[Marxism] Re: The Latin American-US Realignment
gojack10 at hotmail.com
Tue May 11 10:41:10 MDT 2004
Since I have driven through this town many a time, I thought I would post
the New York Times article about the mood there. It tells a lot about the
current general frame of mind in both the Texas and Northern Mexico areas.
Texas Town Pays High Human Cost for Iraqi War
Michael Stravato for The New York Times
San Diego, Tex., with about 4,800 residents, has lost two residents in Iraq.
Photos of those serving in the military in Iraq are on a church altar.
By SIMON ROMERO
Published: May 8, 2004
SAN DIEGO, Tex., May 3 Baldemar Benavides cannot seem to banish the war in
Iraq from his thoughts. Reminders are everywhere.
The road into this South Texas town, through cotton fields and cattle
ranches, is lined with yellow ribbons and recruitment billboards for the
Marines. Bumper stickers on pickup trucks read, "Half of My Heart Is in
Iraq." In businesses throughout the town, there are photos of Mr.
Benavides's grandson José Amancio Pérez III, a 22-year-old Army specialist
killed last year in an ambush north of Baghdad.
"You can put this in there, I don't care, I'm an old man and I'm humble and
poor but I want to be heard," Mr. Benavides, 69, a retired welder, said in
Spanish in an interview at his home as he clutched a photo of his grandson.
"His death wasn't necessary. None of the deaths in that place were
"Iraq" is not a word Mr. Benavides likes to utter. The Persian Gulf is not
an area he likes to talk about. A son, Baldemar Benavides Jr., a private
first class in the Army who was known as Billy, was killed in the region in
1992 shortly after hostilities there ended.
San Diego, with 4,800 residents, on the grasslands between Corpus Christi
and Laredo where the wet heat sticks to shirts in early May, is paying a
hefty price for the war in Iraq. Last month, the town lost a second
resident, Lance Cpl. Ruben Valdez Jr., 21, of the Marines in an attack in
Husabayah near the Syrian border, making this one of the smallest
communities in the nation to have more than one resident killed in the war.
Corporal Valdez and Specialist Pérez were buried next to each other in San
Diego's cemetery, down the street from the neighborhood of trailer homes and
decaying bungalows where they grew up and played together. For this
tight-knit town that is 97 percent Hispanic, where many residents are
related by blood or marriage or both, the deaths have created a feeling of
dread over who might be killed next.
Luis Pizzini, the principal of San Diego High School, said the town had more
than 25 residents in the military, with most serving in Iraq and a handful
in Afghanistan. After Corporal Valdez's death, which was mourned in April at
a candlelight vigil at the St. Francis de Paula Roman Catholic Church in San
Diego's plaza, Mr. Pizzini said he was considering steps to curtail military
recruiting at the school.
"One more death would cripple our community," Mr. Pizzini said in an
interview in his office. "I definitely wish this war was over, but it's too
late for that."
The school graduates about 90 students a year, and just a handful go on to
college. With jobs in the area hard to come by, military service provides an
alternative. Some graduates join the military a year or so later after not
Many people here are openly critical of the war and saddened by the
continuing casualties. Others question whether they would have supported the
invasion of Iraq, as most people here did, if they had known that no
unconventional weapons would be found in the country more than a year later.
"Enough is enough," said Mary Aleman, owner of the Mauro P. Garcia Funeral
Home, where services for the two dead soldiers were held. "We should be out
of there already."
Still, nearly everyone in San Diego voices strong support for the soldiers
in Iraq. The town, as many residents are quick to point out, is no stranger
to war. A plaque in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars building lists the
losses from past wars: 9 in World War I, 16 in World War II, 1 in the Korean
War and 2 in the Vietnam War.
All of the surnames on the plaque are Hispanic, a reminder that many people
in San Diego trace their roots to settlers who came here more than two
centuries ago when the Spanish crown granted them land in 1800. Since then,
San Diego has retained a strong Hispanic influence even if newer immigrants
from across the border seek out the "greener pastures of Houston or San
Antonio," as Ruben Escobar, the retired postmaster, put it. Those who have
stayed in San Diego have done so largely because of strong family and
"We got a little bit of oil fields, a little bit of agriculture and the
military," said Mr. Escobar, who served in the Air Force in the Vietnam War.
"With those career options I can't blame anyone for signing up. It's just
sad that our kids are bearing the brunt of this situation."
Outside the St. Francis de Paula Church, a support group for parents with
children in the war holds prayer meetings every Wednesday night.
San Juanita Gonzalez, whose son, Dagoberto Gonzalez Jr., is in the Army in
Iraq, said she was selling patriotic bumper stickers for $1 each so she
could send him and others in his unit packages of insect repellent, beef
jerky seasoned with chili and surgical masks so they can breathe easier in
desert sandstorms. The First State Bank of San Diego bought 50 of the bumper
stickers, Ms. Gonzalez said.
"When the latest little boy died, I went to his family and told them, `I'm
here for you today, you might be here for me tomorrow,' " said Ms. Gonzalez,
between sobs, a photo of her son pinned to her shirt.
Her husband, Dagoberto Gonzalez Sr., a natural-gas pipeline worker who calls
his son D.J., said he, too, was afraid.
"I don't care how much of a man you are, I cried for that boy and I cry with
worry for my own son," Mr. Gonzalez said. "I don't want to get into
politics, but the middle class and the poor are fighting this war for
Middle class might not be the best way to describe San Diego, where the
average family income is $19,250 a year, according to the 2000 census, and
the unemployment rate is 9.6 percent. The potholed tarmac of State Highway
44, which runs through the town, is bordered by shuttered gas stations and a
view of abandoned, graffiti-splattered rail cars from the old Texas-Mexican
railroad. Wal-Mart has deemed San Diego not important enough for a store,
locating its nearest 10 miles east in the town of Alice, which is four times
The military, however, has recognized San Diego as fertile ground, filling
the halls of the high school with informational pamphlets and visits by
recruiters. Heavily Latino communities like San Diego are increasingly
important sources of enlistment for the military, especially among those who
possess the necessary educational credentials mainly a high school diploma
or the equivalent and the right immigration status.
Latinos make up 8.2 percent of the work force qualified to join the military
but represent 9.5 percent of the military's enlisted ranks, according to a
study by the Pew Hispanic Center. Latinos are also overrepresented among
soldiers who handle weapons on the front lines, accounting for 17.7 percent
of that category. (The casualty rate for Latinos in Iraq is hard to
determine since the Department of Defense has not released casualty data by
For Ruben Valdez and José Amancio Pérez, San Diego was a place to escape
from. Friends who attended school with them described Ruben as a joker and
Amancio, as he was known, as more serious, though the two had a lot in
After Amancio's parents separated, he moved to a relative's home less than a
hundred yards from Ruben's house. Their friends said the two would often
play together outside their homes on Luby Street, the same road residents
now take to visit their graves.
"They were a different generation from me, but I understood them perfectly,"
said Ana Garcia, 41, who attended Specialist Valdez's funeral in her desert
fatigues after returning from a year in Iraq with the Army National Guard.
"The pull of the military is dangerous and kind of irresistible," said Ms.
Garcia, who plans to work at a temporary agency in Corpus Christi before
re-entering the National Guard later this year, possibly to return to Iraq.
"It's the pull of the world out there."
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