2008, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 50, spring 2008
Haskell Wexler's war film Latino and the Chicano warrior in the U.S. national body
by Barbara Korte
The special discursive status of minority-ethnic soldiers fighting for the United States has received a new focus in the war on Iraq. The U.S. government has shown an increased willingness to grant posthumous citizenship to "non- citizen" soldiers killed in U.S. military service (full citizenship not being prerequisite for entering the Armed Forces); the majority of these non-citizens belong to ethnic minorities in the United States. In April 2003, the Senate passed a bill awarding immediate citizenship to non-citizen soldiers killed in combat, and since 2004, a Presidential executive order has also made it easier for families of non-citizens killed in U.S. military service to apply for citizenship. Thus, in the war on Iraq, the ethnic-minority soldier's (dead) body became an official pathway to U.S. citizenship (i.e. "sanctioned" U.S. identity). In the light of this current situation, I would like to look back at Hollywood films to consider how they have presented issues of ethnic minorities in the armed forces, and in particular at the depiction of a Mexican-American soldier fighting clandestinely in Nicaragua in Haskell Wexler's Latino (1985). I am interested in tracing how that characterization bears comparison to and differs from the new situation of non-citizen soldiers becoming citizens through dying in Iraq.
Embodying military, ethnic and national identities
Alex Vernon notes in his introduction to Arms and the Self,
"War, armed conflict in general, military service, and their after effects have likely inspired more textual testimonies than have any other kind of human event." (5)
As an extraordinary experience, war must challenge the sense of self of those who conduct and endure it: War can harm a person's body and soul; it uproots people, destroys their physical environment and human relationships, confronts all involved in it with violence and suffering, and often the need to inflict such suffering themselves. To a soldier – in particular a professional soldier – the relation between "arms and the self" may have an even deeper existential significance than for the civilian undergoing war.
The military determines a soldier's identity at all times, in peace as well as war. Soldiers have to define and clearly proclaim their affiliation to the collective they serve, and to absorb the value system of this collective into their personal sense of self. In a symbolic sense, the soldier's person is a "body politic,"[open endnotes in new window] i.e. personal identity amalgamates with the soldier's public role. This special relation with the nation is marked by the uniform the soldier wears on his or her "natural" body – which may be injured or killed but will even then retain a political function when this body is brought back to the soldier's country and hono red for its service to the nation.
As will be argued here, soldier s' relation to the collective is particularly acute where they serve a country in which they belong to minority-ethnic communities and thus face possible marginalization and othering. They have to willingly risk their natural bodies for a national body that might otherwise reject and eject them.
The representation of ethnic-minority soldiers has a long tradition in U.S. film. After World War II, the "ethnic platoon" (or more aptly, the ethnically mixed platoon) became a conventional ingredient of U.S. war movies. More recently such a script convention shapes the film Jarhead (2005). This film, based on Anthony Swofford's autobiographical account of his experience as a Marine in Gulf War I, opens with a sequence in which a drill sergeant tells recruits that from now on their existence will be defined by one allegiance only – their identification with the military and specifically the Marine Corps. This (African-American) staff sergeant tells his WASP protagonist and comrades ,
"[You are] no longer black or brown or yellow or red. You are now green. You are light green or dark green! Do you understand?"
A later scene in Jarhead, when reporters interview the soldiers , shows that being "green" implies exhibiting patriotism and, in the case of Hispanic soldiers, also gratitude. Ramón Escobar, from Miami and with a Cuban background, professes that joining the Marines "was an opportunity for me to defend America, the country which has given freedom to me and my family"; his Mexican comrade Juan Cortéz from Delano, CA, says he's proud "to defend my country and to serve my country." However, as a film highly critical of the military and contemporary warfare, Jarhead demonstrates that the U.S. Armed Forces are not the great equalizer they pretend to be and that ethnic differences among the marines persist despite the troops' shared experiences and strong sense of bonding.
