized from 27 years of constant war.

Here in America, we are in year 9. Eighteen more years to go (1/3 the length of the Peloponnesian War), and we will be the Peloponnesians in a never-ending War on Terror. 

But even in a military city like El Paso, with one of the largest forts in the world, and in recent years, a 60,000 troop build up in the city; the wars east of us, are a distant reality. No soldiers in desert camouflage, siting next to us in the coffee shop, can break us out of that reality -- unfortunately. However, for veterans, Philocetetes and Ajax still walk among us.

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