Mexican Americans and war: Where do they stand?

“Raza Si! Guerra No!” by Lorena Oropeza has recently hit the bookstores. This book is an important read for those concerned with the struggles of Latinos for justice and equality, as well as everyone else in movements for peace and freedom.

The book not only deals with the development, high point and ending of the Chicano Moratorium movement against the Vietnam War of 1969-1971, but also covers the history of Mexican Americans’ relationship to the U.S. military since World War I. It traces the development of Mexican American identity during the 20th century.

In particular, it delves into Mexican Americans’ attitudes toward the Vietnam War (pro and con) from the beginning of the war up to and beyond the historic Aug. 29, 1970, Chicano Moratorium. It considers the relationship of Chicanos with the peace movement and with some of the left forces at that time.

I have a different take than Oropeza on many of the historical events she recounts. However, I say this not only because I was a player in many of those events. The book made me rethink the development of Mexican American politics and social action to the present and, yes, rethink my own role and those of my contemporaries, and where I think we should go from here.

The book contains a wealth of information from sources old and new. Her assessments of the persons and events are guided by a consistent and principled intellectual framework, and help us get closer to the deeper, underlying forces that shaped the history of that era. The book helps us gain a more critical perspective on what happened before and afterward.

Oropeza wrote this book not only as a scholar, but also as a Chicana with growing children who are and will be affected by U.S. military policy.

It took several years for her work to be published. With our government’s current first-strike, regime-change policy and its escalating use of ground troops, this book is profoundly relevant. What can we do today to build a peace movement on a more united, massive and long-lasting basis? How can we overcome the Bush administration’s subversion and repression of democracy, and its defamation of the press? These are not easy tasks, but they are necessary. This book will help get us there.

Rosalio Muñoz (rosalio_munoz@sbcglobal.net) was chair of the 1970 National Chicano Moratorium committee.

Raza Si! Guerra No!: Chicano Protest and Patriotism During the Vietnam War Era By Lorena Oropeza University of California Press, April 2005 Softcover, 278 pp., $21.95