In Jarhead, as in most other big-budget U.S. war films, the status of ethnic-minority soldiers plays a marginal rather than a major role. Films foregrounding the issue, such as Glory ( 1989 ) and Windtalkers ( 2002 ), are exceptions. The former film presents the U.S. Civil War's first all-black volunteer company (the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment serving under white Colonel Robert G. Shaw). The latter has a plot about Navajo Marines trained to use an unbreakable radio code based on their native language during World War II in the Pacific and their relationships with white comrades who act as their bodyguards. The two films have as a major narrative thread that ethnic-minority soldiers have to fight prejudices as well as the enemy but nevertheless prove their valor and loyalty to the common cause. The scripts have as a theme the need to (re)inscribe the war contributions of ethnic minorities in the nation's historical consciousness, and they indicate that these contributions were shaped, in each instance, by experiences unique to the respective racial group, including that group's specific history of injustice and discrimination. Glory has been acclaimed for its complex portrayal of these issues, while Windtalkers failed , according to most reviewers, because of its reliance on stereotypes. And in spite of their "race themes," both stories still focused on a white central protagonist. As Roger Ebert, reviewing Windtalkers notes,
" That's a fascinating, little-known story and might have made a good movie. Alas, the filmmakers have buried it beneath battlefield clichés, while centering the story on a white character played by Nicholas Cage. I was reminded of Glory, the story of heroic African-American troops in the Civil War, which was seen through the eyes of their white commanding officer. Why does Hollywood find it impossible to trust minority groups with their own stories?" (Ebert n.p.)
So far, only "minor" productions have depicted the status of ethnic-minority soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces by using ethnic protagonists , and most of these films have not reached wide audiences — nor attracted academic interest. A film that is especially interesting to take a second look at is Latino, a low-budget independent production of the 1980s that depicts the dilemma of a Mexican-American soldier sent into an operation in the United States' covert war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Although the film was written and directed by Haskell Wexler, not by a member of the Mexican-American community, its script remains firmly focused on its Latino protagonist and the Nicaraguan people with whom he gets involved. The film was partly shot in Nicaragua while the conflict between the Sandinistas and U.S.-backed counter-revolutionaries, the Contras, was still in progress (some of the extras were actual Sandinista fighters). As an independent – and politically partisan – production, the film did not enjoy much theatrical distribution. However, it received a special honour at the Cannes festival in 1984 and was shown on U.S. television. And Chicano studies scholar, George Mariscál (305, n. 20) notes it as "the only film to date whose protagonists are Chicano Viet Nam veterans."
Haskell Wexler's Latino: an "ethnic" soldier's story
Haskell Wexler is a renowned and highly awarded cinematographer (Academy Awards for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, 1967 and Bound for Glory, 1976; Motion Picture Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996). At the same time, he is a politically active filmmaker on the Left. One writer refers to Wexler as an
"activist artist who has admirably balanced his yin and yang energies. While working successfully for four decades within the commercial film industry, he has also made radical documentaries that are vehicles for his political activism as well as invitations for audience comment and education." (Wunsch n.p.)
Wexler's influential feature Medium Cool (1969) is still considered groundbreaking for its blend of fictional story and political reality , its use of documentary-style camerawork and actual documentary footage shot during the 1968 Chicago Democratic national convention and the riots that accompanied it. The plot of that film, whose title alludes to Marshall McLuhan's distinction between hot and cool media, involves a TV cameraman's relationship with a Vietnam war widow and her son, but it depicts, above all, the man's rise to political consciousness. Wexler's many documentaries to date have commented on U.S. politics and social injustices since the 1960s. He also worked on several documentaries devoted to Latin American politics. In a tribute to Wexler as "The People's Cinematographer," filmmaker Saul Landau writes about their collaboration on Target Nicaragua: Inside a Secret War (1983):
"We finished Target Nicaragua in early 1983, before the prestige press had reported that the CIA had engineered a covert war against Nicaragua. But PBS didn't air the show until The New York Times and The Washington Post had run their own stories formally revealing the CIA's $19 million effort. Only a third of the public TV stations ran it."
