Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Culture > History > Ret. Maj. Gen. Alfred Valenzuela: A Voice for Forgotten Immigrant Soldiers

Ret. Maj. Gen. Alfred Valenzuela: A Voice for Forgotten Immigrant Soldiers

In honor of Memorial Day, Latina Lista shares a special article that appeared last week in an issue of the magazine Diversity, Inc.

LatinaLista — As the highest-ranking active-duty Latino officer prior to his retirement in 2004, Maj. Gen. Alfred Valenzuela has spent 33 years serving his country. He has been decorated countless times for heroism and valor, including receiving the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, and the Bronze Star for Valor. He served across the globe, working his way up through the ranks, eventually serving as deputy commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command, based in Miami, and commander of the U.S. Army South at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.
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Major General Alfred Valenzuela
Yet his career has also been touched by tragedy. In March 2003, Valenzuela presided over the funeral of the first casualty of the Iraq War. The death of the soldier, who was not yet a U.S. citizen, spurred Valenzuela to ponder what motivated that soldier and countless other immigrants to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. To that end, Valenzuela recently wrote “No Greater Love: The Life and Times of Hispanic Soldiers,” commemorating the 21 soldiers he buried over the years.
The book, which Valenzuela self-published, tells of the often-ignored contributions immigrants have made to the U.S. forces. Valenzuela says he wrote it for the soldiers, their families and the U.S government. In his book, Valenzuela also talks about his own life as a young Latino from a troubled background who rose through the ranks to the highest levels in the U.S. military.
Named one of the most influential Latinos in the United States by a national business publication, Valenzuela is also a staunch advocate for increasing educational opportunities for Latinos. He’s been elected to the Hall of Fame for The Boys Club and serves on the board of trustees for Saint Mary’s University, his alma mater.
On the eve of this Memorial Day weekend, Valenzuela spoke directly with DiversityInc on a number of subjects he’s passionate about, including Latino education in the United States and his hope that the contributions immigrants have made to the U.S. military will one day be fully recognized and appreciated.
Why are the contributions of immigrant soldiers largely ignored?

To hear Valenzuela on the tremendous impact immigrant soldiers have had in the U.S. American forces, his thoughts on patriotism, perseverance and loyalty to one’s county, his passion in speaking to at-risk Latino youth and his own memories of how he strayed into trouble as a youth looking for discipline, including his brief stint as a gang member, go to the Diversity Inc. article and hear Valenzuela’s responses in his own words.

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  • Daniel
    May 26, 2008 at 11:39 am

    My cousin Ronnie died in Viet-Nam. In 1969. I was 9 years old.
    I remember we (my huge Mexican-American family lol) went to the beach, probably Corona del Mar, and there were some blondie girls lying on the sand with their bikini tops undone so as not to leave tan lines.
    Ronnie gave me a quarter to go drop some ice on their backs lol.
    Of course, you’ve got to understand that back then it was boys will be boys. Now a days your a sex offender.
    Anywayzzz, the next thing I know I see a coffin with an American flag draped over it and my Tia Tencha screaming in agony. And all the women, my mom included, were so angry.
    I guess the men in my family felt bad because they were all veterans and they kinda expected Ronnie to go and fight for his country.
    Ronnie was 19. He’s buried at Rose Hills in Pico Rivera, CA.

  • Horace
    May 26, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    “Why are the contributions of immigrant soldiers largely ignored?”
    It’s not that they’re ignored, but that they’re treated equally, without special recognition over others who were born here. Why would you think that they deserve any better? Should we give separate recognition to Irish, Italian, Chinese, German, French or others? It seems that all of a sudden it’s become a deliberate slight not to blow the horn for Hispanic Americans. I work with the military. Most don’t care to be exploited for their ethnic background. I suspect that General Valenzuela would object to Marisa’s demand that they should be exploited for ethnocentrist politics.

  • Beth
    May 26, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Have you seen John McCain’s latest web ad? His Memorial Day message is for immigrant soldiers. 🙂

  • Texano78704
    May 27, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Ironic isn’t it, that one of the first soldiers to fall in Iraq turned out to be an undocumented immigrant.
    And as enlistments of “native” US citizens, recruiters target undocumented immigrants.

