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Does Latino Inclusion in Burns’ War Documentary Really Mean “Mission Accomplished?”

LatinaLista — The war is over!
Not that war but the one waged against documentarian Ken Burns by those of us frustrated that he left out any mention of the Latino contribution in his next marathon film for PBS regarding WWII titled The War.

Though I have to admit that I hesitate to declare “Mission Accomplished” with this battle, it’s pretty clear that Burns feels he has done his part in placating la raza by adding an extra 30 minutes of material featuring Latino and Native American stories that were “forgotten” in the original piece.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns

“I think we’ve found the right balance, had the right compromise, that permitted us not to alter our original vision and version of the film,” Burns says, “and, at the same time, honor what was legitimate about the concerns about a group of people who, for 500 years, have had their story untold in American history.”

So are we naive enough to think that film producers/directors won’t repeat Burns’ oversight?
Should we all breathe a collective sigh of relief and go back to what we did before — which was tell the stories of the heroics, the hardships, the journeys and the sacrifices of our abuelos and bisabuelos to only our children?
For whatever reason, Latinos don’t know how to share the family stories, the stories that reflect the greater struggle of the Hispanic community taking root in the United States.
There has been a dependence for too long to let others tell our stories. Maybe it was fear that Latinos would appear too boastful or that others could tell it better, but the truth is, that in the end, only one group can tell their stories like they should be told and remembered.
There shouldn’t be an expectation that this omission from the archives of history won’t be repeated — chances are it will. Probably not out of malice but out of ignorance because the public record is sketchy.
It takes real voices to fill in the gaps.
Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, who spearheaded the battle to get Burns to admit, recognize and remedy his omission, is one Latina trying to fill in those gaps.
As the director of the oral history project focusing on Latino/a veterans of World War II at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the core founders of the Defend the Honor campaign, Rivas-Rodriguez knows that it takes constant dialogue to keep awareness of Latino war contributions in the forefront.

Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez
For that reason, the Defend the Honor campaign is creating a roster of representatives from states across the country who will be responsible of going out into their communities in their states and talk about the historical role Latinos had in World War II.
For example, Rivas-Rodriguez reports that, so far, representatives in the Midwest include:

Illinois — Bill Luna, a former Green Beret and a professor of Chicano history at Indiana University (who has conducted several interviews for the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Project over the years) and who operates Chicago’s Museum of Mexican Culture and History.
Kansas– Celestina “Tunie” Caudillo-Sparman, near Wichita, Kansas, whose father is both a WWII and a Korean War veteran, has volunteered to be a Defend the Honor representative. Tunie will be distributing flyers and buttons in her area. (Within four hours of volunteering to help the Defend the Honor campaign, Tunie had already sold 20 buttons, sight unseen! That’s what you call a motivated lady!) Rudy Padilla of Eastern Kansas, a retired federal employee, will be working in his area.
Michigan– Juan Marinez, of East Lansing, MI, who has done, and continues to do great interviews for the WWII Project.
Wisconsin– Ernesto Chacon will be representing Defend the Honor in Milwaukee.

However, the Latino community needs to speak up about other contributions made to this country — past and present.
It is clear that there can’t be a dependence on others to tell our stories, or to get them right.
There’s only one group that can do that — and only one group to blame for not doing it.



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  • Horace
    July 17, 2007 at 3:22 am

    Hundreds of ethnic groups from Europe and Asia participated in WWII, but Burns singles out only a few voices. At that time the Latino community was much smaller than it is today. Apparently, because it has increased to something like 14 percent, today, it feels that it is somehow owed special consideration over the others. This is simple bullying by advocacy groups in persuit of political political goals and nothing else.

  • Lee
    July 17, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    That’s what one calls
    “effective politics” but more importantly, it’s the issue of some folks – whether pressured or out of a moral sense of justice – doing what’s the plain right thing to do.

  • Horace
    July 18, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    “That’s what one calls
    “effective politics””
    No that’s what is called unfair bullying. Burns isn’t required to give every ethnic group a voice, as it would be impossible to be fair by Hispanic advocacy group standards. I can’t see any producer of such documentaries taking the risk of doing so if they are intimidated from all directions. Who wants to be beaten with a stick by anyone who cares to take a shot?

  • Karen
    September 23, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    Horace: When Mexican-American vetrans ask to be included in a publicly funded documentary that cost 20 miilion dollars to make, it’s called special treatment?
    No, it’s called EQUAL treatment.
    Burns does not have the right to use our tax dollars to create the false impression that everyone fought in WWII except for Mexican-Americans. When you call your work a documentary and yourself a historian, you are selling your product as non-fiction. You then have an obligation to be inclusive and to get the facts right.
    And so what if the Mexican-American population was much smaller back then that it is today. The Japanese-American and Jewish American populations were (and are) even smaller, yet Burns included them.
    The fact is, hundreds of thousands of Mexican-Americans fought in WWII, in all theaters of the war. And eleven of them were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by FDR and Truman.
    There is absolutely no excuse for this egregious oversight.He doesn’t get to erase our contributions and pretend that WWII was won by white men only.
    And based on some of Burns’s comments in the last few months, it’s obvious that he doesn’t consider Americans of Mexican descent as truly American. He equates American with “white” and everybody else is a sub-American.
    This attitude is going to change. Mexican-Americans have fought in every US military conflict since the Civil War, and are just as AMERICAN as Burns or anybody else.

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