Saturday, March 31, 2007

it seems like it's a typical oversight and this is unacceptable," said caucus chairman Joe Baca, D-Calif

WASHINGTON -- Hispanic groups unhappy with an upcoming Ken Burns documentary on World War II are stepping up pressure on PBS because the series omits mention of the role Latinos played in the war.

The latest group to take their grievance to PBS is the American GI Forum, a Hispanic veterans group that has waged numerous civil rights battles for Hispanics and Hispanic veterans.The American GI Forum is appealing to Hispanic veterans and other Latino groups to write members of Congress and their local PBS affiliates about the documentary, "The War," which has been six years in the making.This week, GI Forum President Antonio Morales of Fort Worth and other Latino leaders met in Washington with PBS President Paula Kerger to lodge their complaints about the 14-hour Burns documentary set to air this September, Hispanic Heritage month."We are not going to tolerate this omission," Morales said after the PBS meeting.PBS said it would respond in two weeks. In the meantime, the publicly funded network issued a statement that said:"While PBS has been a leading forum for these voices to be heard, there is more that needs to be done. We will expand upon our commitment, particularly around the creation and delivery of content that better represents the diversity of the audiences we serve."In a statement issued by his publicist, Burns and co-producer Lynn Novick said they were "dismayed and saddened" by any assumptions they intentionally left out any group. "Nothing could be further from the truth," they said.They urged viewers to see the series before judging it, and hope it will prompt discussions of World War II.The Burns series documents the war from the perspective of four U.S. communities: Waterbury, Conn.; Luverne, Minn.; Mobile, Ala.; and Sacramento, Calif."In this latest project, we have attempted to show the universal human experience of war by focusing on the testimonies of just a handful of people mostly from four American towns. As a result, millions of stories are not explored in our film," Burns and Novick said.The GI Forum also met with Hispanic members of Congress this week to plan a strategy to raise the issue nationally.The GI Forum was founded in 1948 in Corpus Christi, Texas, by a physician who recognized that Mexican-American veterans were not getting equal treatment in veterans hospitals or receiving benefits they were promised for their service.Their meeting followed one earlier this week by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus with Kerger and earlier meetings with PBS officials and a coalition of Hispanic groups that first took up the issue. The coalition is calling its fight the Defend the Honor campaign.The controversy over the Burns documentary has been simmering for months, since University of Texas journalism associate professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez learned the film did not include Hispanics.Rivas-Rodriguez has been compiling the oral histories of Latino World War II veterans over the past eight years with the help of volunteers and a small staff. She has compiled 550 recorded histories.As part of her effort, Rivas-Rodriguez has appeared at veterans conferences and panels to raise awareness about the contributions of Latinos, who served despite facing discrimination and bigotry at home."People regardless of their generation who are Latino, they take this very personally because they see it as an affront to our people," Rivas-Rodriguez said.Several Congressional Hispanic Caucus members are veterans and have relatives who were World War II veterans and some are members of congressional appropriations committees."We know we've always contributed not only to World War II, but every war. But it seems like it's a typical oversight and this is unacceptable," said caucus chairman Joe Baca, D-Calif., "The line ... has been drawn. Ya no mas. Ya Basta. (No more. Enough) You better do something. You better change."The Latino lawmakers and groups say the omission is particularly disconcerting because Hispanics, citizens and non-citizens, are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, recalled the 300 soldiers of Squadron 201, known as the Aztec Eagles, were sent from Mexico to help in the U.S. war effort along with numerous Latinos who fought in the war. In addition, numerous workers were transported from Mexico to the U.S. to work American fields and railroads under the Bracero program because the men who held those jobs were fighting in the war."Even our own Latinos are not aware of the role because the story hasn't been told. There were half a million Latinos that we know of that participated in World War II," Rodriguez said. "For them to come up with a program that is 14 hours long and they are going to show it in Hispanic month ... it's appalling they haven't recognized we've been playing a role all this time."