As the Department of Defense intensifies the war in Iraq, there has been an increased push by the military to enlist and train young men and women to engage in military combat.
Historically, Chicano/Latinos have been focused targets of recruitment efforts and those who disproportionately die in the front lines of war.
Latest records show that over 37,000 enlisted men and women are not U.S. citizens, and at least 60,000 others are recent immigrants.
During the Vietnam War over 80,000 Chicano/Latinos served in the Armed Forces.
According to a study by Pew Hispanic Research Center, Latinos make up 9.7 % of enlisted personnel; however a disproportionate 17.74 % are infantrymen and directly handle guns (March, 2003). Because of the repeated discriminatory efforts of the U.S. military, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan resists any military policy that continues the detriment of a people.
Recognizing the low percentages of enlisted Chicano/Latinos, the Department of Defense is clearly trying to close this gap. Waging an intense recruitment effort to target the poor and Chicano/Latino communities, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command’s Strategic Partnership Plan for 2002-2007 had this in mind, “Priority areas [for recruitment] are designated primarily as the cross section of weak labor opportunities and college-age population as determined by both [the] general and Hispanic population.”
In 2004, the Army added $10 million to its recruitment budget for advertisement directly aimed at Chicano/Latino audiences. In 2002, President Bush declared “non-naturalized soldiers serving honorably in the war on terrorism could significantly step up the process of citizenship and apply immediately or upon enlisting.” Although it is open to all nationalities, it is particularly appealing to the continual rise of immigrants from Latin America. Undocumented citizens cannot drive legally in California, cannot access social benefits, and cannot vote. Their civil liberties are deteriorating and are living in constant fear of deportation, yet they are more than welcomed and good enough to die in war only to receive citizenship after death.
The Hispanic Access Initiative Act (HAIA) of 1996 provides for ROTC recruiters to especially target colleges with a sizable Chicano/Latino populace. This is done to promote diversity in the military and to increase the number of Chicano/Latino high ranking officers. It is respectable to have a diverse working environment, but naturally the intentions of such kindness are questioned when people’s lives are at risk. Chicano/Latino high school students from lower income neighborhoods are especially targeted. It has become natural for these high school students to see military recruiters on their campus every day and never have the opportunity to see one college recruiter.
At CSUN, we have one of the largest Chicano/Latino and working-class student populations in California, making our campus a prime location for military recruitment. Therefore, it is not surprising that we have the presence of ROTC on our campus. The Army’s stated purpose at CSUN is to “expand Hispanic access to Army officership by providing Senior ROTC instruction-” What we really need to expand is Chicano/Latino access to higher education not the military. We must expand access to elevated positions in various work fields, to social benefits, to justice and equality. Not an affirmative action pass into the armed forces. Affirmative Action has been eliminated from gaining access to higher education, but why is it acceptable within the military?
The HAIA works hand in hand with another Department of Defense policy to further militarize our schools. The Solomon Amendment of 1996 denies federal funding for institutions of higher learning refusing to let the ROTC or the military conduct recruitment efforts on campus. For most schools, federal funding is crucial for the implementation of educational programs. Our CSUN President, Jolene Koester, has caved in to this pressure by the military in allowing our campus to receive $8 million per year in funding through the Solomon Amendment. Allowing student’s information to be released without consent to the military is a direct violation of privacy.
In December, the Supreme Court will hear a case challenging the Solomon Amendment arguing that it imposes on the free speech right of institutions of higher learning. If the case is ruled in favor of, colleges would continue to receive federal aid, but ban military recruiters from campuses due to the military’s discrimination against homosexuality.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy contradicts most colleges’ practice to forbid discrimination based on sexual preference.
To extend the level of injustice, the Chicano/Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community is faced with doubled oppression. By accepting money from a historically homophobic institution such as the U.S. military, the LGBT community is being dismissed by their campus. While many from this community feel a sense of progression in the acceptance of their identity on college grounds, the presence of military recruiters fosters an oppressive atmosphere for the LGBT community on campus.
Because we recognize the moral and harmful intentions of the Hispanic Access Initiative Act and the Solomon Amendment, CSUN MEChA rejects any form of military presence on our campus and in any place of learning. We challenge CSUN President Jolene Koester to stand up against the militarization of our school by rejecting and denouncing the HAIA and the Solomon Amendment.
Carlos Moran is chair of CSUN Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan and can be reached at email@example.com.