Sunday, April 17, 2011

Latino Veterans React to Proposed Ken Burns PBS Vietnam Show

Defend the Honor
April 16, 2011
Defend The Honor Advisory on Ken Burns/PBS

Attention Latino and Latina Vietnam War veterans, families and extended community

Yes, we know - our loyal Defenders of the Honor have been sending us messages about Ken Burns and PBS reaching out to Latino and Latina Vietnam War veterans. Unlike the 2007 Ken Burns/PBS WWII documentary debacle that left out the Latino and Latina experience, this time they might have a different interest in filming a documentary on the Vietnam War. Many of our Defenders of the Honor are rightfully outraged that Burns, who had a track record of excluding Latinos in his work long before the 2007 WWII documentary, is still being allowed to document an important event in American history. Many feel that he has failed repeatedly and that he should never again be trusted. (He still thinks the protests of 2007 were a "misunderstanding" on our part. And one high-placed public broadcasting official called it a "dust-up" - an indication that she still does not get it.) They also question the sincerity of PBS' commitment to diversity, after the disastrous handling of The War.

Defend the Honor welcomes attempts to include stories of Latinos and Latinas in our nation's historical narrative. However, DTH also believes that those who choose to collaborate with Florentine Films, Burns' production company-- or with any others-- should proceed with caution.  

Here is the back story: On March 28, 2011, the Associated Press reported "PBS said the 10-12 hour film by Burns and longtime partner Lynn Novick will be broadcast in 2016. Burns said his film will tell the human stories of Americans and Vietnamese affected by the war, along with those of Americans who protested against it.  He said that four decades after the war's end, most people have opinions about it but few truly know its history."

It remains to be seen if the "human stories of Americans" will follow the same path as THE WAR film.  In his funding request proposals for the 2007 WWII film, Burns is specific on what the film would focus on.  His proposal stated: "The series will celebrate American diversity, telling the stories of ordinary Americans (from our four chosen towns) of many different ethnic and racial backgrounds, individuals who are both representative and singular. In doing so, the film will demonstrate the war's indisputable impact on the transformation of America into a more perfect union, while at the same time acknowledging the difficult challenges faced by ethnic minorities in a segregated society."  Until Defend the Honor and others protested the exclusion of Latinos, Ken Burns did not find Latino and Latina WWII veterans to be "ordinary Americans" who fought in the war, much less helped in the "transformation of America into a more perfect union."  In the end, in response to the protests, other than several minutes of pasted on images of Hispanics, Burns left our community out of his final public/corporate funded film.  The accompanying book had no mention of Latinos. 

Knowing of Burn's history of omitting our rightful place in history relative to  our military service record in wars and military conflicts around the world, will our "American" Latino and Latina Vietnam War veterans and their families,  respond to Ken Burns/PBS?  Maybe yes, maybe no. 

The questions, concerns and reservations surrounding Ken Burns venture into the Vietnam War are many, especially when it comes to the "human stories" of Latino and Latina veterans who served during the Vietnam War era, as well as those involved in the Chicano movement who protested the war.

We must never forget that over 170,000 Latinos and Latinas served or fought in Vietnam, of which, more than 3,070 made the ultimate sacrifice. Thousands more were wounded, exposed to Agent Orange and/or suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

The toll taken on our Vietnam veterans and their families continue to be felt to this day.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas where veterans have been demanding the building of a veteran hospital.  The absence of a veteran hospital forces veterans to travel 250 miles to San Antonio for medical treatment.

We have thousands of Vietnam War stories that need to be told by filmmakers, writers, playwrights and ordinary Latinos and Latinas who are interested in remembering our warriors.

We encourage everyone concerned with any and all facets of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Latinos and Latina community to voice their opinions, personal stories and documentation on family members who were directly or indirectly impacted by this war.

We issue the following cautions:

·         All material written by individuals about the Vietnam War should be copyrighted before it is released to Ken Burns, PBS, businesses or corporations seeking to represent our Latino and Latina veterans and families in books, film or other media.
·         Do not enter into a relationship with the above mentioned entities without a formal contract that specifies ownership of intellectual property associated with any and all material related to the Latino and Latina Vietnam War experience. 
·         Do not allow your material or personal story to be placed in a secondary role in any Vietnam War film production as was done with Latinos by Ken Burns The WAR. His excuse was that he had "artistic license" to do whatever he pleased.
·         Review your material and interest in sharing your stories with existing Latino and Latina veteran's organizations, filmmakers and book authors so that they may assist and guide you with information and resources related to your Vietnam War experience.
·         Communicate openly with your state or national legislative representatives if you feel your material on the history, courage and sacrifice of our Latino and Latina Vietnam War veteran is not being treated with respect and dignity by a public funded entity.

Defend The Honor encourages all Latinos and Latinas to write and document as many Vietnam War stories as possible so that no one can deny our existence or service to our country. 

Furthermore, we express our profound thanks to those few who have written books, archived stories, produced films and theater productions on the experiences of our Latino and Latina Vietnam War veterans.


Gus Chavez and Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, co-founders and co-chairs, Defend theHonor