"'Who are they keeping this a secret from?' Haskell asked. 'Every Nicaraguan knows the CIA is waging a war. Only the American public remains in the dark. '"
"A year later, Haskell returned to Nicaragua to write and direct Latino, hoping that it would expose the contra atrocities to a mass public. Latino finally debuted but fared little better than Target Nicaragua. The distribution company pulled it from the theaters after it received less than great reviews and poor box-office ratings." (Landau n.p. )
The film's low box office in part results from its aesthetic shortcomings. While the main characters are played "with conviction" (Canby n.p.), the acting quality is otherwise uneven. The script uses both perfunctory and contrived plotting devices, and dialogue fraught with too many explications of the situation in Nicaragua and the characters' motivations. Indeed, the script is so openly didactic that its New York Times reviewer "almost expect[ed] to be tested on what you've learned." (Canby n.p.) Latino makes strong use of documentary-style elements and emphasizes its factuality in its epigraph:
"The story of Latino is fiction. The events depicted are fact."
However, it uses a less sophisticated blend of fiction and the real than in Medium Cool and the documentary-style footage primarily serves the film's political mission, as, for instance, when the opening sequence explains (literally, in voice-over) the background and state of affairs in Nicaragua. But other scenes with the Nicaraguan people have more emotional poignancy. The film's images of raided towns and local violence manage to convey the plight of the civilian population, and the old woman who twice curses the U.S. soldier remains a haunting presence for the audience as well as for the film's protagonist.
While Latino has aesthetic problems and makes an overt political critique, the plot remains interesting in the way it develops the story of its main character, who becomes aware of his Latino identity and that identity's paradoxical significance as he takes part in a covert war in Latin America. My subsequent discussion will focus on this narrative development and how the film's fictional biography develops various aspects of a conflict between racial/ethnic and military identity.
When the film's action starts in 1983, Eddie Guerrero (played by Robert Beltran), is a 34-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War. He is a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Special Forces Command, the so-called Green Berets, who often operate undercover and, among other tasks, train and command military and police personnel of friendly states. As an officer, Eddie looks back on a successful military career. His telling Spanish name, Guerrero, however, indicates both the character's backstory and the forthcoming dramatic conflict: Eddie serves as a "warrior" in the United States Armed Forces, but he also has a Latino name and personal identity.
During his mission against the Sandinistas, Eddie Guerrero's identity as a U.S. soldier is increasingly undermined. We see his growing doubts about the legitimacy of the operation in which he is engaged and his growing identification with the alleged "enemy." He becomes increasingly aware of his status as an ethnic subaltern within the U.S. military which uses his bilingual fluency and appearance as tools in an imperialist intervention. And above all, he becomes sensitive to his role in an operation directed against other "Latinos." The degree to which Eddie feels alienated from his role as a professional soldier is foregrounded by the film's parallel portrayal of how and why the Nicaraguan people fight. The residents of El Porvenir, a Sandinista cooperative, take up arms for a cause with which they fully identify. They fight an enemy who threatens their lives, the results of their labo r, and their political ideals. And they fight a true people's war that turns men, women, the old, and the young into (temporary) warriors.
Latino negotiates Eddie's experience of conflicting identities with particular emphasis on two important signifiers of a person's identity: the name and the body, both of which the narrative expressly ties together. One of the things that makes the film unique as a war film is how it presents the Mexican-American warrior as defined by different but connected notions of the body: As a soldier, Eddie's body "belongs" to the military and, implicitly, to the nation he serves. At the same time, his body bears the marks of his ethnicity and it is also, of course, the site of his very personal needs and desires. Furthermore, Eddie is presented as interacting with various social bodies: the military community ; his family back in City Terrace, East LA ; and the family he would like to form with his new lover, the middle-class Nicaraguan agronomist Marlena (played by Annette Cardona) and her little son.
