The 2000 census teaches us two interesting facts about the way
in which Latinos are contributing to the changing face of the
United States. First, more legal immigrants arrived in the decade
of the 1990s than in any previous decade in our history. The economic
boom (or bubble) of the Clinton years attracted large numbers
of people from around the world. Second, the majority of these
immigrants came from Latin America (approximately 51%; 26% are
from Asian countries). For the most part, the new arrivals are
workers searching for a better life, without much education, and
deeply attracted by the promise of economic opportunity north
of the border. The overwhelming majority of them will work hard,
their children will become educated, and they will make significant
contributions to our society.
Because these new immigrants have yet to experience the disconnection
between the promise of democracy and equality in this country
and what the country has actually delivered to working people
of color over time, many of them will adopt an uncritical view
of current events. If local and national authorities proclaim
that war against Iraq is necessary and the mass media reinforces
that message, many new arrivals will accept it as fact. Some will
even join the armed forces or encourage their children to join.
What better way, they ask, to show our gratitude to the United
States? What better way to prove our patriotism and show that
we too are real Americans?
Add to this scenario the fact that Mexican American or Chicano/a
youth that is, the children of families who have been in
the U.S. for many decades, if not centuries continue to
have a relatively limited range of life opportunities. More than
one-third of all Latinos are under 18 years of age. With a high
school dropout rate around 40% and high rates of incarceration
(in California, Latinos are 36% of the prison population but only
32% of the state population), many Latino youth see little hope
for the future. The cost of a college education in California
is rising sharply. Even at community colleges, where most Latino
college students are found, there are proposals to double the
fees. Among high school graduates attending graduate and professional
programs, Latinos make up only 1.9% (compared to 3% Black, 3.8%
Whites, and 8.8% Asian).
Across the board, conditions for Latinos have deteriorated since
the 2000 election. After four consecutive years of increases,
the median household income for Latinos decreased between 2000
and 2001. Although Latinos have a high rate of participation in
the labor force, over 11% of Latino workers live in poverty. About
7% of Latinos with full-time jobs were still living below the
poverty line in 2001 (compared to 4.4% of African Americans and
1.7% for Whites). What is clear from this data is that Latinos
and Latinas are working extremely hard but are trapped in minimum-wage
jobs. Many hold multiple jobs at low wages.
Military recruiters are well aware of this situation and have
targeted Latino youth as the primary objective for their efforts
in coming years. A recent "Strategic Partnership Plan for
2002-2007" written by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command notes:
"The Hispanic population is the fastest growing demographic
in the United States and is projected to become 25% of the U.S.
population by the year 2025." The plan goes on to state:
"Priority areas are designated primarily as the cross section
of weak labor opportunities and college-age population as determined
by both [the] general and Hispanic population."
Given the overall economic context and the military's continued
interest in Latino youth a trend initiated by Secretary
of the Army Louis Caldera, who once declared that the Army could
"provide the best education in the world" we
can be sure that the enlisted ranks will fill up with increasing
numbers of Latinos and Latinas. (Very few Latinos make it into
the officers' ranks. Among all Latinos in today's Marine Corps,
for example, only 3% are officers.)
Visit any high school with a large Latino population and you
will find JROTC units, Army-sponsored computer games, and an overabundance
of recruiters, often more numerous than career counselors. Recently,
at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, a group of students
was so appalled at the intrusive behavior of recruiters that they
formed "Students not Soldiers" and demanded that real
job counselors be hired.
Such acts of resistance to the ongoing militarization of U.S.
culture, however, are rarely reported, so many Latino students
and parents will fall prey to a limited range of opportunity and
the Pentagon's propaganda blitz. As progressives involved in counter-recruitment
work, we must struggle to understand the pressures on Latino communities.
It will not be enough to shake our heads in disapproval at their
displays of uncritical patriotism.
With war looming in the Middle East, Latino communities are slowly
awakening to the fact that a permanently militarized economy and
culture will not benefit them or their children. Our message to
them should be that they can serve their country by excelling
in work and study, by speaking out for peace and equality, and
by joining the struggle to bring economic justice to all people.
Jorge Mariscal is a UC San Diego professor, a Vietnam veteran,
and a member of the counter-recruitment organization Project YANO.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)