  • Frank
    May 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    IMO, only a U.S. citizen should be able to serve in our military.

  • Horace
    May 27, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    “Ironic isn’t it, that one of the first soldiers to fall in Iraq turned out to be an undocumented immigrant.”
    Technically he wasn’t an undocumented immigrant when passed on. You don’t get it Texano. Why should so-called d Hispanic undocumented immigrants be given the privilege of immigrating illegally over others in the world that do not have a common border with us? You wouldn’t be arguing for special previleges for undocumented Iraqis, Chinese or Koreans, would you? This is simply a demand for special privilege just to fulfill your own racial/ethnocentrist biases, which is exactly what the KKK demands for white people. You really do not have an honest answer to this, because it would amount to an admission that you believe Hispanics are superior to everyone else in the world who would not qualify based upon education or economic status.

  • Horace
    May 27, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    P.S. Not that’s what I call ironic.

  • PoorSide of Town
    May 28, 2008 at 12:03 am

    Recruiters are hittin’ the bars in Tijuana, MX looking for potential recruits.
    That really sucks.

  • Texano78704
    May 29, 2008 at 11:21 am

    “You wouldn’t be arguing for special previleges for undocumented Iraqis, Chinese or Koreans, would you? ”
    I have never distinguished between any undocumented workers, whether they are from México, China, Korea or Iraq.
    However, you go to great lengths to complain about the undocumented workers from México. Ironic, eh?

  • Frank
    May 29, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Texano, of course you haven’t distinguished between illegal aliens from Mexico, Iraq, China, etc. To do so would give away you ethnocentric agenda. We know the truth though. It is only Latino illegals that you and your ilk really care about.
    The reason that Latino illegals are mentoned more than others by those of us for the rule of law is because Latinos are the overwhelming majority of illegals in this country. Most illegals are coming thru our southern border. Duh!

  • Texano78704
    May 29, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    “To do so would give away you ethnocentric agenda. We know the truth though.”
    The truth is that you engage in the advocation of cultural supremacy, not me.
    My agenda to seek justice for all workers, undocumented or not, not that you care.

  • Frank
    May 30, 2008 at 9:39 am

    Texano, what cultural supremacy? Where did I or any other anti-illegal in here advocate that? Because we object to illegal immigration that equates to “cultural supremacy”? How so?
    It appears that you and your ilk are in favor of your own cultural supremacy however because you advocate for the illegal entry of your own ethnic kind into this country. You have the shoe on the wrong foot, amigo!
    Latino are the majority in 22 countries on the Western Hemisphere and Whites only have 2 and yet WE are the cultural supremists?

  • Frank
    May 30, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Texano, you are correct that I don’t care about any so-called justice for illegal workers. Why should I or any other law abiding American? We also need to not care what happens to the employers who hire them. Lock em up and throw away the key! Both parties are guilty.

  • Evelyn
    June 2, 2008 at 3:04 am

    You are also guilty for reaping the benefits of the services and goods their work has brought you. Now that we advocate justice and equality for all you have a cow. Not once did you say anything for 20 yrs.

  • Frank
    June 2, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    OK, let’s have a reality check! These people have cost Americans, particularly lower skilled Americans, blacks, and LEGAL immigrants THEIR JOBS because they came in and undercut the wages of these people. The employers are the ones who benefitted from their cheap labor as the employers just increased their profit margins and did not pass the savings onto the consumers! DUH!
    And as for not saying anything! People have been yelling about this in the border states for years! But, now the problem has spread out all throughout the country and more and more people are being directly affected by this illegal invasion! ENOUGH! Americans want this to stop! They want the borders secured, a return to the rule of law, and the sovereignty of their country respected!
    The far left kooks can scream “racism and xenophobia” all they want; this is too important of an issue to allow this psychological bullying to have any effect. Find another tactic–this tactic is all worn out and broke!

  • Marisa Treviño
    June 2, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Frank, if that were remotely true then why are Arizona legislators, at this very moment, deciding how to craft their own version of a guest worker program to bring in workers to fill positions vacated by undocumented immigrants and aren’t being snatched up by lower skilled Americans?