Temporally, the plot advances relatively straightforwardly. With his best friend and co-veteran, Sgt. Ruben Treviño (played by Tony Plana), Eddie is deployed into an operation connected to the official Big Pine maneuvers in Honduras. That operation itself is "not public knowledge," as Eddie is told during his mission briefing: The men train Contra fighters in a camp in Honduras and lead them into the Honduran-Nicaraguan borderland. At first, Eddie does not mind this task, being used to covert operations as a Green Beret. His loyalty and military service have brought him a secure position in U.S. society and the possibility of a materially comfortable life. He knows his career has given his life a stability it might not otherwise have had. When his lover Marlena expresses her doubts about his activities he retorts:
"I'm 34 years old. I'm Special Forces Green Beret. A professional soldier. I did three lousy tours in Vietnam. … Being a soldier keeps me on a real even keel. Now you wanna complicate that.
Eddie first meets Marlena on a U.S.-owned farm in Honduras, where she works as a pest-control specialist. Her husband, a drunkard from whom she is separated, was Honduran, but Marlena is Nicaraguan by birth, and her family still live in Nicaragua. Eddie is increasingly troubled by his mission and shows signs of misgiving as he witnesses how Nicaraguan men are coerced into the Contra militia, Nicaraguan villages are raided, their inhabitants killed and raped, and harvests destroyed. He even fraternizes with the "enemy" when he befriends Luis (played by Luis Torrentes), a young and naïve man from El Porvenir, who is kidnapped by the Contras. Luis is tortured for refusing to enter their militia but then gives in and serves under Eddie's personal supervision and protection. This is one of the film's less credible plot moves. While it might seem plausible that Luis feels gratitude towards Eddie and even develops some admiration for him, it is hard to believe that Eddie, an experienced soldier, would fully trust and even give a weapon to a man whom his comrade Ruben has recently helped to torture. Quite obviously, Eddie's older-brother attitude towards the young Nicaraguan is meant to stress how Eddie's identity as a U.S. soldier is beginning to crumble.
Eddie also empathizes with other victims of the Contras and starts to relate them to members of his own family: The old woman who curses him for being involved in the Nicaraguan war reminds him of his mother (whom the film significantly presents as speaking only Spanish), and like Luis, another young man also makes him think of his younger brother. Such associations receive special emphasis as the film indicates that for Eddie, and within both U.S. Latino and Nicaraguan culture, family ties are generally very meaningful. The love and care he receives from his family is shown before Eddie dons his (decorated) uniform and departs for the manoeuver. Reminding him of his own family, the alleged enemy seems more familiar than other, and it becomes impossible for Eddie to conceptualize the Sandinistas as "mere gooks" in the way he was expected to frame his enemies in Vietnam. His notion of the "other" becomes completely confused when Marlena decides to go home to Nicaragua for good after her father has been killed in a Contra attack while protecting a school. The funeral takes place at El Porvenir, where Marlena integrates into the community and supports the cooperative's farm work.
While Eddie's involvement with the people he must fight gets more intense, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable within the social body of the army. The script first marks this alienation by showing his strained relationship with his friend Ruben. Personal doubts about his role in the U.S. military also arise when his commanding officer announces that Eddie and Ruben will lead their fighters in an operation against El Porvenir in Contra uniforms and without identity tags. The officer says the reason for their hiding their identity is to keep political liberals in the United States from raising an alarm over evidence of fallen U.S. soldiers should the operation fail.
Fighting with the Contras openly instrumentalizes Eddie's Mexican American ethnicity because this ethnicity allows him to blend into the group and camouflage his citizenship. Eddie is expected to serve the United States "invisibly," by exactly not looking like a soldier who is white or black and thus easily identified as a member of the U.S. military. Paradoxically, his ethnic identity and soldierly discipline are meant to operate for his country, but at the same time his Armed Forces have personally and militarily "othered" him. This order is a turning point in the narrative for it contradicts Eddie's understanding of his professional role. He considers honorable service for his country to involve service in that country's name, as a body politic identifiable as the United States, even if he is on a secret operation. As Eddie tells the commanding officer to his face:
" This hunk of metal is part of my uniform. It's like a part of my body. I'm not going to do something I'm gonna be ashamed of."
