Thursday, March 29, 2007
Latinos Say 'The War' Excludes Them
By Debra Dominguez-Lund
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
Louis P. Tellez is overwhelmed with pride about being a U.S. Army private stationed in the Philippines and the only Hispanic to serve in his company during World War II.
But the 87-year-old is moved to tears when he talks about an upcoming PBS documentary that he and others say leaves out the contributions of about 500,000 Hispanic World War II veterans.
"It's disgraceful," said Tellez, Albuquerque commander of the American G.I. Forum, a congressional charter Hispanic veterans' organization with more than 500 chapters nationwide.
"Hispanics have shed blood and fought in every major battle for this country. It's time Hispanics are recognized in U.S. history for our accomplishments."
A growing number of Hispanics in New Mexico and nationally including groups such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens are calling for changes to "The War" documentary.
"The War," produced and directed by Lynn Novick and longtime filmmaker Ken Burns, is already completed and scheduled to air in September. PBS officials have refused to require any changes from the producer so as to not violate his artistic independence.
KNME-TV, PBS' local affiliate, plans to run the documentary, but will sandwich its broadcast with local programs highlighting accomplishments of Hispanic World War II veterans, said Joann Bachmann, associate general manager of the station.
Producers of the documentary have asserted that "The War" is about the universal human experience and that soldier interviews were limited to a few "quintessentially American towns."
The documentary includes more than 40 interviews and at least 14 hours of programming, said Eduardo Díaz, executive director of Albuquerque's National Hispanic Cultural Center.
And although it highlights the experiences of Japanese-American and African-American soldiers, no Hispanics are interviewed, he said.
"Given the profound and compelling nature of Latino contributions and sacrifices made during WWII and the impact that the war had on the Latino community," Díaz said, "it is fundamentally wrong to exclude the Latino experience on a subject of the magnitude of WWII, especially in a high-profile, publicly supported project like 'The War.'
"While we respect the artistic freedom of the filmmakers, U.S. history does not belong to Ken Burns."
Burns, in a released statement, said, "We are dismayed and saddened by any assumption that we intentionally excluded anyone from our series."
Bachmann said, "We're concerned about the issues raised by Hispanics on the documentary and are very excited to portray the stories that exist from Hispanic war veterans in the community.
"I don't think, however, Burns' documentary was ever intended to be a complete presentation of World War II."
Juan José Peña, state commander of the American GI Forum of New Mexico and a vice chairman of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, said his organizations have been very active in the matter.
They have written letters to PBS officials, and are trying to raise awareness locally.
"I don't know if Burns leaving Hispanics out was intentional or we're just invisible to him, but the main thing is we were left out," said Peña, a Vietnam veteran. "What we'd like to see is them hold off on broadcasting the documentary until a segment on how Hispanics contributed to World War II is included."
Peña and Díaz say it's especially important to highlight Hispanic contributions during the war because the group has received at least 12 Medals of Honor for service during World War II a number that is proportionally more than any other ethnic group.
The war, according to Díaz and New Mexico Department of Veterans Services Secretary John M. García, transformed the Latino community by creating access to higher education, job opportunities and public services.
"I think PBS has to rethink its love affair with Ken Burns," Díaz said. "He does not own U.S. history, and has shown an almost wanton disregard for Latino contributions in building America and shaping American popular culture. Just witness the job he did on us in his series on jazz and baseball."
Díaz said in the series "Jazz," Burns excludes the likes of Machito, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri.
"Going forward, PBS and local public television stations, including our own KNME, must create opportunities for Latino producers to tell our stories, first voice, and provide real resources to achieve success in these endeavors," Díaz said.