Latino soldiers died at a disproportionately high rate during the Vietnam War, and also suffered higher rates of injury and complications such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This was due in part to the greater exposure to “war zone stressors” such as being on the front lines or being given higher risk assignments.
The traumatic experiences of Latino soldiers were complicated by their emotional identification with the Vietnamese communities they encountered. Latino troops saw parallels with their own communities in the Vietnamese’s focus on family and spirituality as well as their struggles against discrimination at the hands of American troops.
Despite their contributions and sacrifices, Latino soldiers were still subjected to discrimination during their service and many came home wondering why the democratic ideals they fought for abroad were still denied to them at home.
Through this lesson and the veteran interviews in AS LONG AS I REMEMBER: AMERICAN VETERANOS, students will gain a better understanding of the specific experiences of Latino/Hispanic soldiers and their struggle to serve their country while honoring their community, culture, and commitment to social justice. Students will also explore the variety of opportunities for individuals and groups to make positive contributions and think about how they can best fulfill their responsibility as engaged members of the American community.
About the Film:
AS LONG AS I REMEMBER: AMERICAN VETERANOS examines the steep personal toll and enduring legacy of the Vietnam War on three artists from south Texas: visual artist Juan Farias, author Michael Rodriguez and actor/poet Eduardo Garza. Through the personal histories and experiences of these Chicano veterans, the film reveals the important role art plays in sorting their memories, celebrating their culture, and treating the long-term impact of their military experience including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
AS LONG AS I REMEMBER chronicles their upbringing in the Mexican-American community, their military service in Vietnam, and their lives after the war. Farias, Rodriguez and Garza’s poignant and powerful recollections illuminate the minority experience in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps at a time when Mexican Americans accounted for approximately 20 percent of U.S. casualties in Vietnam, despite comprising only 10 percent of the country’s population.
90 minutes + Assignments
- Understand the challenges that Chicano/Latino soldiers confronted during the Vietnam war
- Examine Latino soldiers motivations for serving in the Vietnam War and/or supporting the anti-war movement
- Explore how we can serve our country and honor our communities and cultures
- Celebrate an individual, form of service, or community that makes a valuable contribution to our society
Prep for Teachers
Notes about viewing and discussing sensitive material:
This lesson and the accompanying videos address sensitive social and political issues as well as combat-related violence. Teachers should screen the videos and review all of the related materials prior to facilitating the lesson.
Remind the class that this is a supportive environment and review the classroom’s tools for creating a safe-space, including group agreements. These might include guidelines like “no name-calling,” “no interrupting,” “listen without judgment,” “share to your level of comfort,” “you have the right to pass,” etc. And remind students that when they talk about groups of people, they should be careful to use the word “some,” not “all.”
- Computers with Internet access
- LCD projector
- Audio speakers
- Butcher paper
- Sticky notes in multiple colors
- Whiteboard or blackboard
- Pen and writing paper
- STUDENT HANDOUTS:
- Student Handout A: The Film In Context
- Student Handout B: In Service
Film Modules: available on the PBS Learning Media website:
- As Long As I Remember: Official Trailer
- CLIP 1: “The neighborhood was a tough one.”
- CLIP 2: “You’re grown up on the idea that you’re not good enough.”
- CLIP 3: “The way the mist would gather on the fields…”
- CLIP 4: "I hate the war. I hate the idea of that war..."
“The Chicano Moratorium” by KCET.org: https://www.kcet.org/shows/departures/the-chicano-moratorium
SECTION 1: IN SERVICE
Time: 40 Minutes
Film Modules: ALAIR Trailer and ALAIR CLIPS 1, 2, & 3
You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, speakers, writing paper, pens, Student Handout A: The Film in Context, Student Handout B: In Service
- Distribute Student Handout A: The Film in Context and have students read with a partner.
- Screen the As Long As I Remember trailer and have the class record notes, quotes, statistics, and questions that relate to the reading. Follow with a discussion of the students’ feedback from their viewing notes.