To Eddie, the dog tag symbolizes the military part of his identity, and the film highlights its significance for him by making the tag almost constantly visible. It's there from the moment when Eddie is first seen waking up in his mother's house , tag clearly visible on his chest, indicating how Eddie's military identity has indeed become inseparable from his body and his private life. The waking-up scene also establishes that Eddie 's personal reason to resent the commander's order. Taking his farewell from his mother, Eddie promised her that he would "be back" – but without his tag, she could not even reclaim his body if he were killed. That he is expected to fight and die without proof of his identity troubles Eddie so much that he now decides he'll give up his military career after the two final months of his tour, because his "heart is no longer in it," as he tells Marlena, though those words come too late to save their relationship.
Eventually, the fear that his dead body would go unidentified also awakens Eddie's sense of ethnic discrimination. The official honoring of a soldier's death may be a matter of particular sensitivity for ethnic-minority soldiers, especially if they have seen military service as a way of gaining and/or confirming their status within the nation. Here, for example, the action of Latino takes place less than a year after the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington in November 1982. Many Hispanic names are inscribed on this monument and their contribution to a U.S. war was a high price for acceptance into U.S. society. As B.V. Olguín puts it:
"the price for full citizenship for Mexican-Americans is not multicultural fluency, but self-sacrifice, self-effacement, and ultimately Mexican-American blood." (90)
The Vietnam Memorial would have displayed Eddie's name had he been killed in Vietnam, fighting in his own uniform. The covert nature of the Nicaraguan operation makes this impossible. Thinking about this hiding of his identity, on the night before they depart for action against El Porvenir, a frustrated Eddie, trying to get drunk in a soldier's club decorated with U.S. flags, gives vent to his new feeling of victimization. He cites the example of a Lieutenant Anderson who was killed in El Salvador and whose body was brought home as a dead hero with military honors and a lot of media attention. Eddie knows neither he nor Reuben would get such honors and thinks they are being treated just like "niggers":
"I want my mom and my family to know it's me in that body bag, not some Private Nobody with no name. If I'm gonna die for my country, I want them to know it's me: Eddie Guerrero who fucking put himself on the line. [....] Part of [the problem] is this: My name is Guerrero, not Anderson. Did you listen to the colonel in the fancy house and white skin talking to us about public relations problems? Here's public relations. Look at my fine natural Mexican brown."
While he speaks the final sentences, Eddie slaps himself on his stomach and thus explicitly points to the "foreignness" of his body within the US army – a foreignness that leads to discrimination and possibly effacement of his name, body and self. In fact, later for Ruben, such an effacement actually takes place. That Latino soldier gets killed in the attack on the cooperative and will be buried as an unidentified Contra fighter, just as his commanding officer intended.
By contrast, Eddie disobeys the general's orders and secretly tapes his identity tag to his leg when he dons the Contra uniform – the furthest he can go without complete insubordination and risking his career. During the attack on the cooperative, he is taken prisoner by Luis, who has now re-identifie d with El Porvenir's defense forces and decides to protect the cooperative's grain silos from being destroyed. The film then shows a resigned Eddie undressing, leaving it open whether his captor forces nakedness upon him (in revenge for Luis' own naked torture in the Contra training camp), or whether this is an act through which Eddie himself decides to distance himself from the dishonorable operation in which he has taken part. As we see the former proud soldier without uniform, the scene makes a strong statement about Eddie's deconstructed and perhaps also reconstructed identity. Naked, but holding the name tag in his hand and thus asserting his personal identity, Eddie is brought into the cooperative, arrested and taken away on a truck by Sandinista fighters. One of the final shots reveals that Marlena has watched Eddie's arrest without interfering. The only thing Eddie can cling to, at what is possibly the end of his life, is the assurance that, should he be killed, his mother will receive his remains in a body bag. But even though Eddie no longer wears a uniform, his body remains politicized. Significantly, his name tag will eventually reveal his country's involvement in the Nicaraguan war.
