Skip to main content

On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam

Airs Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 at 10:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Tony Santiago (center) with two soldiers. Courtesy of Antonio Santiago

Credit: Courtesy of Antonio Santiago

Above: Tony Santiago (center) with two soldiers. Courtesy of Antonio Santiago

Examine the Latino experience during a war that placed its heaviest burden on working-class youth and their communities.

“On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam” captures a complex aspect of the Vietnam War: the legacy of Latino veterans and their families during the conflict.

The program examines the Latino experience during a war that placed its heaviest burden on working-class youth and deeply affected Latino communities.

“On Two Fronts” producer Mylène Moreno takes a comprehensive look at pivotal events on both the homefront and the battlefront, painting a vivid portrait of Latino Americans during a tumultuous time.

Through compelling stories and candid interviews, the film conveys the rich heritage of military service, a deeply rooted part of Latino cultural identity in the U.S., and looks at the contributions made by Latino veterans and their families during the Vietnam era.

On Two Fronts

The film also explores the controversy and changing attitudes amid the growing Chicano anti-war movement and within a community reeling over disproportionate losses and divided over participation in the war.

Filmed in the Southwest and in Vietnam, “On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam” includes firsthand accounts from dozens of Latino veterans and their families and commentary from historians, social activists and other experts.

To evoke the dramatic events unfolding at home and overseas, the documentary combines lush photography with home movies, archival footage, graphic newsreels and personal photographs.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Souvenir Pictures, Inc.

Young men are sworn in and drafted into the Vietnam War. (undated photo)

Latinos began questioning the cost of war and the price of citizenship for the first time during the Vietnam conflict.

In communities where there were few alternatives to service, the war exacted a heavy toll among Latinos.

“With this film, we wanted to look back, five decades later, with the benefit of hindsight, at the Vietnam War — at its costs and consequences — and ask some difficult questions about the price of war and citizenship,” said Moreno of Souvenir Pictures, Inc.

At home, the Latino anti-Vietnam war movement gained momentum — a radical departure from past wars, when Latino civil rights activists used high rates of military participation to prove their worth as good citizens.

Photo credit: Courtesy of George Rodriguez

Soldier walking down the street. (undated photo)

This time, activists pointed to similarly high rates of participation — and mortality — and argued that Latinos were being exploited.

Latinos organized antiwar events to address both the war and conditions at home, culminating in unprecedented protest rallies for Chicanos.

Overseas, Latino soldiers were presented with both opportunities and challenges. Alongside Anglo-American and African-American soldiers, many discovered their differences faded away during combat.

Others describe racial tensions and stereotypes that persisted in Vietnam or upon returning home.

For many, the price of service was too high. Latino veterans still suffer post-traumatic stress disorder in higher percentages than black and white American veterans.

Many of the Latinos who went to war returned ill prepared for college and to the same limited career options they had before leaving home.

If one reason Latinos fought for their country was to trade service for career benefits, then Vietnam’s legacy did not always fulfill that promise.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Souvenir Pictures, Inc.

Vietnam veterans Oscar Urrea and Steve Guzzo inspect some of the more than 2,000 replica dog tags on the Mares Bluff Veterans Memorial in Clifton, Ariz.

The documentary is part of PBS Stories of Service — providing compelling stories of those who have served and a deeper understanding of our nation’s military history.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION:

“On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam” is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @LatinosVietnam on Twitter.

CREDITS:

Produced by Souvenir Pictures, Inc., “On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam” is a presentation of Oregon Public Broadcasting in association with Latino Public Broadcasting, with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Director and Producer: Mylène Moreno. Associate Producer: Susy Garciasalas Barkley. Cinematography and artwork: Claudio Rocha. Editor: Tova Goodman. Original music: Chicano Batman.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.