July 14, 2004
One of our relatives is a young Marine.
He recently decided not to return to the endless bombing in Iraq. He had witnessed too much death.
He never wanted to have a military career, but his options were limited. He, like so many other young Latinos, grew up in poverty and quickly became a victim of the "poverty draft" currently in progress.
The poverty draft is not new. Historically, the sons of poor and working-class Americans have shed their blood for this nation.
Today, the Pentagon is specifically targeting the Latino community for recruitment. Many Latinos essentially become indentured servants in a military system that offers them a promise to fulfill their educational and citizenship goals.
For example, the U.S. Department of Defense grants posthumous citizenship to permanent residents killed in Iraq and extends these benefits to their immediate family members.
Jorge Mariscal, a Vietnam veteran and a professor at the University of California at San Diego, reported in Hispanic Vista last year that the number of permanent resident enlistees jumped from 300 a month, before this reform, to 1,300 a month afterward.
What's more, in July 2002, President Bush dangled another carrot by shortening the waiting time for noncitizens who want to leverage military service for citizenship. Instead of waiting three years, qualified noncitizens on active duty can apply upon enlisting.
News accounts have also found that overzealous military recruiters have traveled to poor border towns in Mexico and indigenous communities in Canada to lure people to join the armed forces with the promise of green cards.
Under the Clinton-era Hispanic Access Initiative, recruiters are given carte blanche to target high schools and colleges with a predominantly Latino student body. They can even obtain access to high school students' addresses and phone numbers and are free to contact them at home unless parents object.
Budget cuts to social and public services often leave many Latinos, like our relative, with little other recourse but to enlist in the military. Add the increasing unemployment and economic instability, and a spiral of despair begins unfolding.
The irony is that Latinos fight for the freedom, peace and equality rarely afforded to them. If many Latinos could exercise their freedom, higher education would be a viable option -- not just a dream.
Many Latinos complete their military service only to find that just one-third of all military personnel actually ever receive money toward higher education, according to the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.
As for peace, many Latinos come from communities that suffer from systematic violence. This violence includes police brutality, gang activity, domestic violence and drug abuse. One can't help to wonder how Latinos from these disenfranchised communities are expected to deliver harmony to a foreign country when they themselves can't experience it in their own neighborhoods.
Once in the service, people of color do not have as much opportunity for advancement. "People of color represent one-third of all enlisted personnel but only one-eighth of the officers," the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors reports. This translates into Latinos still earning less money than their white counterparts.
Even though the armed forces declares itself as an avenue toward reaching the American dream, for many it turns out to be a nightmare. Risking your own life and having to kill others are gruesome realities that are daily becoming more palpable to Americans.
As the coffins continue to arrive, the promise of money toward education, career training and posthumous citizenship becomes meaningless.
Some Latinos, like our relative, are realizing that even the American Dream is not worth the demoralizing and dehumanizing effects of war.
Adelina Anthony and Coral Lopez Marcelo are activists who live in California. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.