The final scenes with Eddie stripped to the bare essentials of his identity show with particular clarity how Latino uses the protagonist's body and name as central sites for negotiating its meaning. Every soldier knows they face harm to the body. The uniform is a marker which indicates both personal identity and the soldier's special status as a body politic. For the minority-ethnic soldier, however, military status is complicated by the fact that his or her body also marks "otherness" – an otherness that may be instrumentalized by the military in the manner shown in Haskell Wexler's film. Latino exposes a relation between the U.S. military and a Mexican-American soldier that is – or rather becomes – uncomfortable and exploitative when the soldier's ethnicity is employed in a manner that goes beyond the degree to which all soldiers must, for reasons of their profession, expect to be used by the country they serve. If men like Eddie Guerrero see the army as a means of integration, they may well be betrayed.
In the film's last moments, when Eddie casts a final glance at the woman with whom he might have had a good life, the background plays the song, "Voice of America." In an interview in 1986, Haskell Wexler said his film is
"addressed to Americans. We are not asking people to evaluate the policies of the Sandinistas; we are asking people to evaluate the policies of the United States government." (qtd. in Wunsch n.p.)
As Latino shows through its fictional biography, the policies to evaluate are about the tangle of ethnic discrimination within the national body and U.S. activities abroad.
From fiction to facts
The United States' war on terror, in conjunction with recent debates about immigration control (and special focus on the U.S.-Mexican border), lends Latino a renewed topicality. George W. Bush's "Address to the Nation on Immigration Reform" delivered on May 15, 2006, starts out with images of migrants "sneak[ing] across our border" but concludes with a vision of the "preferred" immigrant, exemplified by a soldier of Mexican origin severely injured in the war on Iraq:
"I know many of you listening tonight have a parent or grandparent who came here from another country with dreams of a better life. You know what freedom meant to them, and you know that America is a more hopeful country because of their hard work and sacrifice. As President, I've had the opportunity to meet people of many backgrounds, and hear what America means to them. On a visit to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Laura and I met a wounded Marine named Guadalupe Denogean. Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean came to the United States from Mexico when he was a boy. He spent his summers picking crops with his family, and then he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps as soon as he was able. During the liberation of Iraq, Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean was seriously injured. And when asked if he had any requests, he made two: a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him, and the chance to become an American citizen. And when this brave marine raised his right hand, and swore an oath to become a citizen of the country he had defended for more than 26 years, I was honored to stand at his side."
In the President's rhetoric, fighting and almost losing his life in the U.S. Armed Forces has marked this soldier as a migrant "worthy" of receiving U.S. citizenship. However, acceptance of the non-citizen soldier into the U.S. national body is not as simple a matter as the President's address to the nation makes it appear to be. Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean was lucky to be able to prove his eligibility and stay alive, but many other non-citizen soldiers were killed in Iraq. Voices from U.S. Hispanic communities – particularly concerned about the issue of non-citizen soldiers – have emphasized that armed service for non-citizen soldiers is generally more risky than for their "citizen" peers. That is, these "ethnic" soldiers have a higher liability of being injured or killed simply because of the positions they are permitted to take in the Armed Forces. Following the Senate's April 2003 bill awarding immediate citizenship to non-citizen soldiers killed in action , the Pacific News Service published a commentary on the "risks and contradictions facing non-citizens in the military and in U.S. society" that "loom large in the minds of Latinos these days." Serving in the military may make it easier to obtain citizenship,
"[y]et it seems that being a non-citizen soldier may put you faster in the line of fire."