  • Frank
    June 3, 2008 at 8:13 am

    From what I understand, it is only agricultural workers that Arizona is seeking a guest worker program for. We already have one in existance. It is just that the farmers chose not to use it as it was cheaper to hire illegal workers.
    I have no problem with guest worker programs for any jobs whereby it can be proven we can’t find American workers for at a fair wage. But the employers had side stepped hiring legal immigrant workers for cheap illegal workers. That has got to stop!
    As you know by now, I am also an environmentalist. I believe in a smaller economy to fit a smaller population for all the obvious reasons such as the depletion of our natural resources. Our economy has been population driven for the past 20 years or so and that population growth was mainly thru illegal immigration. Massive population growth will bite us in the butt down the road.

  • Evelyn
    June 9, 2008 at 6:24 am

    A very good thing for the environment would be to rid ourselves of all racists. Get a clue and disappear already. You pollute the minds of our youth and embarrass Americans.

  • Tim
    November 16, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    This is a first time response to any blog. I was moved to respond after reading so many misguided and underinformed posts related to General Valenzuela’s book. These responses as much as any indicator point out the gap in appreciation for the bravery and valor of the Latino soldier …or contributions by Latinos in American society in general.
    Here’s my take: General Valenzuela has risen to the highest pinacle of military leadership. In his 33 years, one can only imagine what he endured beyond what was required to earn 3 stars on his lapel. He spent 33 years climbing, breaking barriers, blazing a trail, etc. to wind up leading all U.S. military assets from the Texas / Mexico border …to Antartica (think about that), what an American success story!! All those years, he had to have a dream that things would be better for others like him back home: bright, scrappy, willing to give a task its all …if only given a fair shake and a chance. This is an idea worth fighting for: with liberty and justice for all.
    Well look around people, today, close to 60% of Latino kids nationally are failed by the education system and do not finish high school, that most basic building block towards the American dream of a slice of the prosperity pie. Re-read the sentence above substituting in the words “AMERICAN KIDS” or “our future workforce” for “Latinos”:
    “Close to 60% of American kids are failed by our system of education and do not finish high school, the most basic building block of success in this culture.”
    If the re-read version saddened you more or made you fighting mad and demanding action, look yourself in the mirror and ask why the difference.
    One blog entry had the tumerity to throw in illegal immigration into a discussion about saluting fallen soldiers wearing the uniform of our country. Take a note, all, until all of the southwest and western states were gangstered away by force of arms, these prime lands (TX, NM, CA, NV, AZ, OR, UT, OK) were MEXICO. we’re talking a little more than 100 years ago. The people that were on this side of the new border have not yet stopped catching the hell of one short-stick deal or another. Let’s drop the masks that make it OK for ANY kid in America not to have food, safety, healthcare or a shot to maximize his/her gifts through education. In our present system, if the Wright Brothers or Thomas Edison were born to Texano bordertown parents, there’s a good chance the world would still be walking crosscountry to grandmas and lighting candles to read by at night for the chances they would be given through formalized channels. …but I digress.
    I know for a fact that some of the kid soldiers General Valenzuela commemorates in his book (partly because they would likely not be celebrated in few if any other public ways) were returned in boxes to families that lived so close to the edge as not to have had funds for a decent service and burial. As an African American, this situation brings to mind the African American troops fighting for the rights of others on foreign soil then returning from WWI and WWII, to find a land that celebrated this selfless service with institutionalized poverty, blatant brutality, legalized inequality, political disenfrachisement at the business end of a billy club and general disregard as a whole citizen. It seems to me that the times haven’t changed all that much, not for these kids, many of them poor and wrapping themselves in the uniform of this great country and hoping for a better way of life for themselves and their families and maybe a bit of appreciation or respect, mabe hoping that things would be a little better for the next generation coming along.
    Getting back to General Valenzuela, a decorated American hero, history maker (then the highest ranking latino in active duty military service) and intelect of the highest order. Upon retirement, what did he DO? He started a foundation to assist with the educational expenses of the children of fallen warriors so they can maximize their natural abilities. He started a charter school in his old neighborhood to give more kids an educational chance, the great equalizer.
    General Alfred Valenzuela is a gentleman, a man of action, a patriot and a great American who I salute and wish more folks would immulate through their own form of selfless action to make OUR country a better place. What have YOU done? What can you do? God may bless America, but we’ve got to do our part every day.

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