I am not a television watcher so it came as a surprise to me that the Public Broadcasting System has sponsored a documentary series on World War II that will ignore the role Chicanos served in what one writer calls, with unintended but bitter irony, "the greatest generation."
Ignored. As in, a seven part television series and not a reference to the guys like my father who left Redlands, California in 1944, to train at Ft. Knox, then ship over to England, then drive a tank in George Patton's armored corps from France to Leipzig. My dad's stories bring him nightmares, sadness, and names. Many of them raza. Ignored by PBS. Ignored by Ken Burns.
Ignored. As in the Chicano Felix Longoria, who died in the Philippines. His remains recovered and returned to the United States in 1948, his family was forbidden burial of their son's body in his hometown of Three Rivers, Texas. The soldier was, in life, a Mexican, all the reason needed to deny the family access to their hometown funeral chapel. Through the intercession of the American GI Forum and Lyndon Johnson, Longoria's final resting place is Arlington National Cemetery. But not his hometown. Ignored by PBS. Ignored by Ken Burns.
Ignored. As in the bloody crossing of the Rapido River in Italy, 1944. German artillery and machinegunners enjoyed the killing. Wave after wave of Texas National Guardsmen paddled their rubber boats into the river, to be cut to pieces. 2100 GIs died. Ignored by PBS. Ignored by Ken Burns.
So this Ash Wednesday, as I read again T.S. Eliot's poem for the day, I think about the hubris of PBS and film maker Ken Burns and wonder why they do not hope to turn again, to tell the world some of our story, too, and not just their chosen few?
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Does Eliot want me to be so hopeless? I refuse. I don't want Ken Burns' conscience. I sure would like to see my dad's generation of aged eagles stretch their wings with pride and joy that their contribution has been acknowledged, remembered. But not ignored. Yes, I'd love to see the usual reign of PBS and the selective memory of Ken Burns vanish. Let him construct something we can all rejoice in.
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
I share two poems with you. I hope you'll read these and think about writing PBS and Ken Burns a letter, asking them why, with all their media power, couldn't they make a greater effort?
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
is in town
by the river
or so the people
and if we catch any
of you drunk Mexicans
on the street
we’ll drive you out of Town.
Mother, why do they look
at us like
We’ll go to
at San Antonio
has a Congressional
wouldn’t serve him
We’ll go to
at San Antonio
Is the Catholic
Church in Robstown.
In Voices of Aztlan. Chicano Literature of Today. Ed by Dorothy E. Harth and Lewis M. Baldwin. NY: New American Library, 1974. 188-189
To brothers dead crossing the rapido river…194?
in a day
in an afternoon
in a night
in years of fury
alone and far from home
away from familiar sounds
you fell on the earth of italy
blood of mexico
blood of the northern
blood of the bitter border
spilled on earth of italy
on the earth of italy
hope of america
the vain hope of america
never realized hope of america
against a wall of teuton steel
you waded the chilling river
waters tasting of death
far from home
tasting of sudden death
left your dead on the river banks
tears of mothers on the river banks
hopes of sweethearts on the river banks
left tomorrows on the river banks
bitter yesterdays on the river banks
for a hope
Anonymous pp 42-43 in Antonia Castañeda Shular, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, Joseph Sommers. Literatura Chicana. Texto y Contexto. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972.