Hispanic, patriotic hearts: a reminder
In late 1990, I decided to join the armed forces against the wishes of my mother. She wanted me to go to Boise State University in Idaho, but I wanted to be a part of something greater than myself. I was troubled and felt helpless when I saw women and children left for dead and bloated from Hussein’s poison gas attack in the late 1980s. I wanted to do something in my life that was meaningful while helping others against evil leaders or dictators, so I joined the U.S. Air Force and took an oath to honorably serve my country.
Throughout my Air Force career, I met many citizens and noncitizens as I worked and trained with Marines, Army, Navy, and civil authorities. I had the opportunity to serve with fellow Latino soldiers who came from other countries, who told me they joined the United States military so they could work toward American citizenship. Naturally, this made quite an impression on me to see others risking their lives to become Americans.
I do not believe the mainstream media does an adequate job in portraying Hispanic patriotism. In fact, living in Arizona, I often see Hispanic people being demonized and portrayed in a negative light by isolationists.
Hispanic patriots have fought for the United States since the American Revolution. Many Hispanics served as “rough riders” with Teddy Roosevelt and were recognized for their patriotism under the former president.
During World War I, approximately one third of the U.S. population was recent immigrants; the United States implemented a draft for the war effort. Ten years after the war, the economy slowed down and the U.S. adopted a repressive anti-immigration policy against “Mexicans,” using mass deportation roundups and repatriation that forced many established Hispanics out of their homes and separated families. These events occurred during the economic depression of 1929-1939 in a backlash to create jobs for European Americans. Thus, they deprived Hispanics of their public- and private-sector jobs and ignored many past contributions to the military and our nation. Similarly, social and economic strains were evident in 1953-1954 as sweeps from “Operation Wetback” deported 1,874,431 illegal Mexicans.
Operation Wetback did not discourage Latinos, nor did it prevent them from helping our country during World War II. The attack against us at Pearl Harbor shook the United States out of isolationism. Approximately 500,000 Hispanics were ready and willing to defend the United States during World War II, and Mexico became a strong ally of the United States.
As a leader of the largest Hispanic conservative organization in the state of Arizona, I am sometimes asked to identify my heroes. One of my favorite heroes is Dr. Hector P. Garcia. After World War II, Hispanic veterans suffered discrimination due to their skin color, and Dr. Garcia was courageous and showed leadership throughout that difficult period. He not only cared for our fellow Hispanic veterans, he also created an atmosphere that motivated Hispanics to get more politically involved.
In 1948, Dr. Garcia took issue with the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, which refused to accept sick World War II veterans who were Latino. After this effort, Garcia founded the American G.I. Forum. The 500,000 Latinos who honorably served in World War II now had a leader in Garcia, and within months of inception, the American G.I. Forum opened branches across the nation.
Dr. Garcia remains a central figure of the Latino civil rights movement today, due to his refusal to stand idle while Mexican Americans were being dehumanized in post-World War II society. With Garcia at the helm, the American G.I. Forum called for the removal of poll taxes while simultaneously holding fundraisers to help pay poll taxes to register more Mexican Americans to vote. Garcia organized back-to-school drives for Mexican-American children. He launched case after case against Texas school systems for illegal segregation, and won many of his efforts. He and others instigated court cases to sue for the right of Mexican Americans to serve on juries, winning one such case in the Supreme Court. While making him heroically revered among the Latino culture, these actions also made him the most hated man in Texas by discriminating parts of society.
Hispanic patriots continue to enlist and serve our military today. We volunteer because we have patriotic hearts and we love the United States of America. Many of us remember our grandfathers, uncles, and ancestors who were drafted, and how a great number of them spilled their blood to defend our country in a time of war. We honor them for that.
Although it seems that the media does not do enough to portray patriotic Hispanics and their contributions to the American military, let us not be dismayed. Instead, let us all remember great leaders in American history, and create a culture of unity. We must take on the mantle from Hispanic veteran leaders such as Dr. Garcia, as we continue to see the “Operation Wetback” program rear its ugly head in the form of S.B. 1070.
We must fight the good fight in countering the people who demonize Hispanics, and we do it by reminding the public of Latino veteran contributions to our country. We counter isolationists by reminding the public of the economic contributions from Hispanics, but most importantly, we remind the public that “all men are created equal.” We must treat fellow man like we want to be treated, and remind all that God blessed America because we stand as a beacon to the world and represent freedom.
We must help our fellow brothers and sisters by getting them to be more politically involved. We must take control of our own destinies and change what we can change while praying to our Creator for the things beyond our control.
Like Garcia, we must organize fundraisers and drives for our future Hispanic-American children and give them incentives for achieving the honor roll in school. We have to help each other because we are in this alone, and it is our fight. We cannot depend on the president, political leaders, or even our church leaders. Our fight will come from ordinary people as we band together from sheer will, drive, and relationship-building with one another. We can prove that we are better than the isolationists and modern-day, segregationist thinking by continuing the American Revolution through our patriotic hearts.
DeeDee Garcia Blase was born in Texas in 1971. Her parents migrated to Idaho for agricultural reasons when she was very young. Her parents eventually became business owners. DeeDee joined the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school, where she served four years active duty and an additional four years nonactive duty. She was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
DeeDee continued her education in Wichita, Kansas, and eventually opened two communications retail stores and later opened a coffee café in downtown Wichita. In Kansas, DeeDee was very involved with political activities and the Latino community via the American G.I. Forum, the National Latino Peace Officer Association and other organizations. She also began the Cinco de Mayo contests that encouraged young Hispanic females to win scholarships for their college education.
DeeDee sold her coffee shop and moved to Arizona in 2006 and founded the largest and most aggressive, Hispanic, conservative organization in the state of Arizona, Somos Republicans. She continues to remain politically involved and the new group has recently expanded to the state of California.
DeeDee is married to attorney Aaron Blase and has two children, ages 10 and 12.
Rochin, Refugio I. and Fernandez, Lionel. U.S. Latino Patriots: From the American Revolution to Afghanistan, An Overview, Pew Hispanic Center, 2002.
Espinosa, Paul. The Border (2004), film documentary, PBS.