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Comments by YACCS
Thursday, February 09, 2006

We want Hispanics

The recruiters don't tell you about this,
do they.

Army Effort to Enlist Hispanics Draws Recruits, and Criticism

DENVER — As Sgt. First Class Gavino Barron, dressed in a crisp Army uniform, trawls the Wal-Mart here for recruits, past stacks of pillows and towers of detergent, he is zeroing-in on one of the Army's "special missions": to increase the number of Hispanic enlisted soldiers.

He approaches a couple of sheepish looking teenage boys in the automotive aisle and seamlessly slides into Spanish, letting loose his pitch: "Have you ever thought about joining the Army?" "Did you know you can get up to $40,000 in bonuses?" "I'm from Mexico, too. Michoacán."

In Denver and other cities where the Hispanic population is growing, recruiting Latinos has become one of the Army's top priorities. From 2001 to 2005, the number of Latino enlistments in the Army rose 26 percent, and in the military as a whole, the increase was 18 percent.

The increase comes at a time when the Army is struggling to recruit new soldiers and when the enlistment of African-Americans, a group particularly disillusioned with the war in Iraq, has dropped off sharply, to 14.5 percent from 22.3 percent over the past four years.


"We see a lot of confusion among immigrant parents, and recruiters are preying on that confusion," said Jorge Mariscal, a Vietnam veteran who is director of the Chicano/Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego, and is active in the counterrecruitment movement.


That many Latinos in the military are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, typically engenders a sense of gratitude for the United States and its opportunities, something recruiters stress in their pitch.

Poorer and less educated than the average American, some Hispanics view the military as a way to feel accepted. Others enlist for the same reasons that may attract any recruit: the money, the job training, the education benefits and the escape from poverty or small-town life.

Patriotism alone, though, does not account for the rise in Hispanic enlistment. The increase has gone hand in hand with a vast Army marketing campaign that includes Spanish-language advertisements on Univision and Telemundo, the country's two largest Spanish-language networks, and on the radio and in Hispanic publications. The budget for this campaign has increased by at least $55 million in four years.

The recruitment campaign has in fact divided the Latino community. Some of the country's high-profile Latino organizations, like the League of United Latin American Citizens, support the military's efforts, viewing it as an important path to socioeconomic advancement.

"The fact that Latinos are underrepresented in the service causes us concern because the service is often a way to the middle class for many immigrants," said Brent Wilkes, national director of the league. "If you don't have a lot of options, would you rather go into the service and get a middle-class career, or stay in the fields all these years?"

But community activists in places like California and Puerto Rico call that logic wrongheaded. "This is not the time to sign up," said Sonia Santiago, a psychologist and a counterrecruiter in Puerto Rico who founded Mothers Against the War after her son, a marine, was sent to Iraq in 2003. Dr. Santiago has routinely confronted recruiters outside schools. "Those benefits don't mean anything, if they are buried or sick for the rest of their lives," she said.

Critics also say that Latinos often wind up as cannon fodder on the casualty-prone front lines. African-Americans saw the same thing happen during the 1970's and 1980's, an accusation that still reverberates. Hispanics make up only 4.7 percent of the military's officer corps.

For bilingual recruiters, tapping into the Latino population has its own set of frustrations. Often, Latinos are willing to join the Army, but cannot. During his rounds at the Wal-Mart, Sergeant Barron encountered a number of illegal immigrants; they are immediately disqualified. Other Latinos lack adequate English skills or high school degrees, he said.

In the past year, a Latino counterrecruitment movement has arisen in several major cities with the goal of blunting what organizers call overly aggressive and suggestive recruitment in Latino neighborhoods. Some critics say recruiters sometimes gloss over the risks and mislead potential recruits and their parents. Latino parents, especially those who speak little English and know little about the military, are especially susceptible to a recruiter's persistence and charm, critics say.


"Given the fact that we are a nation at war, recruiters have to be up front about the risks," he said.

How many members of LULAC's board have kids in the military?

My bet, not many.

But for the eses on the block, it's a great deal, until their parents are crying in the hallways at Walter Reed or at their untimely funeral.

They are so desperate for soldiers, they will teach them English. Of course, those with poor English skills are guaranteed a tour in the leg infantry

Plans to open up an Army "Career Center" in my neighborhood have been bitterly opposed and it remains closed. The mostly Puerto Rican pols were outraged by plans for its opening.

The difference here is ethnicity. Central American and Mexican immigrants are prime hunting ground for the Army. Dominicans and Puerto Ricans are much more likely to be resistant to these pitches, as blacks have become.

posted by Steve @ 12:41:00 AM

12:41:00 AM

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