According to the Los Angeles Times, of the first ten Californians killed in the war, five were non-citizens. One reason may come from the internal rules of the U.S. Armed Forces. For example, in a recent article in Hispanic Link news service, Sargeant Oscar Villa, a U.S. marine who immigrated from Ecuador at age 14, explains why immigrants in the military wear the same uniform but have "different options":
"Due to national security and many other restrictions, non-citizen members of the military have only a small, select number of Military Occupational Specialities (MOS) to choose from when enlisting or re-enlisting. In all service branches, immigrants and non-citizens are over-represented in the field of infantry... They are most likely to be called first to the front lines."
"The reason? Non-citizens can't get a security clearance." (Marrero n.p.)
Political and discursive circumstances have undergone significant change since Haskell Wexler's Latino was released two decades ago. In the ideological climate following 9/11, any soldier's death for the United States likely will be acknowledged as a patriotic gesture, irrespective of the soldier's ethnic background. Nevertheless, the controversial issues raised by Latino's fictional biography have not been overcome in U.S. national and international policy. In the U.S. national body, the negotiation of ethnic, national and military identities remains a matter of special concern to U.S. soldiers of Hispanic origin since their bodies are still more likely to be harmed – even if "rewarded."
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3. The film's representation of the U.S. army is also gendered in very obvious terms. When furious with Eddie, Marlena once calls him "Mr. Macho Green Beret." The male society of the U.S. military contrasts with the feminine-dominated private life of Eddie, strongly associated with his mother and Marlena, but also the community of the Sandinistas, where women, too, make war because they want to protect their community. On the gendering of the Mexican-American soldier's experience see also Mariscál: "The drive to assimilate through military service is exacerbated by one of the most pernicious legacies of Mexican culture: warrior patriotism. The idea that masculine behavior must include a readiness to die for 'la patria' is powerful in Mexican nationalist ideology. When transferred to the Chicano context it is especially dangerous since the Mexican male's rhetorical claim that he is willing to die anytime anywhere becomes a fatal reality once it is linked to U.S. imperialist projects." (27)
4. Compare this to an earlier scene in the film when, arriving at the Contra camp, Eddie and Ruben counter a white major's flippant remark about "spic country" with a good-natured repartee, i.e. gloss over the racism of the remark.
7. Compare the corresponding passage in Anthony Swofford's autobiography: "'Black. White. Mexican. Vietnamese. Navajo. The Marine Corps does not care! [...] You are now green! You are light green or dark green. You are not black or white or brown or yellow or red. Do you understand me, recruits?'" (28f.).
12. For treatments of the status of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Forces see B.V. Olguín. His survey of Mexican-American war narratives (fiction, autobiographies, biographies), from the Texas-Mexican War to Gulf War I, shows how such narratives have always negotiated a complex and ambiguous identity, including positions that see service in the U.S. army as a means of assimilation and integration as well as anti-hegemonic adoptions of sympathy with 'Third-World' enemies. Olguín argues for a differentiated and gender-sensitive reading of these war narratives that pays attention to the "variable status of war in Mexican-American history and culture" and reveals "that US wars demand, and may even enable, broader diachronic and more complex remappings of Mexican-American identity and ideology" (84). Olguín also provides a useful survey of extant criticism in the area. A seminal publication of texts by and about Chicanos and Chicanas in the Vietnam war is George Mariscál's collection Aztlán and Viet Nam.
13. The film is, among others, the subject of the BBC documentary "Look Out Haskell, it's real!" The Making of Medium Cool (2001). See Paul Cronin’s article on this documentary and on Wexler’s work. For a more in-depth discussion see the chapter on Medium Cool in The Subject of Documentary by Michael Renov.
14. For a list see the entry on Wexler in http://www.cinematographers.nl/PaginasCoPh/wexlerhaskell.htm.
15. For instance, at the beginning of the film Marlena tell Eddie that most of her family are still in Managua, but later her father's funeral (we do not learn until then that the father actively supported the Sandinistas) takes place in El Porvenir, the cooperative which is also Luis' home and the setting for the film's final attack.
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