• December 10th, 2023
  • Sunday, 08:43:44 PM

Latino Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation

Ramón Del Castillo, PhD


Editor’s Note: Dr. Ramón Del Castillo delivered a keynote address for the Colorado Civil Rights Division in honor of Hispanic Awareness month; the following are his remarks:

Hispanic Awareness Month is slowly but surely becoming institutionalized as complex organizations seek out multicultural strategies to ensure justice in the workplace. The theme that I was asked to speak about is “Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation.”

Since this is the Colorado Civil Rights Division, I thought I would make a few comments about human and civil rights as two separate but inter-related concepts that require equal attention. Civil rights are granted legally, for example, by the U.S. Constitution, a nation, a state or a city.

Human Rights arise simply by being a human being entitled to several inalienable rights. What seem to be embedded in both concepts are the values of respect for the individual, the right to life, and the right to pursue happiness. I am a human rights activist and believe in the inviolability of the individual, that is, the sacredness of the individual as they attempt to fulfill their respective destinies in life.

On the theme relative to “serving our nation,” what immediately came to mind was the military, in this case the Marine Corps. My father Adolfo Del Castillo and one of my brothers, Javier Del Castillo served honorably in the U.S. Marine Corp; my father during the Korean Conflict and my brother directly on the battlefield in Viet Nam. I was drafted into the U.S. Army in1969; but was injured and released due to a preexisting condition that had become exacerbated in military training.   In the long run that departure became a blessing in disguise as I recollect experiencing feelings of shame and guilt for not serving my entire tour.  I realize that there are veterans from many other wars since that time; however, my age and generation took to this particular time period.

It was not until 1980 when I practiced clinical psychology as a healer (therapist), directing psychiatric services for El Centro de las Familias located in SW Denver that my shame transformed into practice. I wrote my first Masters’ thesis on, Chicano Viet Nam Veterans and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” I spent many hours researching this concept when it was first conceptualized by the brightest psychiatric brains in the country.  I also observed and treated many manifestations of PTSD exhibited by soldiers through a variety of symptomatology, uncharacteristic of other wars. The prime motivation to write my thesis took me back to the 1960’s when I observed how our communities’ families suffered and grieved over the many deaths. There have been many other wars in the last 50 years that have left devastating effects on our troops and many of our young men are now traumatized by their experiences.

Today, Latinos in the Marine Corp comprise 18% of enlisted Marines, up 15% when the Iraq War began. Many immigrants have joined the armed forces. During this intense attack against immigrant populations, the fact is that non-citizens (undocumented immigrants) can enlist in the military but this does not ensure automatic citizenship following one’s tour of duty. One of the realities that is currently ignored, is that Latinos have always defended American democracy in all of its’ Wars, willing to sacrifice their lives for this country; José Aguayo’s “The Color of Duty: Stories of Latinos in the American Military” will give you a glimpse of the many Latina/o unsung heroes who were in all branches of the military. The sadness that lingers like a shadow in the night is that after returning home, veteran’s civil rights have never been fully reciprocated; they were blatantly violated as segregation, racism, sexism and discrimination were institutionalized in the 1960’s, with spillover effects in today’s world. Those travesties have left wounded spirits in our community, seeking out amelioration, but not always successfully.

One has to wonder what types of policies the current government will develop to entice young Latinos into the military, to prepare them to go to war with other nations. It would not surprise me if pathways to citizenship in any kind of comprehensive immigration policy would include a provision that includes military service. This has been vetted before and will be vetted again as the 2020 elections take place. This ultimately translates into Latinos continuing to defend América’s democracy as a tradeoff for citizenship in order to avert a replica of the 1960’s anti-war movement.

In the early territorial days of Colorado Spanish speaking Latino representatives attended legislative sessions held in English Only at the Denver Capitol. This translated into a lack of effective representation at all levels of the government. Only through the work of Casimiro Barela did this change when interpreters were brought in to facilitate conversations. During the 1960’s one of our US Presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson in a video I found stated something to the effect, “that Mexican Americans need to get closer to their government.”  During his Great Society experiments, he appointed Vincente Ximenes to a top-level appointment at a time when we lacked national, regional and local representation at all levels of government. It was a historic event, especially as the Chicano Movement was in its heyday. Representative Polly Baca was one of the very few Latinas that served Colorado honorably in the Colorado State Legislature during this time period. The current administration does not reflect the diversity in our nation.

I agree with President Johnson; however, participative democracy requires that there be an open field for all to compete in, with equal opportunities for all Americans to receive education, and other amenities offered to America’s citizens. If education is the great equalizer, it should be affordable for all, with no exceptions.

La Raza has shed their blood, sweat and tears in not only foreign countries but also on American streets during the Chicano Movement.  Deprived of human and civil rights was normalized. Justice has yet to be served; the road has been turbulent and the suffering continues.  Integration into serving our nation’s government is another method of achieving full democratic participation and true justice.

Service to our nation can take many other forms such as joining the government workforce, securing contracts, appointments to high level positions, elections and the myriad of opportunities that require highly developed skills, adequate competencies and college education.  There should be parity in all branches of the government and its gigantic bureaucracy; but that is not necessarily the case and it doesn’t appear that it is going to be the case any time soon as the dialectic forces of conservative and liberal ideologies remain on the political battleground, unwilling to use of the gift of communication to find common ground.

Democracy is currently under attack. Its’ survival depends on implementing just and equitable opportunities for all. Americans.  Hispanic Awareness Month should never be used as tokenism—window dressing will no longer work. It is an everyday struggle for the many Latinos that continue to be marginalized in American society. It will take values of respect for all groups and individuals in order for us to achieve equality for all, followed by direct action. The question is whether Americans have the courage to struggle for civil and/or human rights.


Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. ©Ramón Del Castillo.


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