- Distribute Student Handout B: In Service and screen ALAIR CLIPS 1 & 2. Students should use the handout to record notes, quotes, and scenes that illustrate why the soldiers went into combat and what they experienced.
- Discussion prompts:
- What surprised you most?
- What were some of the reasons that these veterans joined the military? (Give examples from the film.)
- Before the war, how did the veterans view military service and patriotism? Where did their ideas about patriotism come from? How did their feelings change during and after serving in the military?
- How did the veterans think military service would prove their commitment to their country?
- What was the Veterans’ experience as Latino/Chicano soldiers in a predominantly white military community? (Give examples from the film.)
- Juan says, “You’re grown up on the idea that you’re not good enough.” What do you think he meant by this?
- Juan says: “When I did get to Vietnam, I had this thing in my head that it was their side, my side. That’s the enemy and this is us.” That clear line between enemy and ally changed for him while he was in Vietnam. What motivated that change? (Juan: “So when I started hearing racist remarks, or being told something like “I had a Chicana woman or a Mexicana” it was insulting to me. And being called a spic, or a taco vendor. Whatever, you know… It doesn’t feel good for an 18-year old who’s out there and believes in America and the red, white and blue. And then when your own side is taking you apart.”)
- Screen ALAIR Clip 3 and discuss:
- What surprised Eduardo about the Vietnamese people and culture?
- What parallels did he see between the Vietnamese and his own Chicano community?
- According to Eduardo, what was the general response of his fellow soldiers to the Vietnamese? How did he feel about that? o What did Eduardo mean when he said: “I was very disappointed to realize that my country was putting me in a position where I might die without honor”?
- Eduardo, like Michael and Juan, was in Vietnam to fight the North Vietnamese forces, but as Eduardo says, many soldiers came to feel that they spent their tour of duty “ready to kill the enemy who was really… I felt was not even my enemy.” What was your reaction to Eduardo’s statement? How do you think you would you feel if you were in this position? What impact do you think this experience would have on you after the fighting had ended?
- How would you respond if you came home to the social, economic, and political segregation and discrimination that the veterans described?
SECTION 2: THE WAR AT HOME AND AWAY
Time: 20 Minutes Film Modules: ALAIR CLIP 4
You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, speakers, writing paper, pens
- Have students pair-up and read the summary of the Chicano anti-war movement “The Chicano Moratorium” by KCET.org: https://www.kcet.org/shows/departures/the-chicano-moratorium
- Discuss the article as a class or in small discussion groups:
- What factors motivated the Chicano Moratorium?
- What were the movement’s goals?
- What parallels can we draw between the experiences of the veterans in the film and the issues that were raised by the Chicano Moratorium?
- What was the outcome of the protest events and the movement?
- Screen ALAIR CLIP 4 and have students note quotes and scenes that illustrate the veterans’ thoughts about military service and combat as a result of their experiences in Vietnam.
- Discussion prompts:
- How do you feel about the veterans’ thoughts about military service and combat?
- How does Michael feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Can you give examples from the film?
- What did Michael mean when he said “The only people that hate war more than the guys who fight it are the families who wait”?
- How does Juan feel about his experience in the military? Can you give examples from the film?
- What did Juan mean when he said: “In a way I was violated, you know. I was violated by the idea of power.”
- How did Eduardo respond to the young man who was thinking about enlisting in the U.S. military? Why do you think he reacted that way?
- When Eduardo told the young man: “Our war as Chicanos, as world citizens even, is right here in the United States”, what did he mean? What is the “war” he is referring to? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
- Each of these veterans enlisted in the military because they wanted to serve their country. How are they continuing to serve their country today?
- Are their other ways that the young man that Eduardo spoke with could serve his country? What examples can you give?
SECTION 3: HOW CAN WE SERVE?
Time: 30 Minutes
You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper, pens, butcher paper, sticky notes in multiple colors
How can we serve our country and honor our community and culture? What shape can “service and sacrifice for country” take?
- Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students and give each a large sheet of butcher paper and sticky notes.
- Have students think about ways that citizens can serve their country in addition to military service. Have them think about how they can serve their country on a global level, on a national level, and within their local communities and assign a sticky note color for each category.
- Give the groups five minutes to generate responses by individually writing their ideas on the appropriate color of sticky notes (one idea per note). Each time they come up with an idea they should state it out loud to their group to let them know what has already been written and to help inspire new ideas in their peers.
- Once a large number of ideas have been generated, students should look for patterns and categories.
- They should tape their butcher paper to the wall and organize the group’s notes on the paper, grouping ideas together as appropriate.
- Have students take a silent gallery walk to view the other groups’ responses and return to their own group to revise/refine their brainstorming. Discuss:
- What stood out for you? Did you see any patterns emerging?
- What ideas did you like best from another group’s brainstorming?
- Are there existing organizations or programs where these ideas are being put into action?
- Have groups reconvene and explore the variety ways that U.S. citizens can serve their country: U.S. Military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, community organizations, Nurse Corps, social work, school teachers, firefighting, community artists, etc. They should supplement their discussion with Library/Internet research.
- Each student should select one institution, organization, profession, volunteer opportunity, etc. that they are most interested in exploring and share it with the class.
SERVICE IN ACTION
- OPTION 1: Have each student research the service option she selected in Part A and develop a recruitment campaign highlighting its value, impact, and benefits, and explaining why she is personally invested in this method of service.
- OPTION 2: Have students journal or create a multi-media presentation in response to the following guiding questions:
- What does it mean to “Serve Your Country”?
- How do/should we honor those who serve?
- How can/should we serve our country and communities?
- OPTION 3: Use the Dia de los Muertos ceremony from the film as inspiration and have students create an installation (alter) that honors and celebrates an individual, form of service, or community that makes a valuable contribution to our society.
Have students further explore the Chicano political movement of the 1960s and 1970s to understand its roots and its impact on social justice movements today. If possible, students can seek out participants in the movement and using AS LONG AS I REMEMBER: AMERICAN VETERANOS as inspiration, record their oral histories on video or as a podcast-style program. Resources:
- Animoto for Educators: https://animoto.com/business/education
- WeVideo for Education: https://www.wevideo.com/education
- Audacity (Podcast software for PC): https://sourceforge.net/projects/audacity/
- Garage Band (Podcast software for Mac): http://www.apple.com/mac/garageband/
Art and Activism:
Latino/a activism during and following the Vietnam War has extensively integrated the visual and performing arts. The Chicano Mural Movement was an especially powerful medium for the community to articulate their ideas, share their experiences and express their demands for social justice. Have students trace the roots of the Chicano Mural Movement to the Mexican Muralist movement that arose during the Mexican Revolutionary period and research the artists and communities that were most active in the mural movement during the Vietnam War. Finally, have students analyze the impact of the Chicano Mural Movement in modern culture. Resources:
- The Storm that Swept Mexico: Revolutionary Art (lesson plan): http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/e4d2f1e6-9e80-477d-915b-f0d72592f0e1/the-storm-that-swept-mexico-revolutionary-art/
- The Mexican and Chicano Mural Movements by María Cardalliaguet Gómez-Málaga, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute (resources and lesson plan): http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/2006/2/06.02.01.x.html
- California Cultures Lesson Plan: The Chicano Movement in California — Culture, Causes, and Community (resources and lesson plan)
Cesar Chavez and His Son:
Have students examine the debate among Latino Vietnam War veterans and activists regarding the draft, conscientious objection, and commitment to the community through the story of Cesar Chavez and his son, Fernando, who refused to fight in Vietnam. Students should research the arguments on all sides of the issue and organize debates using the perspective of these historic figures. Then they should research the modern debates on these topics and develop a persuasive essay taking up a position on one of these issues.